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Friday, 18 October 2019

Reader's guide to Egypt's constitutional ammendments

Gamal Essam El-Din reviews the concluding discussion in parliament on the final draft of the proposed constitutional amendments

Gamal Essam El-Din , Thursday 18 Apr 2019
Egyptian Parliament
Egyptian Parliament (Reuters)
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After a 10-week debate, parliament’s Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee on Sunday approved the final draft of proposed amendments to Egypt’s 2014 constitution

The draft, formulated by a seven-member subcommittee, was finalised on Sunday morning and approved by parliament on Tuesday.

Parliament Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal said the constitutional amendments will not be the last in Egypt. “I think we will need to write a completely new constitution within the next 10 years,” said Abdel-Aal, also indicating that the subcommittee responsible for releasing the final draft was keen that it was in line with internationally recognised constitutional principles and world conventions which Egypt signed in this respect.

Al-Ahram Weekly obtained a copy of the final draft of the proposed constitutional amendments.

House of Representatives

Article 102 (first paragraph): The change aims to reduce the number of elected MPs in the House of Representatives (Egypt’s lower house of parliament) from 596 to 450 MPs, with at least 25 per cent of seats (112 seats) to be reserved for women representatives.

This change was objected to by many MPs who argued that it violates the principle of equality and that it could be ruled unconstitutional.

Other MPs said that only 10 per cent of seats should be reserved for women.

In response, Abdel-Aal said the rules of the Inter-Parliamentary Union state that women should be allocated 30 per cent of seats in world parliaments. “But we think that this quota will be too much and that 25 per cent is very reasonable and logical,” Abdel-Aal said.

There are currently 90 female MPs (12 per cent) in parliament, the highest in Egypt’s history.

Article 102 (third paragraph): The law regulating the performance and election of the House of Representatives is to be changed to be in line with the above article.The law should observe the equitable distribution of population and governorates and allows that either the individual candidacy or the party list system be adopted, or a combination of the two. 

President of the Republic

Article 140 (first paragraph): The president of the republic shall be elected for six (instead of four) years, beginning on the day next to the end of his predecessor’s term, and he/she cannot remain in office for more than two consecutive terms.

Transitional Article 241: The term of the sitting president (Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi) will end following the date of declaring him an elected president of the republic, and he can be re-elected for another six-year term.

Abdel-Aal also indicated that he and several MPs affiliated with parliament’s Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee had rejected a proposal that would allow President Al-Sisi to run for office until 2034.

“There was much division among MPs on this point, and we rejected a proposal by some that the sitting president be allowed an additional 12 years [in office] until 2034.

“We chose a middle-of-the-road option that will allow the sitting president to remain in office until 2024, and then he will be allowed to run for another six years,” said Abdel-Aal, indicating that “this way, I can say that the amended constitution still does not lead to any kind of inheritance of power or perpetuation of rule.”

Vice president

Article 150: The president of the republic shall be authorised to name one or more than one vice president, underline his/her roles, exempt them from their post, and accept their resignation. The constitution’s articles 141, 144, 145, 148 and 173 will govern this respect.

Article 160 (first paragraph): If a temporary obstacle makes the elected president unable to perform his duties, he will be replaced by a vice president or prime minister if there is no vice president.

Article 160 (last paragraph): If a caretaker president takes office, he shall not be entitled to amend the constitution, dissolve the House of Representatives or Senate, or dismiss the government. The caretaker president will also not be allowed to run for president.

Judiciary

Article 185: Each judicial authority will take charge of running its own affairs, and it will be consulted on laws regulating its own business. The president of the republic shall appoint heads of judicial authorities from among five who will be nominated by its higher councils, and their term of office will be four years.

A higher council for judicial authorities will be created and the president of the republic will be its head. The council will take charge of discussing the affairs of judicial authorities. In case of the president’s absence, a head of a judicial authority will be delegated by the president to consider the conditions of appointing members of judicial authorities and their promotion, and he will be consulted on laws regulating their business.

Judicial authorities will also have their own independent budget. A law to be issued to regulate the roles of the higher council for judicial authorities and its decisions are to be taken by consensus of its members.

Article 189 (second paragraph): A prosecutor-general who will be responsible for the body of prosecution-general will be named by the president of the republic from among three candidates to be nominated by the higher council for judicial authorities. The prosecutor-general’s term in office will be four years.

Article 190: The State Council will be exclusively authorised with settling administrative disputes, disciplinary cases and appeals, and revising draft laws and decrees. A law in this respect shall be issued to describe the roles of the State Council in detail.

Article 193 (third paragraph): A chairman of the Supreme Constitutional Court will be named by the president of the republic from among the court’s most senior deputy heads.

The panel of the court’s commissioners will also be named by the president only upon a recommendation from the court’s chairman and after taking the opinion of the court’s general assembly, and in line with the law regulating this respect.

Commenting on the above four articles, Abdel-Aal said they do not violate the independence of the judiciary or infringe upon its powers. “It gives the president the right to appoint heads of judicial authority only upon nomination of its members and their general assemblies,” Abdel-Aal said.

Armed Forces

Article 200 (first paragraph): The Armed Forces are the people’s arm, and its job is to protect the country, safeguard its security and the integrity of its land, preserve the constitution and democracy, and maintain the basic pillars of the state and its civilian nature, and the gains of the people, and the rights and freedoms of individuals. The state will be exclusively authorised to create such a force, and any other individuals, authorities, or groups will be banned from forming military or paramilitary organisations and militias.

Article 204 (second paragraph): Civilians can face trial before military courts only in cases of assaulting military establishments, military camps, military zones and borders, military equipment, vehicles, weapons, ammunition, documents, secrets, funds and army factories. Trials also cover crimes related to recruitment and drafting, and assaulting officers and personnel affiliated with the Armed Forces and while they are performing their duties.

Article 234: The minister of defence will be named upon the approval of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF).

According to Speaker Abdel-Aal, the amendments do not in any way push the Armed Forces into politics. “The articles only state that the main role of the Armed Forces is to protect the state and its authorities, and that civilians will face trial before military courts only in crimes related to assaulting its establishments, and that this is the norm in all countries of the world,” Abdel-Aal said.

Adequate representation

Article 243: The state shall guarantee that workers and farmers are adequately represented, and in line with the law regulating this aspect.

Article 244: The state shall guarantee that youth, Christians, the physically challenged and Egyptian expatriates are fairly represented in line with laws regulating this aspect.

The Senate

Article 248: The Senate has the authority to study and propose what it deems to be the basis of democracy, the promotion of social peace, the basic elements of society and its supreme values, rights, freedoms and public duties, and the deepening and expansion of the democratic system.

Article 249: The opinion of the Senate shall be taken on the following:

- Proposals for the amendment of one or more articles of the constitution.

- Drafting general plans for social and economic development.

- Treaties of reconciliation and alliance and all treaties relating to the rights of sovereignty.

- Drafting laws supplementing the constitution referred to the Senate by the president of the republic or the House of Representatives.

- Matters referred to the Senate by the president regarding the general policy of the state or its policy in Arab or foreign affairs.

Article 250: The Senate shall be elected within the 60 days preceding the expiry of its term.

The Senate shall comprise 180 members at least, and its term will be five years. Two thirds of the Senate members shall be elected in a secret ballot, and a third will be appointed by the president.

Article 251: A Senate member should be Egyptian, not less than 35 years old, have a university degree and legally allowed to exercise his/her civilian and political rights.

The law shall specify the conditions of the other candidates, the electoral system and the division of the constituencies to take into consideration the equitable representation of the population and the governorates. The individual or existing electoral system may be introduced or combined in any proportion between them.

Article 252: A Senate member cannot be a member of the House of Representatives at the same time.

Article 253: The prime minister, his deputies, ministers and other members of the government shall not be held accountable to the Senate.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 18 April, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: The final draft

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