Egypt parliament to take provisional vote on motion to amend constitution this week

Gamal Essam El-Din , Tuesday 12 Feb 2019

The amendments propose that the president's term in office be increased from four to six years

File photo: Egyptian parliament (Photo: Reuters)

Egypt's parliament will hold plenary sessions on Wednesday and Thursday to take a vote in principle on a motion submitted by a fifth of sitting MPs that seeks to change 22 articles of the country's 2014 constitution.

If approved by a majority of MPs, the amendments will be referred to the Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee to be discussed in detail.

The provisional vote had initially been scheduled for 17 February, but parliament Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal decided on Sunday that it would be held on Wednesday or Thursday this week.

An informed source told Ahram Online that "plenary meetings will be held on Wednesday and Thursday, but nobody knows on which day the vote will be taken."

"It is only the speaker who will decide whether the vote will be held on Wednesday or Thursday," the source said, adding that "the official schedule of debate only states that a discussion of a 26-page report prepared by a subcommittee affiliated with parliament's internal steering bureau (led by the speaker and including his two deputies) will be held on Wednesday and Thursday."

The source indicated that "the discussion of the report on the amendments will be just procedural and in principle."

"Representatives of political parties and independent forces in parliament will take the floor to say whether they approve the amendments in principle, and without discussion of the content of the articles required to be amended," said the source, adding that "the detailed discussion of the proposed amendments will take place only in parliament's Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee."

A national dialogue in the form of a series of hearing sessions will be held there on the proposed amendments, and representatives of political forces, judges, civil society organisations, media representatives, military officials, and constitutional law experts will be invited to voice their opinion and viewpoints, the source said, explaining that "the detailed discussion could lead to amending more articles."

Parliament's Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee will be allowed to discuss the amendments within two months, or until the middle of April.

"At the end of this period, the final draft of the amendments will be referred to parliament to be discussed and voted on within one week, and if MPs say yes, it will be referred to the president of the republic to be put up for a public vote in a national referendum, most probably at the end of April, or before the holy month of Ramadan begins on 6 May," the source said.

26-page report

A 26-page report prepared by a parliamentary sub-committee on 22 proposed constitutional amendments was drafted and delivered to MPs one week ahead of the provisional vote.

The report said the motion to amend the constitution, submitted by 155 MPs more than a fifth of the total number of MPs (596), reflects an actual and legal need.

"There is no doubt that the proposed amendments come as a response to practical and legal needs which all obligate that some articles of the existing constitution be amended," the report said, adding that "the amendments generally aim to introduce reforms to the system of government in Egypt."

Besides, the report said, the amendments were one of the demands of the 2013 revolution, which erupted to save the country from an unprecedented constitutional and political crisis.

"This crisis left the country severely divided, not to mention that it posed a grave threat to the nation's internal stability," it said.

According to the report, parliament's internal bureau (led by the speaker and comprising his two deputies) accepted the proposed amendments, which were submitted on 3 February, only after it had found out that the way they were presented go in line with Article 226 of the constitution and the House's internal bylaws.

"The motion was submitted by more than a fifth of MPs as required by Article 226, not to mention that they explained in clear cut terms what articles requested to be amended and the reasons for such amendments," said the report.

Ammendment to Article 226

The report gave particular comment on the controversial amendment of the last paragraph of Article 226 of the constitution.

"This paragraph stipulates that 'in all cases, texts pertaining to the re-election of President of the Republic or the principles of freedom and equality enshrined in this constitution may not be amended unless their amendment brings more guarantees'," the report said, explaining that "the guarantees required here are only related to the article's stipulation that the president can be re-elected only once or that nobody can run for president for more than two terms, but it does not affect the presidential term itself."

"This means that the stipulation in the last paragraph of Article 226 does not impose any kind of ban on increasing the years of the presidential term," the report argued.

"This explanation comes only after most constitutional law experts and professors have agreed that the last paragraph of Article 226 can be amended and that the experience and existing conditions confirm that a four-year presidential term in office is by no means realistic and adequate to help achieve the country's comprehensive and sustainable development plans. [These plans] require a long period of time for implementation, particularly at an age in which the country is being rebuilt and amid unstable regional conditions which erupted as a result of a number of revolutions," the report said.

Within the above context, the report states, "the amendment of Article 140 of the constitution will be the most notable one."

"This article will be amended to state that the President of the Republic shall be elected for a period of six (instead of four) years, starting from the day following the termination of the term of his predecessor, and that the president may only re-elected once," the report indicated.

Besides, the report said, a transitional article will be created to state that "the current president of the republic shall be allowed to be re-elected in line with the above newly-amended text of Article 140."

The report also indicates that the amendments are logical in the sense of bringing back the post of the vice president, creating a higher council for judicial affairs, entrusting the Armed Forces with protecting the constitution, and referring the crimes of attacking public utilities and vital state buildings to military courts.

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