Egypt's new constitution to be passed to president on Tuesday, opening the way for presidential elections first

Gamal Essam El-Din, Monday 2 Dec 2013

Egypt's 247-article constitution will be passed to interim president Adli Mansour Tuesday, making it possible that presidential elections are held ahead of parliamentary polls

Members of the assembly writing Egypt's new constitution pose for a group photo after finishing their vote at the Shura Council in Cairo December 1, 2013 (Photo: Reuters)

The 50-member committee which finalized Egypt's new constitution on Sunday evening will pass the final draft of the national charter to interim president Adly Mansour on Tuesday. Amr Moussa, chairman of the committee, said members of the committee will hold a meeting tomorrow morning with interim president Adly Mansour to present him the final copy of the new constitution and discuss what measures should be taken towards implementing the next stage of Egypt's post-30 June political roadmap.

It was not until Sunday that the Committee was able to endorse all of the new constitution's 247 articles. Mousa was forced to adjourn the televised session in order to hold another round of closed-door talks on four articles, the most contested of which, article 229, concerned the crafting of an electoral system for upcoming parliamentary elections. According to the article, the first parliamentary elections after ratification of the constitution would have been held via a mixed electoral system, with two-thirds of seats reserved for independent candidates and the remaining third for party-based ones. However, only 18 out of 49 committee members approved of the article's first draft.

As a result, article 229 was amended to bring the upcoming parliamentary elections in line with article 102 of the national charter, which offers the following stipulations:

  • The next House of Representatives will be composed of not less than 450 deputies, elected via direct secret ballot.
  • Parliamentary candidates must be Egyptian nationals, hold a basic education certificate, and be not less than 25-years-old on the first day of registration.
  • Conditions regarding candidacy, the electoral system, and the redrawing of electoral districts will be handled in a way that ensures fair and equal representation of the population and governorates, as well as the electorate.
  • Candidates will be individuals, from party-lists, or a mixture of both.
  •  As regulated by the law, the president of the republic has the right to appoint no more than 5 percent of members of the House of Representatives

The formulation of article 229 in accordance with article 102, said Mousa, means that the status of the next electoral system will be left for the president to decide through national dialogue. The decision to do so was reached after more than four hours of closed-door debate, said Amr El-Shobaki, chairman of the system of governance subcommittee.

Speaking to Ahram Online, El-Shobaki seemed certain that "there will be a kind of national dialogue in the coming period, most probably after the new constitution is passed in a national referendum, to seek consensus over the new electoral system."

Such consensus was not immediately reached among committee members, however. A camp led by Wafd Party chairman Al-Sayed Al-Badawi, along with support from Mohamed Abul-Ghar, chairman of the liberal Egyptian Social Democratic Party, stood in favor of reserving two-thirds of seats for party-based candidates and one-third for independents. Meanwhile, Hussein Abdel-Razeq, representative of the leftist Tagammu Party, motioned for adopting an "unrestricted or free party list system," devoid of benchmarks that must be reached in order for a political party to join parliament.

Digressing even further were representatives of young political movements such as Tamarod, who asked for a 100 percent individual candidacy system.

"Due to these deep differences," Al-Badawi told journalists, "we decided for this system to be decided in a dialogue sponsored by the president."

Article 230 was also re-amended, after receiving just 17 votes in favour. It first stated that elections for the House of Representatives would take place before the presidential ones. Specifically:

  • Procedures for electing the first House of Representatives would begin within 30 and not more than 90 days from the public distribution of the newly-ratified constitution.
  • The first parliamentary session would be held within 10 days of the electoral results' declaration.
  • Procedures for the staging of presidential elections would then begin within 30 days from the date of the first House of Representatives meeting.

The article was re-amended to state that "the procedures of presidential election and parliamentary polls will begin as regulated by law, with the stipulation that presidential elections must be staged within a minimum of 30 days and a maximum of 90 days from the date of the promulgation of the new constitution."

The change essentially did away with dates for the staging of future parliamentary elections after the new constitution goes into effect. Al-Shobaki said this was intended to give the president time to reach consensus over an electoral system.

Many analysts believe that this will open the door for presidential elections to be held before parliamentary polls.

Salmawy told Ahram Online that he believes the matter will be decided in the national dialogues held by the president.

Several committee members -- chairmen of liberal parties and representatives of revolutionary movements like Tamarod, for example -- proposed that the Committee of 50 urge the president to hold presidential polls first. Salmawy said that this is beyond the committee's mandate, but that it could be determined in a dialogue with the president, especially after article 230 had been re-amended.

The other two articles debated by the committee, 243 and 244, were left intact.

Article 243 specifies that the state will ensure the fair representation of workers and farmers in the first House of Representatives. Al-Shobki said there were some last-ditch efforts to reinstate the longtime principle of reserving 50 percent of parliamentary seats for farmers and workers' representatives, but that the movement failed to gain consensus.

In a similar vein, article 244 ensures the fair representation of youth, Christians, and handicapped persons.

In a televised session with other committee members on Monday, Moussa heaped praise on the new constitution.

"[It] comes at a very crucial period of Egypt's history and all must help to implement it," Moussa said.

Mohamed Salmawy, the official spokesman of the 50-member committee, described the new constitution as "the best in Egypt's modern history."

"This constitution represents a milestone between an age of troubles and an age in which we hope complete stability will come back," he said.

Not perfect, just like us

Reaction to the new constitution was varied, a reflection of both the document itself and Egyptian society. Here is a cross-sample of comments, ranging from film directors to religious leaders:

Ahmed Khairy, workers representative, conceded that "although workers and farmers did not get all they wanted," nevertheless they would still accept "the new constitution as the best guarantee of their rights." Khairy announced that that a new workers part was in the process of being established and that it was expected to draw endorsement from 12,000 workers in the initial stages.

Khaled Youssef, film director, said that "this constitution comes to realise possible – rather than – absolute dreams." Youssef urged the Committee of 50 to adopt an initiative aimed at bridging differences among the 30 June revolutionary forces to help Egypt move forward in the new stage.

Mahmoud Badr, Tamarod representative, said that the political movement will launch a Know Your Constitution campaign across Egypt. "Just as were able to collect millions of signatures in favor of toppling the Muslim Brotherhood's fascist regime, we will launch this campaign to garner support for the new constitution," he said.

Abdallah Al-Naggar, professor of Islamic Sharia at Al-Azhar, said that "this is not a constitution for a group or a tribe but a constitution for all Egyptians" . He also praised the new constitution for giving Al-Azhar an absolute role in disseminating Islam, a move he feels will prevent other groups from spreading a radical brand of the religion.

Mohamed Ibrahim Mansour, representative of the ultra-conservative Salafist Nour Party, expressed his thanks to God and to the committee that the constitution has maintained the principles of Islamic Sharia. "This is the [principle] which expresses the identity of the Egyptian people and it cannot be waived," he said.

Bishop Paula, the committee's Coptic Church representative, who threatened to withdraw several times, said that a sense of belonging to Egypt forced him and others to reach a consensus over the new constitution. "A love for this country urged us to do this," he said.

Mohamed Abul-Ghar, chairman of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, expressed his happiness that for the first time, the Egyptian constitution states that Egypt is a civil state. "I am also proud to say that the chapter on freedoms and rights is much better than in free countries like France and Italy," he said.

Ali Awad, constitutional advisor for interim president Adly Mansour, stressed that while "the new constitution might not be 100 percent perfect, all should remember that it is a human product."


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