The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) organized a roundtable discussion on “The position of the Wafd and the Tagamu’ parties vis-à-vis the Constitutional Amendments”. Several academics, writers, jurists and leaders of Egyptian political parties participated in the meeting, which took place at CIHRS on Monday March 5th, 2007. Mr. Hussein Abdel Razeq, Secretary General of the Tagamu’ Party and Mr. Mounir Fakhry Abdel Nour, Secretary General of the Wafd Party, both presented their respective parties perspective and vision. The debate was moderated by CIHRS Director, Mr. Bahey El Din Hassan.
Mr. Hussein Abdel Razeq said that the Tagamu’ party will issue a statement against the amendments and will be distributing thousands of its copies to ordinary citizens across different parts of the country. He also pointed out that the Progressive National Unionist Party will convene wide-scale popular conferences in Egyptian cities and villages to highlight the negative aspects of the proposed amendments. The relationship will also be established between the amendments and the various problems experienced by citizens, on top of which are economic problems and the exacerbation of the phenomena of corruption and unemployment.
Mr. Abdel Razeq indicated that the first events his party will organize to voice Tagamu’ rejection of constitutional amendments will be a protest march led by women party activists and activists of other feminist organization in front of the People’s Assembly headquarters, followed by several protest marches and stand-ins in different parts of Cairo and other governorates. Moreover, he stressed that Tagamu’ is categorically rejecting amendments to the Constitution, and is predisposed to coordinate with other political parties and forces supporting Tagamu’ standpoint in its campaign against those amendments. He also pointed out that coordination has already taken place with the Wafd Party on a number of activities organized by the Tagamu’ party, starting with joint popular conferences, held interchangeably in the headquarters of both parties in different governorates.
Abdel Razeq emphasized the rejection of any reference to the anti-terrorism law in the Constitution, pointing out that such a law exists since 1992, and describing it as one of the worst laws in the entire world. He also noted that Article 2 of the Constitution strengthens the idea of the religious state.
Abdel Razeq called for the establishment of parties as soon as notifications are sent, providing that the party refrains from any activity on the basis of religion or sects and any distinction between citizens on the basis of sex, color or belief. He stressed that Tagamu’ refuses the principle of constitutional amendments but agrees to amend the Constitution as a whole, not partially. He said that any party is entitled to choose its own political platform, even if the latter were religiously-based. However, he refused that the party imposes its particular platform on the state and the constitution.
On the other hand, Abdel Razeq called upon to change the second article of the Constitution, which states that the Islamic Shari’a is the main source of legislation, as it strengthens the idea of the religious state. He also stressed on the fact that sacred religions should all be invoked in the Constitution rather than emphasizing on one particular religion.
Mr. Mounir Fakhry Abdel Nour, Secretary General of the Wafd Party, called for the establishment of an elected assembly of the people to draft a new constitution that would represent all political forces on the Egyptian political scene. He underlined that the proposed amendments aim at modifying Articles 88 and 179 to falsify the will of the voters, pass the anti-terrorist law without any guarantees, and violate human rights violation.
Abdel Nour justified the Wafd Party’s approval of the principle of the amendments, as they included some articles which the party considered as a response to the demands it has been claiming since its foundation. On top of such amendments was the provision regarding citizenship, and the prohibition of any party established on the basis of religion. He urged for expanding the powers of parliament to impeach the government and adjust the budget.
Abdel Nour attacked the standpoint of the Muslim Brotherhood regarding the question of citizenship, and said that they adopt notions that split the country along religious lines. He requested the Muslim Brotherhood to explicitly state its stance on this issue so that the disagreement between them and the Wafd would not be sustained. However, he alluded to coordination between the Wafd and the Muslim Brothers, which would continue on several issues related to democracy and freedoms.
Mr. Aboul Ezz Al Hariry, Vice President of the National Progressive Unionist Party, called for an alliance between different political forces in order to draft a new constitution that would institute a parliamentary republic and rally public opinion around it. He said that he opposes the approval in principle of any proposed amendments.
Dr. Mohammed Al Biltagui, Secretary General of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Parliamentary Bloc reprimanded both the Tagamu’ and Wafd Parties for their approval in principle of those amendments, as expressed by their representatives in the Shura (Consultative) Council. Meanwhile he announced that the Brotherhood welcomed the coordination with both parties in mobilizing popular action to express rejection of these amendments in the upcoming period, and added that the Muslim Brotherhood refused to play a part in this “charade”.
Al-Biltagui said that the Muslim Brotherhood deputies in Parliament realized from the beginning the seriousness of the proposed amendments and therefore denounced them. He described those amendments as “targeting the constitutionalisation of the state of emergency, elections fraud, single-handed rule and the perpetuation of power”. He added that the Muslim Brotherhood bloc took part in the drafting of the amendments in order to denounce the deficiencies of the constitutional amendments and also as a sign of goodwill. He also condemned the exclusion of members of parliament who suggested alternative formulae to the constitutional amendments proposed by the drafting commission of the People’s Assembly, pointing out that this commission produced a number of critical amendments among which is right of the head of State to establish exceptional courts and to refer any citizen to it. Furthermore, other provisions prohibit the establishment of political parties based on religious authority and platform rather than prohibiting only religious activity, as mentioned in the President’s speech. Mr. al-Beltagui also added that the Muslim Brotherhood is supporting the concept of citizenship wholly and partially, in form and in essence; he denied that the Brotherhood refused this principle, as alleged by several newspapers.
Dr. Ahmed Abou Baraka, member of the Muslim Brotherhood parliamentary bloc pointed out that his group was among the first to anticipate events and understand the seriousness of the proposed amendments, which he described as aiming to suppress the role of judges in elections supervision and give a constitutional aspect to the anti-terrorist law. He added that other amendments actually “market” for the aforementioned provisions, indicating that the proposed amendments to Article 76 aim at excluding the Egyptian people from political participation and restricting candidates for the presidency to a limited number of individuals.
Concerning the proposed modification of Article 2 of the Constitution, Abou Baraka maintained that the proper implementation of this article would eventually lead to the establishment of a civil state, since Islam did not impose the “deification” of the ruler. He added that each society should have an ultimate reference from which to derive basic and ethical values.
Mr. Sameh Makram Ebeid, member of the Supreme Board of the Wafd Party described amendments proposed to Article 88 of the Constitution as the fire that would eat everyone, while amendments to Article 179 would lead everyone to the gloominess of prisons. He called for full mobilization of efforts in defense of the standpoint of political forces rejecting those amendments, and stressed on the importance of a firm common stance to strengthen their position rather than fragmentation.
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