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Egypt presidency unveils plan for constitutional modifications

Following five days of renewed political turbulence, President Morsi lays down plan for the amendment of Egypt's newly-approved - albeit still controversial - national charter

Ahram Online, Tuesday 29 Jan 2013
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Press conference to announce the results of a national dialogue session (Photo: Snapshot from the state tv)
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Parliamentary Affairs Minister Omar Salem will choose articles of Egypt's newly-ratified constitution to be subject to possible amendment by a committee appointed by Egypt's presidency.

According to presidential advisor for political affairs Pakinam El-Sharkawy, the committee's recommendations will then be referred to the yet-to-be-elected House of Representatives (the lower house of Egypt's parliament, formally known as the People's Assembly) for ratification.

El-Sharkawy made the statements at a Tuesday press conference convened to announce results of a Monday "national dialogue" meeting between President Mohamed Morsi and various political figures.

According to El-Sharkawy, the constitution-amending committee will include five law professors and five politicians representing Egypt's primary political forces, including some that were absent from Monday's national dialogue meeting.

During the dialogue meeting, which was boycotted by the majority of Egypt's political opposition, Morsi ordered the formation of a ten-member committee tasked with amending certain constitutional articles. The move came in response to pressure from Egypt's opposition National Salvation Front (NSF).

The NSF, a coalition including several leftist and liberal opposition parties and groups, boycotted the dialogue meeting, describing it as a "fake" initiative that would not benefit the public. The NSF issued a list of demands for its participation in the dialogue initiative, including the amendment of Egypt's new national charter, which was drawn up by an Islamist-dominated drafting committee.  

El-Sharkawy announced that the presidency would continue "reaching out" to all political forces, including those that rejected Morsi's invitation to dialogue. At the press conference, Ahmed Ali, presidential advisor for international affairs, stressed that the presidency remained in communication with the NSF.

The NSF has also demanded the dismissal of the incumbent government of Prime Minister Hisham Qandil and the immediate appointment of a "national salvation" government. Morsi, however, firmly rejected this demand.

"This idea needs time; it's hard to realise at the moment," El-Sharkawy said. "New parliamentary elections will soon be held and a new cabinet will be drawn up then. All forces represented in the incoming parliament will be able to formulate the new cabinet."

Polls for a new lower house of parliament are expected sometime in April, according to recent official statements.

'Difficult decision'

Speaking about recent political turmoil – especially in the cities of the Suez Canal, currently under a 30-day state of emergency – Ali said that the presidency remained "in talks" with both popular and political leaders in Port Said, which saw the worst violence in recent days.

"The decision to declare a state of emergency was difficult for the president despite its legality," Ali said. "But it was taken for the protection of the nation and people."

Ali added that a detailed report on the nation's general security condition would soon be prepared, upon which a decision would be made on whether the terms of the current state of emergency should be reduced or entirely terminated.

Port Said has seen intermittent violence since Saturday, after a criminal court sentenced 21 of its residents to death for their involvement in last February's Port Said stadium disaster in which scores of football fans were killed.

Riots that erupted in the city after the verdict was announced left at least 39 civilians and two police officers dead.

The neighbouring canal cities of Ismailia and Suez have also witnessed protests and clashes since the second anniversary of Egypt's January 25 Revolution on Friday. In Suez, nine people – including one police conscript – were killed, while at least one civilian has been reported killed in Ismailia.

As a result, President Morsi on Sunday declared a month-long state of emergency in all three canal cities (Suez, Port Said and Ismailia), entailing daily 9pm-to-6am curfews.

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