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Tuesday, 18 June 2019

Egypt parliament has not received request to amend constitution: House spokesman

Gamal Essam El-Din , Gamal Essam El-Din , Thursday 10 Jan 2019
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File photo: A general view of the Egyptian parliament during a working session in Cairo, Egypt, Sunday, Jan. 10, 2016 (AP)
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Egypt's House of Representatives spokesperson Salah Hassaballah said Thursday that parliament has not received any official request to amend the constitution.

"If we receive any proposed amendments in his respect, we will discuss them in accordance with Article 226 of the constitution," said Hassaballah.

Hassaballah said that Article 226 states that if one or more than one of the articles of the constitution is asked to be amended by the president or one-fifth of MPs, they shall be discussed within 30 days, and if approved, they shall be put up for a vote in a public referendum within 60 days.

Article 140 of the constitution imposes a limit of two four-year terms on the office of president.

Several politicians have suggested that Article 140 should be amended to increase the presidential term from four years to six.

Osama Heikal, the head of parliament’s media and culture committee, told reporters in December that a number of constitutional amendments are urgently needed.

Heikal argued that the current four-year term is too short for a president to implement significant policies or introduce political reforms.

Some politicians also insist that many of the constitution's articles regarding political, economic and social matters need to be amended, arguing that the current constitution was drafted in 2014 to serve a transitional period.

Hassaballah also pointed out that parliament has passed a number of unprecedented pieces of legislation, such as the law easing restrictions on building churches and an anti-human trafficking law to combat irregular migration.

Meanwhile, he indicated that for various reasons, parliament has so far refrained from discussing three controversial laws that the constitution states should take priority. 

"The first one is on transitional justice, and this we can't discuss because it clearly seeks to achieve reconciliation with the banned Muslim Brotherhood group," said Hassaballah, adding: "As you know, this is a terrorist group which has the blood of hundreds of Egyptians on its hands, and so there is no room in the foreseeable future for any reconciliation with such a movement."

Hassaballah continued: "There is a total popular rejection for the return of Muslim Brotherhood or for reintegrating them into political life."

"We know that Brotherhood television channels broadcasting from Qatar and Turkey are doing their best to paint a bleak picture of Egypt, and so it is a waste of time to respond to the mouthpieces of the group," Hassaballah said.

A number of MPs recently announced that they are ready to join a collective aimed at amending the constitution so that the presidential term be increased from four to six years, so President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi can stay in power beyond 2022 and for an unlimited period of time.

Yasser Rizk, board chairman Akhbar El-Youm newspaper, also suggested in two articles last week that the majority bloc in parliament – Support Egypt – should move to form working groups to prepare for amending at least 15 articles of the existing constitution, particularly increasing the presidential term from four to six years and returning to a bicameral system by recreating the now defunct Shura Council.

Hassaballah, meanwhile, indicated that a new law regulating the performance and election of local councils will take some time to be discussed. "This is a very important law that needs some security arrangements so that it can be implemented," said Hassaballah.

He added that a new law to regulate the performance and election of parliament would need to be subject to a kind of national dialogue before being referred to parliament for discussion.

Hassaballah revealed that as many as 506 laws have been passed by parliament since January 2016.

"This is compared to 146 laws that were passed by Egypt's 2005-2010 parliament, and this shows you that we are doing a great job," said Hassaballah, adding that, "Parliament has approved 170 foreign agreements, 2,645 information requests, 2,616 questions, and 62 discussion requests."

On other matters, Hassaballah denied that "there is conflict between the executive and legislative authorities, as some like to suggest."

"We work under the principle that we are all in one boat, and that we all seek the supreme national interests of Egypt," said Hassaballah.

He stressed that parliament's active foreign diplomacy has been able to reinforce relations between Egypt and many countries.

"For the first time in six years, Egypt's parliament speaker was elected a member of the executive committee of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, representing the Arab world," said Hassaballah.

In regular business, Egypt's parliament will hold new plenary sessions Sunday to discuss laws on fighting monopolistic practices, regulating the medical profession, and establishing a higher council for the physically challenged.

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