Calls for constitutional amendment to extend Egypt's presidential terms spark debate

Gamal Essam El-Din , Wednesday 16 Aug 2017

Constitutional amendments
In this file photo from 2014, an Egyptian man displays the voting paper that says "Do you approve the constitutional amendments?" during the referendum on the new constitution at the Egypt Consulate abroad. (Photo: Reuters)

Calls by some Egyptian MPs to amend the 2014 constitution to extend presidential terms from four years to six have been met with criticism from some political forces.

Ismail Nasreddin, an MP affiliated with parliament’s majority bloc Support Egypt, was the first to call for amending the constitution, saying Article 140 should be amended to extend the president's term from four to six years.

Nasreddin, an MP from the South Cairo district of Helwan, had said in February that he also wants to change Article 146, which mandates parliamentary approval before the president can make cabinet appointments or dismissals, as well as Article 103, which requires MPs to devote their full time to parliamentary business.

Nasreddin also said Article 190 should be amended to strip the State Council – the country’s top administrative judicial body – of some its powers.

A number of political parties and figures have criticised the call to amend the constitution to extend presidential terms, including the Wafd, the Future of a Nation, the Conference, El-Tagammu, the Socialist Popular Alliance, the Nasserist, and the Egyptian Social Democratic parties.

Amr Moussa, the former foreign affairs minister who headed the 50-member constituent assembly that drafted the 2014 constitution, has also rejected calls to extend the president’s term.

In a statement on Saturday, Moussa said that parliament should look to implement the constitution, not amend it.

Last week, the head of parliament's Human Rights Committee Alaa Abed called for amending the 2014 constitution to extend presidential terms as well as expand the powers of the president to “help future presidents implement their programmes.”

"The powers we want to give the president include the right to appoint and fire cabinet ministers without first obtaining parliament's approval," said Abed.

"A four-year term is a very short period for the people to judge a president, not to mention that this short period does not help keep the country stable in a region plagued by internal conflicts and sectarian strife," Abed said.

"An election every four years in Egypt is highly costly in security and financial terms."

Abed, who is also the parliamentary spokesman of the Free Egyptians Party (65 MPs), argued that "when the Constituent Assembly met to draft the constitution four years ago, it was under pressure after the 30 June 2013 Revolution, which erupted to eliminate the autocratic rule of the Muslim Brotherhood and religious fascism," said Abed.

"However, after [former president Mohamed] Morsi exploited presidential decrees to give himself absolute power, the Constituent Assembly reacted by stripping the president of many of his essential powers in the new constitution, in addition to [limiting] his term to four years in office."

Abed also said that the constitution should also be amended to bring back the country’s second legislative chamber, which was abolished in the 2014 constitution.

"We want an upper parliament to be created to help the House of Representatives bear its legislative and supervisory responsibilities."

Abed added, however, that he does not want to amend the constitution's articles on freedoms and rights.

"These articles were drafted in a very good way. All we want is to change at least 15 articles to help the country meet economic and security challenges in the coming years," Abed said.

He recommended that the constitution be amended ahead of the 2018 presidential elections.

"Let's draft the amendments and let the people approve or reject them in a public referendum."

In a meeting on 9 August with constitutional law professors affiliated with Mansoura University, parliament speaker Alaa Abdel-Aal said that "Egypt's 2014 constitution in its current form does not help serve the country's needs in the long run.”

“Many of the articles in this constitution should be reconsidered, such as the article that allows the president to appoint a cabinet minister only after getting parliament's approval," said Abdel-Aal.

Al-Ahali, the weekly mouthpiece of the leftist Tagammu Party, said in its Wednesday issue that "the true aim behind these calls is to postpone presidential elections to 2020 to help the incumbent president – President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi – stay in power for two more years.

"And if the current president wins a second term in an election in 2020, he would stay until 2026," Al-Ahali said.

Ashraf Rashad, the head of the pro-El-Sisi Future of a Nation party, said in a statement this week that the party supports re-electing El-Sisi next year, but is against amending the constitution at this time.

Omar Simida, the head of the Conference Party, which was founded by Amr Moussa,  has also said that "what is important now is to encourage citizens to actively participate in voting next year."

"This is not the right time to amend the constitution, but the matter could be put to a national dialogue after the presidential poll next year," said Simida.

In March, El-Sayed El-Badawi, the head of the Wafd Party – Egypt's oldest political party –  said that "amending the constitution to extend the president's term is a very bad step."

"It would do a lot of damage to the president and parliament's reputation," said El-Badawi.

In June, Mohamed El-Sewedi, the head of the Support Egypt bloc, told reporters in a press conference that "what we see are just individual calls; there is no collective action seeking to amend the constitution."

Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Omar Marawan also told reporters in a press conference in July that "the government does not intend to amend the constitution."

"Who said the government wants to change the 2014 constitution?" Marawan asked, adding that "these press reports do not have any foundation."

Short link: