Egypt's parliament preparing for consultations over constitution amendments

Gamal Essam El-Din , Thursday 21 Feb 2019

Parliamentary Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal promises wide-ranging national dialogue over proposed changes to the constitution

Egyptian Parliament (Photo: Reuters)

The House of Representatives provisionally approved amendments to the 2014 constitution following a two-day debate on 13 and 14 February.

Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal announced that 485 MPs had voted in favour of the constitutional changes which will now be referred to the House’s Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee for detailed discussion.

“I was keen in two plenary sessions to give the floor to MPs from all political backgrounds so they could give their views on the amendments,” said Abdel-Aal. “A total of 221 MPs took the floor, 126 of them affiliated with the majority, the remaining 95 comprising the opposition and independents.”

The Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee will conduct hearing sessions over the next two months to which political forces, representatives of civil society organisations, judges, media representatives, constitutional law professors, workers and professional syndicates will be invited to contribute.

At the end of the consultative process committee members will draw up the final draft of the amendments that will be sent to the House of Representative’s internal bureau for review and then put to a vote in a plenary session.

“If the changes are approved the amendments will be presented to the president before being voted on in a referendum. It is for the Egyptian people to give the final word on these amendments in the end,” said Abdel-Aal.

Head of the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee Bahaaeddin Abu Shoka told reporters on Sunday that preparations for consultations have already begun.

“We aim to hold hearing sessions on the proposed amendments to listen to views of all political forces and civil society representatives in a transparent way,” said Abu Shoka. “Constitutional law professors, judges, members of specialised national councils, the National Council for Motherhood and Childhood, the National Council for Women, the National Council for Human Rights, professional syndicates, political parties and trade unions will all be invited.”

“The hearing sessions will be open and could be broadcast live on television. We are under instructions from the speaker that opposition forces be invited to give their opinions.”

Abu Shoka said the committee was already receiving comments on the proposed changes in a written form and will continue to do so until 14 April.

The proposed changes affect articles 102, 140, 160, 189, 190, 193, 200, 204, 234, 243 and 244 of the constitution and, according to Abdel-Aal, aim to achieve six objectives.

The first, he said, is to broaden the political participation of women by setting a quota of seats aside for female MPs and to widen the parliamentary representation of workers and farmers, Copts, young people, Egyptians abroad and the physically challenged.

The second is to strike a balance between parliament and the presidency which Abdel-Aal says “will come about by appointing one or two vice presidents and increasing presidential terms from four to six years”.

The third goal of the amendments is to change the way the heads of judicial authorities, the prosecutor-general and chairman of the Supreme Constitutional Court are selected and to create a supreme council for judicial affairs.

Fourth, said Abdel-Aal, the amendments seek to constitutionally enshrine the Armed Forces’ role in safeguarding vital facilities and public utilities and make the naming of the minister of defence conditional on the approval of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF).

The amendments also aim to reform the election system in line with rulings issued by the Supreme Constitutional Court and to create an upper house of parliament, to be called the Senate.

Proposed changes to articles 212 and 213 of the constitution which regulate the National Press Organisation (NPO) and the National Media Organisation (NMO) have been dropped.

Abdel-Hadi Al-Qasabi, leader of the Support Egypt majority bloc which submitted the amendments, said that “after consultation with parliament’s Media Committee we decided to exclude articles 212 and 213 from the amendments.”

Media, Culture and Antiquities Committee head Osama Heikal had argued disbanding the NPO and the NMO would leave state-owned press organisations and television and radio channels financially vulnerable since “eliminating the NPO and the NMO would leave no control or administrative supervision of media organisations’ financial assets”.

While some MPs want state-owned media to be placed under the control of the Senate, Heikal says the proposed amendments “do not stipulate that this should be the case”.

Informed sources told Al-Ahram Weekly a referendum on the constitutional amendments is expected by the end of April, and certainly before Ramadan begins on 6 May.

“The month-long window for written comments ends on 14 March. The first week of April will be devoted to compiling a final draft of the amendments on which a final vote will be held in the second week of April, allowing a referendum to be called for before Ramadan begins,” said one source.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 21 February, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Preparing for consultations

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