Egypt's new constitution to be followed by tackling key political laws

Gamal Essam El-Din, Sunday 19 Jan 2014

With Egypt's newly amended constitution gaining near unanimous popular approval, attention shifts to political laws as legislative and presidential elections approach

the new constitution
An Egyptian vender sells copies of the new constitution in Cairo, Egypt, Saturday, Dec. 28, 2013. (Photo: AP)

Last week's popular approval of Egypt's amended constitution, which marks the successful completion of the first phase of the post-3 July political roadmap, will pave the way for a number of ministerial and legislative changes in the coming days.

As expected, Egypt's newly-drafted 247-article constitution was overwhelmingly approved by a majority of registered Egyptian voters. The turnout for last week's vote was also one of the highest in Egypt's modern history, registering 38.6 percent, or more than 20 million.

Political analysts expect that the liberal government of Prime Minister Hazem El-Beblawi, officially formed 17 July 2013, might be partially or completely reshuffled.

Stability and economy

Amr Elchoubaki, an Al-Ahram political analyst who was a high-profile member of the committee that drafted the new constitution, does not believe that the Beblawi government has to be completely reshuffled. "I think this government might be just forced to change some of its cabinet ministers, especially if deputy premier and Minister of Defence Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi decided to step down and run in the presidential elections," said Elchoubaki.

Elchoubaki believes that the economic performance of the Beblawi government has been excellent, doing a solid job in restoring a great deal of economic and political stability over the last eight months since the ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in July 2013. "But the fact remains that some cabinet ministers, especially those in charge of service portfolios, were not highly efficient and should be replaced with others," said Elchoubaki.

Some analysts have said that the ministers of irrigation, electricity, agriculture, health and internal trade should be replaced.

A report by the Oxford Business Group on 15 January said that the Beblawi government was able by the end of 2013 to stabilise the economy and use fund packages provided by Egypt's Gulf allies to substantially bolster confidence and brighten the economic outlook. The report recommended that the present government stay until a new parliament is formed, to complete its task of putting the economy on a sound footing. 

Hani Sarieddin, a leading economist and member of the liberal Free Egyptians Party, however, argues that "The government of Beblawi must be reshuffled completely." "I think that there is a priority that a neutral government be installed to take charge of staging presidential and parliamentary polls in a democratic climate in the next six months," said Sarieddin.

Political laws to be amended

If a cabinet reshuffle is still cast in doubt, it is sure that a number of laws will be amended in the coming period to pave the way for presidential and parliamentary elections. Topping the list, said Gamal Zaharan, a professor of political science at Suez Canal University, are amendments of four key political laws regulating presidential and parliamentary elections, and the performance of political parties.

"if Interim President Adly Mansour decides that presidential polls are to be held first, a law regulating these polls must be amended soon to go in line with the newly-drafted constitution," said Zaharan.

Ali Awad, a constitutional advisor to President Mansour, said the presidential elections law (Law No 174 of 2005) will be amended soon to pave the way for presidential polls. Awad explained that "This law must be modified to reflect the new constitution's articles regulating the presidential ballot and the make-up of the commission in charge of staging it."

Article 141 of the newly endorsed 2014 Constitution stipulates that presidential candidates must be born to Egyptian parents, and that a candidate, along with his parents and spouse, should never have held dual nationality, should have performed military duty (or have been exempted therefrom by law), and should not be below 40 years of age on registration day.

Article 142 states that in order for a presidential hopeful to be eligible to run, he or she must get the endorsement of 20 elected parliamentary deputies or the signatures of not less than 25,000 citizens (rather than 20,000 in the current law) from at least 15 governorates, with a minimum 1,000 from each.

Besides, a five-member Presidential Elections Commission (PEC) will be formed to take charge of overseeing and monitoring presidential polls. The PEC is to be headed by Anwar Al-Assi, now acting chairman of the High Constitutional Court (HCC) and include Abdel-Wahab Abdel-Razek, the HCC's first deputy chairman, Ezzat Omran, deputy chairman of the Court of Cassation, Nabil Salib, chairman of Cairo's Appeals Court, and Essam Abdel-Aziz, first deputy chairman of the State Council (administrative courts).

PEC's secretary-general was named as Hamdan Fahmi, a judge at the HCC.

Zahran explained that in order for parliamentary elections to be held, there must be amendments to three laws: the law on the exercise of political rights (Law No 73 of 1956); the law regulating the performance of the People's Assembly — now named the House of Representatives — (Law No 38 of 1972); and the electoral districts law (Law No 206 of 1990).

National dialogue

The 50-Member Committee that drafted the new constitution granted President Mansour a mandate to reach consensus via a national dialogue over a new electoral system to go into effect before parliamentary polls are held.

The results of a national dialogue showed that as much as 93 percent of participants favoured implementing the individual candidacy system. "If so, the two laws on the exercise of political rights and the People's Assembly will be amended to state that the individual candidacy system must be implemented, with the 1990 law also modified to redraw electoral districts," said Zahran.

Several political activists, however, believe that Mansour will favour a mixed individual and party-list electoral system.

Zahran also indicated that the law regulating the performance political parties (Law No 40 of 1977) must be revised to reflect the new constitution's stipulation that political parties cannot be formed on religious foundations or background.

Ahmed Al-Boraie, minister of social solidarity, has said the NGOs law will also be in the pipeline for amendment. "This law must be amended soon to reflect the stipulations introduced by the new constitution, on top of which that NGOs are strictly prohibited from forming armed militias or indulging in secret activities, and that they can be dissolved only under judicial order."

Short link: