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Monday, 27 May 2019

Egypt's parliament deliberates over constitutional amendments

A parliamentary report recommends MPs support proposed constitutional amendments

Gamal Essam El-Din , Wednesday 13 Feb 2019
Egyptian Parliament (Reuters)
Egyptian Parliament (Reuters)
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Egyptian MPs started discussing on Wednesday a 26-page report prepared by a parliamentary sub-committee on proposed constitutional amendments, and are expected to vote in principle on Thursday in favour of the proposed changes. 

The report will then be referred to parliament’s Constitutional and Legal Affairs Committee to be discussed in detail in a series of hearing sessions. 

The report said the amendment motion submitted by 155 MPs reflects an actual and legal need.

“There is no doubt that these proposals have been made in response to practical and legal problems that require some articles of the existing constitution to be amended,” said the report.

“The amendments generally aim to introduce needed reforms to Egypt’s system of government.”

The report argues the amendments meet the demands of the 30 June Revolution in 2013 which erupted in the face of an unprecedented constitutional and political crisis.

“The crisis left the country severely divided and posed a grave threat to internal stability,” says the report.

Parliament’s internal bureau, led by the speaker and comprising his two deputies, accepted the motion which was submitted on 3 February only after ensuring its proposals complied with Article 226 of the constitution and the House of Representative’s own internal bylaws.

“The motion was submitted by more than a fifth of MPs, as required by Article 226, and explained in clear cut terms which articles are to be amended and the reasons for the proposed changes,” says the report.

The report pays particular attention to the suggested changes to the last paragraph of Article 226 of the constitution.

“This paragraph stipulates that in all cases, texts pertaining to the re-election of the president of the Republic or the principles of freedom and quality enshrined in the constitution may not be amended unless the amendment brings more guarantees.”

“The guarantees required are related to the Article’s stipulation that the president can be re-elected once only, and cannot stay in office for more than two terms. It does not extend to stipulate that the term of office should be four years.”

“It is clear that the stipulation in the last paragraph of Article 140 does not impose any kind of ban on increasing the length of the presidential term,” says the report, adding that “constitutional law experts and professors agree that the last paragraph of Article 226 can be amended.”

“Existing conditions confirm that a four-year presidential term is inadequate in terms of consolidating the comprehensive and sustainable development plans needed to rebuild the country amid unstable regional conditions.”

The report insists “there is no doubt that the implementation of some of the articles enshrined in the 2014 Constitution is in need of review” and notes that “all nations find it necessary to amend their constitutions from time to time.”

According to the report, the Supreme Constitutional Court has described constitutions as living charters that grow as they interact with conditions on the ground.

“The court believes constitutions should be progressive in the sense that they can be amended in line with the spirit of the age, and that interpretation of constitutions should always be flexible.”

“The amendment of Article 140 of the constitution is the most notable proposed change,” states the report.

“This article will be amended to state that the president of the Republic shall be elected for a period of six years, starting from the day following the termination of the term of his predecessor, and the president may only be re-elected once.”

It is also proposed a transitional article be created stating that “the current president of the republic shall be allowed to be re-elected in line with the newly-amended text of Article 140”.

The amendments also seek to create a supreme council for joint judicial affairs.

“In this respect,” the report explains, “the status quo has shown clearly there is a pressing need for such a council to take charge of affairs related to the judiciary.”

“The amendments also state the job of the State Council be confined to revising draft laws referred by parliament.”

On the role of the armed forces, the report says the amendments aim to reformulate their mandate to include safeguarding the constitution and democracy and preserving the civil nature of the state, the people’s gains and the rights and freedoms of individuals.

“The amendments also aim to make the appointment of the minister of defence more systematic, allowing a nominee to be selected only after securing the approval of the Higher Council of Armed Forces (SCAF).”

The proposed changes also seek to provide legal protection for vital establishments and public utilities. In the words of the report, “this means entrusting the armed forces with protecting these establishments and utilities and referring those who seek to cause harm to military courts.” 

*A version of this article appears in print in the 14 February , 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Reporting on change

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