Egypt's parliament began discussing on Wednesday a number of newly proposed constitutional amendments. Parliament Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal said that the House will devote a full-day discussion of the amendments on Wednesday, and then take a provisional vote on Thursday.
“We will hold three plenary sessions today to allow representatives of political parties and independent forces to take the floor to express their views on the amendments, and tomorrow we will take the provisional vote,” said Abdel-Aal, adding that “each MP will be required to vote by saying 'yes' or 'no' upon hearing his/her name.”
Abdel-Aal also said that the discussion on Wednesday and Thursday will be confined to whether to approve the amendments in principle and why.
“The discussion of the amended articles in detail will be left to the constitutional and legislative affairs committee when it convenes to hold a national dialogue on them,” said Abdel-Aal, revealing that “the discussion in the committee will be confined to the articles amended.”
“Nobody will be able to propose amending new articles as this would require new procedures,” said Abdel-Aal.
The discussion has shown that there is much objection to the proposal that 25 percent of seats in parliament be reserved to women.
Leftist opposition MPs have also charged that the amendments are clearly tailored to benefit a certain "figure." Ahmed Tantawi, a leftist MP, said “the amendments are a setback, and are clearly tailored to suit a figure whose name we all know.”
Samir Ghattas, an independent MP, also voiced concern that “the amendments are a setback to the pre-2011 period, and represent an assault on the sovereignty of the judiciary.”
Ghattas said the amendments violate Article 226, which stipulates that amendments of the presidential term can take place only to "bring more guarantees."
In response, Speaker Abdel-Aal insisted that the amendments are by no means tailored to benefit any individual.
“These amendments should be read under the title 'reforming Egypt’s political system'," the speaker said.
“We do not say that we want to remove the limit on presidential terms, but we are just talking about the necessity of increasing the years of the presidential term,” said Abdel-Aal.
“Any president will not be allowed to stay more than two terms, as the constitution stipulates, but the change will just lead to increasing the presidential term from four to six years to allow the president – any president and not a particular one – to implement his programme amid unstable conditions in our region.”
“We live in a region rife with risks and threats and we want our country to remain stable, and so we change the constitution to give stability to our country,” said Abdel-Aal.
Abdel-Aal indicated that “we will have a transitional article that will allow President [Abdel-Fattah] El-Sisi stay in power according to the new amendment, and at the end it is up to him to approve this or not.”
Mohamed Saad Badrawi, the parliamentary spokesperson of the National Movement Party suggested that parliament send a message to President El-Sisi to know whether he approves of the presidential term being increased from four to six years.
In response, speaker Abdel-Aal said “it is parliament which has taken the initiative to amend the constitution.”
“The president is also authorised by Article 226 to ask for amendments the constitution, but he did not do this, and it is parliament that took the initiative,” said Abdel-Aal.
“The amendments aim to increase the presidential term from four to six years, and in 2022 when President El-Sisi’s term in office expires, he will be the one who will decide whether to run again in line with the new amendment,” said Abdel-Aal.
Abdel-Hadi El-Qasabi, the majority leader, said the amendments were submitted by 155 MPs because they love their country and want to see it stable.
“President Abdel-Fatah El-Sisi was able to restore Egypt’s prestige in Arab, international, and African circles, and we want him to stay for a period long enough to reinforce the country’s stability,” said El-Qasabi, declaring the majority bloc's (344 MPs) provisional approval of the amendments.
Ayman Abul-Ela, the parliamentary spokesperson of the Free Egyptians Party, said “Egypt does not have good leaders like President El-Sisi.”
“Unfortunately we do not have capable and efficient leaders who can compete against President El-Sisi in an election.”
“We will not let Egypt be run by amateurs, and we will not let Egypt be led by weak political parties… and so why shouldn’t we all let President El-Sisi stay in power for a longer period at a time as Egypt desperately needs his leadership,” said Abul-Ela.
Hani Abza, the parliamentary spokesperson of the Wafd Party, said “Al-Wafd approves the amendments in principle because we want a president who was able to save Egypt and rebuild the foundations of the state to stay.”
“When El-Sisi came to power, Egypt was just a semi-state that had no education, health or an infrastructure, but now we have a strong modern state,” said Abaza, adding that “it is completely illogical to say that the president must say at the end of his term without completing his programme.”
Ahmed Khalil, the parliamentary spokesperson of the ultraconservative Salafist Nour Party, said his party “approves in part the amendments.”
“I say in part because we object that the amendments describe Egypt as a civilian state, allocate a quota of 25 percent of seats in parliament to women, and affect the independence of the judiciary,” said Khalil.
“The Nour Party rejects the civilian state, the police state or the theocratic state, and we also insist that Egypt is not a secular state, and we only believe that Egypt should be a modern democratic state in line with Article 2 of the constitution [on Islamic Sharia].”
In response, Speaker Abdel-Aal said Egypt’s government is civilian.
“This does not mean that it is secular, but it just means that Egypt is neither a religious state nor a military-ruled state,” said Abdel-Aal.
Hala Abul-Saad, the parliamentary spokesperson of the Conservatives Party, said “constitutions should not be viewed as rigid texts, and they should be open for change, and a four-year experience shows that Egypt’s 2014 constitution needs a review.”
Abul-Saad’s approval comes in spite of her party’s rejection of the amendments.
Abul-Saad said a review of the constitution shows that more than 20 percent of seats in parliament should be allocated to women as they now represent 40 percent of Egyptian society.
A number of MPs decided to reject the amendments, insisting that they do not bring any new democratic guarantees as required by Article 226 of the constitution.
They also said they reject allocating 25 percent of seats to women in parliament as this violates the principle of equality. They said that they stand against bringing the old “Shura Council” back under the name “the Senate.” To them, the proposed “Senate” will be a costly house and will be manipulated by the president to control the media.
The list of the opponents include Ihab Mansour, the parliamentary spokesperson of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party; and Sayed Abdel-Aal, head of the leftist Tagammu party. It also comprises leftist independents Ahmed El-Sharkawi, Haitham El-Hariri, Samir Ghattas, Mohamed Abdel-Ghani, Mohamed El-Itmani, Talaat Khalil, and Nadia Henry.