When Egypt's parliamentary majority the Support Egypt coalition submitted proposed amendments to the country's 2014 constitution on 3 February, it came as no surprise for many that one of the objectives of these amendments was to reinstate the post of vice president.
Abdel-Hadi Al-Qasabi, head of the Support Egypt coalition, told parliament's Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee during the final debate on 14 April that "as the amendments in general aim to reinforce Egypt's internal and political stability, the restoration of the post of vice president comes to serve this objective."
The amendments, which were approved by parliament on 16 April and are being put to the vote in a public referendum this week, include three articles on the post of vice president.
Article 150 states that the president of the republic shall be authorised to name one or more than one vice president, underline his/her roles, exempt them from their post, and accept their resignation. The constitution's articles 141, 144, 145, 148 and 173 will deal with this issue.
According to Al-Qasabi, when the 50-member constituent assembly met in 2013 to draft the existing constitution, it agreed that Egypt should adopt a mixed presidential-parliamentary system. "As a result, the assembly refused to keep the post of vice president in place and opted instead that if a temporary obstacle makes the elected president unable to perform his duties, he will be replaced by the prime minister," said Al-Qasabi, "but now we think that the restoration of the post of vice president has become a necessity and at the same time will by no means form a violation of the existing mixed presidential-parliamentary system."
A final 54-page report prepared by parliament's Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee on the amendments said "when the issue of the post of vice president came up for debate during the national dialogue hearing sessions on the amendments between 20 and 28 March, many MPs and political activists said the post of vice president is suitable only for a country with one hundred percent presidential system and so the restoration of this post should be rejected."
"They also argued that the post of vice president will be redundant because those who will assume this post will be just shadows for the president, and that the lack of this post will not cause any kind of legislative void as the president can be replaced by the prime minister," said the report.
However, according to the report, all the above arguments were rejected by the committee. "The restoration of the post of the vice president does not go in violation of the mixed system, because under this system the president holds many and real powers and that these entail challenging tasks, and so the restoration of the post of vice president will be a very logical step, because this vice president will be highly helpful in enabling the president to perform these tasks," the report said.
After Egypt became a republic in January 1953 and Gamal Abdel-Nasser was elected president in 1956, the post of vice president came into being. But it has also become a problem for most presidents since then. Nasser used to change vice presidents every now and then, but in December 1969, or almost one year before he died, he decided to select one vice president, Anwar El-Sadat.
Unlike Nasser, Sadat chose Hussein El-Shafie, a member of 1952 revolution's command council, when he came to office in October 1970. In April 1975, however, Sadat decided to choose Hosni Mubarak, the former commander of the army's air force, as vice president.
Unlike his two predecessors, Mubarak declined to appoint a vice president throughout his rule.
"Maybe because Mubarak himself was a vice president and so he knew that the duties of a vice president are so insignificant, he decided not to name a vice president," said Samir Ghattas, an independent MP and a political analyst, adding that "the only significance in this post is that in the past a vice president could be a president if the latter died, and we all know that this was the case with Sadat and Mubarak."
But it was the uprising in January 2011 that at last forced Mubarak to name a vice president – Omar Suleiman, the chief of Egypt's general intelligence service.
The 2012 constitution, drafted by a constituent assembly dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood, rejected the post of vice president. "The same was true about the current 2014 constitution which it aimed to just strike a balance between the president on one side, and parliament and the cabinet on the other," Ghattas told the Committee.
Ahmed Helmi El-Sherif, deputy head of the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee, told Ahram Online that "the main job of the vice president will be to help the president of the republic."
"First of all," argued El-Sherif, "many proposed that as the post of vice president will be reinstated, it should be obligatory – rather than optional - for the president to name a one once the amendments go into effect."
"But the committee rejected this argument and we decided that it should be optional for the president to name a vice president or not," said El-Sherif, adding that "as the main job of the vice president is to help the president, we decided to leave the matter optional for the president who will see by himself whether this measure will help him his job and serve the public interest."
El-Sherif revealed that "a big number of participants in the national dialogue also wanted that the president be allowed to name one vice president only."
"We also rejected this argument, insisting that this measure should be also left to the president to decide," said El-Sherif, adding that "the president is the only one who can decide if a vice president should be named, and whether there should be one or more than one vice president."
The report said "some political activists said the president and vice president should be elected on one ticket, just like the case in the United States."
El-Sherif, however, said "this proposal was also rejected by the committee because the election of a vice president represents a part of the 100 percent presidential systems."
As a result, the report indicated, an appointed vice president will be politically responsible to the president only.
"An appointed vice president will not be required to receive a prior approval from parliament or face a vote of confidence from MPs, not to mention that the president will not be obliged to seek parliament's prior approval if he decide to dismiss or change vice presidents," said the report, indicating that "the vice president can face trial on grand treason charges and in line with Article 173 of the constitution."
The report said the amended Article of 160 (last paragraph) states that if a caretaker president takes office, he shall not be entitled to amend the constitution, dissolve parliament (the House of Representatives) or Senate, or dismiss the government. The caretaker president will also not be allowed to run for president.
Explaining on the above, the report said the vice president cannot become a president if the latter dies or resigns.
"Just in case of temporary absence, it is the president who will decide who can replace him, and if he has more than one vice president it will be also up to him to choose the one who will replace him," said the report. In this respect, the amended Article 160 (first paragraph) states that "if a temporary obstacle makes the elected president unable to perform his duties, he will be replaced by a vice president or prime minister if there is no a vice president."
The report indicates that "there is a difference between a temporary and permanent obstacle." "The president can't be replaced by the vice president if he dies or resigns from office as these are permanent obstacles, but in cases of temporary obstacles, such as getting sick, the president can decide that a vice president can replace him," said the report.
For the above reasons, said MP Ghattas, appointed vice presidents will be "just presidential aides."
"It is the president who will appoint them, specify their duties, force them to resign or dismiss them from their posts, and above all, they will not be able to become president if their boss dies," said Ghattas, adding that "and for these reasons, the opposition in parliament thinks that the post of vice president will be just redundant and superfluous."
"Under the amendments, the post of the vice president will not have any significance," said Ghattas.
By contrast, however, El-Sherif argues that the restoration of the post of vice president could be important in the future. "Because at some point we could have a political figure who can gain experience in exercising presidential duties and so he can run and become a future president, this will sure serve the objective of reinforcing internal and political stability," argued El-Sherif.
Agreeing with Al-Sherif, Abdel-Moneim El-Oleimi, a veteran member of parliament's Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee, told Ahram Online "see what happened with Hosni Mubarak."
"When president Sadat chose him as vice president in 1975, Mubarak was just a purely military figure. "
"He was able in his early years [as president] to regain stability after a long period of troubles under Sadat, and it was only because he refused to appoint a vice president throughout his rule and opt to prepare his son in his last years in power to inherit from him that the people decided to revolt against him," said El-Oleimi.
The report indicates that an appointed vice president will be required to take the presidential oath in accordance with Articles 144, and as for the conditions of his selection he will be governed by Articles 144, 145 and 148, and 173 of the constitution. "He will be sworn in before the president, and as for his salary and financial rewards, he will be governed by the same rules regulating the post of the president in this respect and in accordance with Article 145," said the report.