What was your position when the amendments were debated in parliament on 13 and 14 February?
When I took the floor I was clear that the Tagammu rejected the proposals. The front-page headline of the party’s newspaper Al-Ahali also announced last week that “the Tagammu rejects the constitutional amendments and proposes alternatives.”
Speaking in parliament on 13 February, and during a press conference on 13 March, I explained that the amendments proposed failed to tackle the very real shortcomings of the current constitution. We were clear as far back as 2014 that the constitution was far from ideal. At the time the late Hussein Abdel-Razek, then a member of Tagammu’s political bureau, described is as “a constitution of necessity”. What he meant was that the party was supporting the 2014 constitution because circumstances left it with no other option, and in the hope it would be amended at the earliest opportunity.
But what of the current amendments?
They fail to address the shortcomings of a constitution that contains many articles that need to be amended or revoked. The Support Egypt coalition took everyone by surprise when it submitted its proposals on 3 February.
They should have consulted with other political forces in parliament before submitting their amendments. After all, changing the constitution is a matter of national concern, it is not an issue exclusive to the Support Egypt coalition.
If Support Egypt had consulted with the Tagammu and other political forces it could have started to build a consensus around the changes. Now, after consulting with our regional offices, we have decided to submit our own version of the changes we think are most necessary. We will present these in the hearing sessions being held by parliament’s Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee. We are urging parliamentary officials to allow MPs enough time to thoroughly debate the amendments. The constitution is a document that must be dealt with carefully, and without haste.
What is your position on the amendment increasing presidential terms from four to six years?
The Support Egypt coalition has proposed that Article 140 be amended to state that “the president of the republic can be elected for six years, beginning on the day following the end date of the term of his predecessor, and that he cannot run for more than two terms.” But the coalition is alos proposing a transitional article which states that “at the end of his current term, the current president of the republic can be re-elected in line with the amended Article 140.”
What we are proposing is a transitional article that reads: “The current term of the incumbent president of the republic can be increased by two years to come to an end on 2024 [instead of 2022] and this will be considered his first term in office. He can then run for a second six-year term, ending in 2030.”
What about changes reinstating the post of vice president?
We approve the proposal submitted in this respect. What we would insist on, however, is that the appointment of a vice president not be the exclusive concern of the president but that any nominee must be approved by parliament.
Do you have any reservations on the creation of a second house?
Support Egypt has proposed three amendments in this respect and all of them show the majority coalition wants the second chamber to be a consultative and advisory body. But what is the point of setting up a second house, which will cost a lot of money, if it has only symbolic powers? What we want is a second house with legislative and supervisory power. We also want the second chamber to be limited to no more than 240 members who serve a five-year term.
How do you see the proposal to reserve 25 per cent of parliamentary seats for women?
We have no objection to the amendment.
What articles in the current constitution would the Tagammu change?
The current constitution stipulates that the government spend seven per cent of GDP on education and scientific research, and three per cent on health each year. This is impossible for any government to implement, particularly as nobody has correct figures on Egypt’s GDP.
Article 242 states that local council elections should be held within five years from the date of the constitution going into effect (18 January 2014). It was difficult for the government to implement this article and the deadline expired on 17 January 2019. Similarly, Article 241 stated that a law on transitional justice should be passed by 2016. We have a lot of flawed or redundant articles which must be amended or, in some cases, eliminated.
We need a new constitution that truly reflects the aspirations and hopes of 2013’s 30 June Revolution. We approved the 2014 constitution only out of necessity, in order to end that dark black period when a sectarian movement was able to take control of the country. Now it is time to move on.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 28 March, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Beyond necessity