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Thursday, 17 January 2019

Egypt: A new constitutional roadmap

The debate over proposed constitutional amendments in Egypt continued for the second week

Gamal Essam El-Din , Thursday 10 Jan 2019
Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi
File Photo: An Egyptian man holds up a portrait of President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi in Cairo's Tahrir Square (AFP)
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The news that Egypt’s 2014 constitution will be amended in 2019 has triggered much debate among political analysts and observers.

Yasser Rizk, board chairman of Akhbar Al-Youm, said in a newspaper article on 5 January that the 50-member constituent assembly which drafted the national charter in 2014 should move “very soon” to publicly announce that there is a “pressing need for either writing a new constitution or amending some of its articles”.

Rizk, who suggested in an article on 29 December that Article 140 of the constitution should be changed to increase the presidential term to six years to allow President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi to stay in power beyond 2022, also urged that the parliamentary majority move in the coming period to form groups that will draw a new roadmap for constitutional amendments.

“These groups should include constitutional law professors, lawyers and MPs so that all can reach a consensus at the end on which articles should be redrafted,” Rizk said.

All of the moves, Rizk said, should go in line with Article 226 which regulates the process of constitutional amendments. “The article states that the amendment of one or more articles of the constitution may be requested by the president or one-fifth of the members of the House of Representatives, and that the house should discuss the request within 30 days.

If approved, it shall discuss the texts of proposed amendments within 60 days, and if approved by a two-thirds majority, it will be put to a public referendum,” Rizk said, recommending that “we all should hurry up because time is running out. We should finish this job before the end of 2019.”

Rizk denied that his articles on proposed constitutional amendments were inspired by President Al-Sisi.

“Yes I am very close to President Al-Sisi, not only in my capacity as board chairman of a major national press organisation but also because I was the first to interview him when he was minister of defence. But this does not mean that I am the official voice of President Al-Sisi. I am writing out of sheer personal convictions.

“As far as I know, President Al-Sisi is against amending the constitution, and does not intend to stay in power beyond 2022.”

Rizk, however, insists that the constitution be amended in 2019 to increase the presidential term from four to six years so that Al-Sisi can stay in power beyond 2022.

“This is extremely necessary in order to maintain Egypt’s political and security stability and to pave the way for a rotation of power in a peaceful and democratic way,” Rizk said.

Several MPs told the media last week that they are in favour of amending the constitution. Ashraf Rashad, head of the Future of Homeland Party and chairman of parliament’s Sports Committee, said the party and its MPs were the first to ask for amending the constitution, particularly Article 140, to increase the presidential term from four to six years.

“Once there is a collective move towards this objective via the Support Egypt majority bloc, we will be the first to support it,” Rashad said.

Parliamentary Spokesman Salah Hassaballah said this week that “many MPs see that the current 2014 Constitution includes a number of flawed articles that were drafted under external pressure, and that it is high time that these articles be amended.” Hassaballah argued that the amendments “should not only cover increasing the presidential term, but should also open the way for returning the defunct Shura Council.”

Hassaballah is expected to hold a press conference today, Thursday, to address issues related to the constitution and the performance of the House of Representatives in 2018.

Moataz Abdel-Fattah, a professor of political science, argued in a press interview that Egypt’s 2014 constitution was drafted to serve a transitional period, after which a new constitution will be written to regulate the country’s political system in the long term.

“I think that this transitional period has not yet finished and that the year 2030 could be the end of this period,” Abdel-Fattah said.

“We can’t say President Al-Sisi should leave power in 2022 simply because this is in line with the 2014 Constitution. If we do this, it will be like asking a surgeon to leave a patient in the middle of an operation. So the presidential term should be extended to six years so that President Al-Sisi can complete his job in taking Egypt to a more healthy condition,” Abdel-Fattah said.

On 23 December, several lawyers and members of the public gathered in front of Cairo’s Court of Urgent Matters to declare their support for parliament to amend the constitution to allow the president to assume office for an unlimited period of time. The court decided that a hearing on the case be postponed to 20 January.

Ayman Abdel-Hakim, a lawyer who filed the amendment case, told the media that Article 140 of the constitution “should be amended to allow the president to stay in power for an unlimited period of time as long the people vote in favour of this amendment in a public referendum”.

Emad Gad, an independent MP and an Al-Ahram political analyst, said in an article that the constitution should be amended not only to increase the presidential term, but also to rid the existing constitution of the articles “which still allow mixing religion with politics and which violate the anti-Muslim Brotherhood’s 30 June Revolution in 2013.

“There is no question that religious forces – particularly the Salafis – were able to impose their views on the 2014 Constitution, particularly Article 74 which was drafted in a way that does not impose a strict clear ban on the formation of political parties on religious grounds,” Gad said.

“We now have two options: either implement Article 74 in a much stricter way that finally leads to dissolving the Salafi party Al-Nour, or amend it to state that religious parties should be automatically dissolved,” Gad said.

Other political analysts, however, said the call for amending the constitution might lead to perpetuating Egypt’s transitional period.

“The more we get rid of this period and move towards respecting the limits of presidential terms, the more we become a democratic and civilian state,” said political analyst Hossam Badrawi, adding that “the way to safeguarding Egypt against a dictatorial theocratic regime or a police state or a rigid political system is to move quickly towards holding democratic presidential elections in 2022.

“I think that President Al-Sisi strongly believes in this and that he does not want to stay in power beyond 2022 in order to do what no other previous president has done: leave power willingly to prepare the ground for a peaceful and democratic rotation of power,” argued Badrawi.

In response, Rizk said his proposals do not aim to perpetuate Egypt’s transitional period.

“To those who call for President Al-Sisi to leave office in 2022 and say there should be a peaceful rotation of power, I say Egypt does not have any credible political parties or figures who can assume power or prevent the country from falling again into the hands of religious forces in future,” Rizk said.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 10 January, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: A new constitutional roadmap

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