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Saturday, 16 November 2019

A debate in Egypt's parliament over El-Sisi term in office at the newly amended constitution

Preparations are underway for a final parliamentary vote on changes to the 2014 constitution

Gamal Essam El-Din , Friday 12 Apr 2019
referendum
Banners on the street encourage people to vote in the referendum (photo: Sherif Sonbol)
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A report on the final draft of the amendments, prepared by parliament’s Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee, will be debated ahead of next week’s parliamentary vote on amendments to the constitution.

The report contains the final draft of the amended articles, together with remarks on the changes, either submitted in written form or during the series of consultative sessions held between 20 and 28 March. The commentary was compiled by a 13-member sub-committee.

Bahaaeddin Abu Shokka, head of the Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee, told reporters this week that “it was not the job of the sub-committee to offer any opinions but simply collect and classify the opinions of others.

"It is important that ahead of the final vote in parliament next week MPs take note of all the remarks and comments made on each article. The Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee received no directions from anyone on how the changed articles should be drafted. And in presenting the final drafts all the comments and remarks we received will be appended to the relevant articles. It will be up to MPs whether or not they approve our text or change it during the debate."

“The committee received comments from various state authorities, MPs, civil society organizations and public figures. We want MPs and the media to take note of these, and to know who said what in the national dialogue. Transparency is essential. We have nothing to hide.”

Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee member Kamal Ahmed told Al-Ahram Weekly that the drafting process had been thorough and the process will ensure “the amendments serve the national interests of Egypt, helping to reinforce stability and widen the scope of participation in political and parliamentary life.”

Leftist and liberal political parties have sharply criticised the amendments, saying not only do they concentrate too much power in the hands of the president but will allow him to remain in power at the expense of the principle of the rotation of power.

It is as yet unclear whether the amendments will allow President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi to run for two additional terms of six years — remaining in post until 2034 — or extend his current term to 2024 instead of 2022 and then allow him to stand for a single six-year term, ending in 2030.

The proposals submitted by parliament’s majority Support Egypt coalition states only that “a transitional article will be added to the constitution allowing the sitting president to run in line with the amended text of Article 140 on presidential terms.”

Observers expect the final draft of the amendments to be discussed on Sunday and Monday with a final vote held on Tuesday.

Sayed Abdel-Aal, appointed MP and Tagammu Party head, told the party’s mouthpiece Al-Ahali that he expects the final vote to be held on 17 April.

“There will be a discussion of the report on the amendments on 14 and 15 April followed the next day by the vote.” He says it is still not known whether the articles will be put up for vote individually or as a package.

Abdel-Aal anticipates a public referendum on the amendments between 22 and 24 April.

“Three days will be needed to allow citizens to participate and ensure a large turnout,” said Abdel-Aal. “In ruling circles the referendum is being seen as a vote of confidence in President Al-Sisi and his regime.”

The Tagammu has argued the transitional article should allow President El-Sisi’s current term be extended to six years and then allow a single additional six-year term rather than two. Should its recommendations not be incorporated in the final draft then Abdel-Aal says the party’s MPs will vote against the changes.

In response, speaker Ali Abdel-Aal indicated that there are two points of view among MPs and political groups on the amendment of Article 140 and the related transitional article.

"All I can say is that the two points of view on President El-Sisi's office will be taken into account and that the final draft will be presented to MPs when the final debate on the total amendments in parliament comes on 16 and 17 April," said Abdel-Aal.

On 3 February the majority Support Egypt coalition submitted its proposals to change the 2014 constitution and received provisional approval during a plenary session on 14 February, opening the door for the series of national dialogue hearing sessions.

Regarding the timetable, parliamentary officials have said only that the proposed amendments are expected to be voted on by mid-April and a public referendum held before Ramadan begins on 6 May.

In addition to increasing the presidential term from four to six years the amendments include a provision to allocate 25 per cent of parliamentary seats to female candidates, reinstate the post of vice president and establish a second chamber.

Several political parties have begun campaigning in support of the amendments. The Future of Homeland Party — with 60 MPs — has been actively drumming up support for the proposals, organising public rallies across Egypt.

“We are keen that citizens discuss the amendments and know that they serve the political and economic future of Egypt,” says Essam Hilal, the party’s secretary for organisational affairs.

“There will be a door-to-door campaign urging citizens to vote in the referendum. The aim of our campaign is to refute rumours and foreign reports claiming the amendments will militarise Egypt.

“We are keen to bring constitutional law professors and political analysts on board to explain how the amendments will boost economic and political stability. Already citizens can see how Egypt has regained stability in a volatile region, and they realise the importance of boosting this stability in the long run.”

 

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