Proposed constitutional amendments to be discussed over next two months: Egypt's house speaker

Gamal Essam El-Din , Thursday 14 Feb 2019

Egypt's Parliament Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal chairs a parliament plenary session to vote on the proposed constitutional amendments on February 14, 2019. (Photo: AFP)

Egypt's parliament Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal has said that a report prepared by a sub-committee on the country’s newly proposed constitutional amendments will be referred to parliament's legislative and constitutional affairs committee to be discussed in detail in hearing sessions over the next two months.

The proposed amendments to some articles of the 2014 constitution were provisionally approved on Thursday by 485 MPs. Each MP was required to hold the microphone to say yes or no to the proposed amendments upon hearing his/her name.

The motion to amend the constitution was submitted by 150 MPs, more than a fifth of the total deputies (596).

Abdel-Aal indicated the amendments will not include amending articles 212 and 213 of the constitution as previously suggested, which are related to regulating the performance of the National Press Organisation and the National Media Organisation.

Abdel-Hadi El-Qasabi, the leader of the Support Egypt majority bloc which submitted the amendments, said that "after consultation with parliament's media committee, we decided that articles 212 and 213 will not be part of the proposed amendments."

Osama Heikal, the head of parliament's media, culture and antiquities committee, voiced objections in yesterday's session to eliminating the two articles related to the National Press Organisation and the National Media Organisation.

Heikal argued that the two should be given time to prove their efficiency and that their laws were issued after long discussion in parliament. 

At the end of the debate and the vote on Thursday, Abdel-Aal said he was keen to give the floor to MPs from all political backgrounds to give their views on the amendments.

"As many as 221 MPs took the floor, 126 of whom are affiliated with the majority and 95 with the opposition, independents and minority," said Abdel-Aal.

According to Abdel-Aal, the constitutional and legislative affairs committee, which will be in charge of discussing the amendments over two months in hearing sessions, will be keen to hold a national dialogue on them.

"At first, all political forces and state institutions will be allowed to send their comments and proposed changes in written form to the committee within one month from now, with the stipulation that these be confined to the proposed constitutional amendments," Abdel-Aal said.

"At the end of this month, there will be a two-week national dialogue on the amendments, and all political forces and representatives of civil society organisations, judges, media people, constitutional law professors, and representatives of workers and professional syndicates will be invited to participate in this dialogue and express their views,” the speaker said.

Abdel-Aal added that at the end of the two-week dialogue, the committee's members will meet to deliberate the outcome of the dialogue for one week, and then have another week to draw up the final drafts of the amendments in a report that will be sent to the House's internal bureau to be discussed and then put to a vote in a plenary session.

"If voted yes at the end of the two month, the final draft of the amendments will be presented to the president to put it up for a vote in a public referendum. It is up to the Egyptian people to give the final word on these amendments in the end," Abdel-Aal added, urging MPs to explain the amendments to people in their districts. 

Abdel-Aal said that the amendments include articles 102, 140, 160, 189, 190, 193, 200, 204, 234, 243, and 244. These seek, he indicated, to achieve six objectives.

The first, he said, is to widen the scope of participation in parliamentary and political life in terms of supporting the role of women in political life in terms of reserving a certain number of seats to them in parliament; preserving the representation in parliament of workers and farmers, Copts, youth, Egyptians abroad, and the physically challenged.

The second objective, added Abdel-Aal, is to strike a balance between the parliamentary and presidential systems.

"This will come through appointing one or two vice presidents; and amending the presidential term to be increased from four to six years," said Abdel-Aal.

Third, he said, the amendments aim at regulating the system of naming the heads of judicial authorities, the prosecutor-general, and chairman of the Supreme Constitutional Court, and creating a supreme council for judicial affairs.

Fourth, Abdel-Aal said, the amendments aim to give the Armed Forces legal powers in safeguarding establishments and public utilities, and naming the minister of defence upon the approval of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF).

Fifth, he said, the amendments aim to reform the election system in line with rulings issued by the Supreme Constitutional Court in this respect.

Sixth, the amendments aim to create an upper house of parliament under the name of "the Senate" to activate political life.

Abdel-Aal said that "at the end of the detailed debate and national dialogue on the proposed constitutional amendments, the final word will be left to the people to give their say in a public referendum."

Some MPs voiced objection to the amendments in Thursday's session.

Akmal Qortam, head of the Conservatives Party, described the amendments "as an assault on the constitution and the rights of the Egyptian people."

He decided to withdraw from the meeting hall when some majority MPs interrupted him.

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