National dialogue on Egypt constitutional amendments begins

Gamal Essam El-Din , Wednesday 20 Mar 2019

The first hearing session on proposed amendments to Egypt's 2014 constitution took place on Wednesday

Ali Abdelaal
File photo: Egypt's parliament speaker Ali Abdelaal speaks during the opening session at the main headquarters of parliament in Cairo, Egypt, January 10, 2016 (Reuters)

Egypt's national dialogue on proposed amendments to the constitution began on Wednesday.

Parliament’s speaker Ali Abdel-Aal, who is leading the dialogue, said there will be six sessions.

"There will be a long one on Wednesday, two on Thursday, one next Wednesday, and two next Thursday, " said Abdel-Aal, adding that "there could be more hearing sessions if there is a need to listen to more views."

He vowed that transparency would be the hallmark of the national debate on the proposed constitutional amendments.

"We need wide participation in the dialogue and we need all forces, including the opposition, to give their views on the amendments in an open, free and transparent way," said Abdel-Aal.

The dialogue is being held at the meeting hall of the old Shura Council. Representatives of Egyptian universities, religious institutions and media organisations were invited on Wednesday.

Sabri El-Senossi, dean of Cairo University's Faculty of Law, took all by surprise when he called for amending the constitution to remove the current limit on presidential terms.

"There shouldn't be a two-term limit because this goes against the principle of free competition," said El-Senossi, arguing that "in Western democracies there is no limit on presidential terms and if there is a good, popular, capable and forceful president, why we should prevent the people from electing him several times?"

Representative of the Islamic religious institution of Al-Azhar Abdel-Moneim Fouad said the constitution shouldn't be considered a Quran.

"This is a human product and it can be amended whenever possible to go in line with changing conditions," said Fouad.

Representative of the Coptic church Archbishop Polis said the 2014 constitution was drafted in critical conditions and those who drafted it were under pressure.

"The constitution was drafted in a hurry to tackle the mistakes of the past but now we need a new constitution that should take us to the future," Polis said.

Well-known journalist Makram Mohammed Ahmed said the proposed amendments to Egypt's constitution have gained national consensus, particularly the one that re-establishes the Shura Council.

Makram said the demand for increasing a presidential term from four to six is “very logical.”

However, he said the transitional article allowing President El-Sisi to run again after the expiry of his term in 2022 was not drafted in a good way.

In another dialogue held by the Egyptian National Business Council on Wednesday, Fathi Sorour, a speaker of parliament for many years during the regime of ousted president Hosni Mubarak, said he is in favour of not allowing an elected president to run for more than two terms, with each lasting six years.

Sorour heaped praise on President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, describing him as having saved Egypt from chaos.

Sorour faced accusations in 2005 and 2007 of having manipulated constitutional amendments to help Mubarak's son Gamal inherit power from his father.

Speaking at the dialogue, he said he is in favour of reinstating the old Shura Council, which was dissolved in July 2013.

"I approve that this second house be recreated under the name of ‘the Senate’ with the stipulation that it gains complete supervisory and legislative powers," he said, adding that "the recreation of this Senate also requires that the number of members of the House of Representatives be considerably reduced." 


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