By Heba Fahmy
CAIRO: While opposition groups welcomed the proposed amendments to the constitution, they maintain they are not enough to guarantee free and fair presidential elections.
General coordinator of the April 6 Youth Movement, Ahmed Maher, told Daily News Egypt, “These amendments are acceptable as a temporary step until a new constitution is established by a constituent assembly.”
“The amendments heed a big part of our demands,” Vice President of Al-Wafd Party, Fouad El Badrawy, told Daily News Egypt. “But we’ll have to see how serious they are when it comes to executing these amendments on the ground.”
El-Badrawy said that the article stipulating that 50 percent of the People’s Assembly should be workers or farmers should be cancelled.
Many voiced concerns that the proposed amendments still give the president the ultimate authority.
“The jurisdiction and authority given to the president by the constitution hasn’t been reduced which allows dictatorship and corruption all over again,” said the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed El-Beltagy.
El-Badrawy expressed hope that an elected constituent assembly will reduce the wide authorities given to the president by the constitution.
Nabil Abdel Fattah, a political analyst at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, said, “These amendments won’t lead to any vital change in the nature of the tyrannical constitutional regime ruling in Egypt through the president.”
He explained that according to the constitution, the president is the supreme commander in chief of the armed forces, he can order the amendment of most of the constitution, he can interfere in determining the general budget of the country and many other authorities that give him too much control over the people.
Basic freedoms and political parties
El-Beltagy also called for articles restricting civil freedoms and governing political parties to be amended.
On the other hand, Sobhi Saleh a member of the committee of constitutional experts responsible for amending the constitution who belongs to the Muslim Brotherhood group, said that the committee had rightly proposed the cancellation of Article 179 which deprives people of their basic freedoms.
Article 179 restricts basic freedoms cited in Articles 41, 44 and 45 of the constitution, in the name of protecting national security against terrorism.
The article allows detention, inspection, trespassing, surveillance and confiscation of phones and other means of communication without a court order.
The committee also proposed that the consent of a majority of the People’s Assembly is required to declare a state of emergency.
They added that the state of emergency could not be declared for more than six months except through a public referendum.
Founder of Al-Ghad Party Ayman Nour echoed El-Beltagy’s sentiments, also saying the law governing political parties needs to be amended to guarantee the freedom to create parties and develop existing parties.
“I don’t think six months is enough to prepare candidates to have a real battle in the presidential elections,” Nour said. “In six months only the National Democratic Party (NDP) and the Muslim Brotherhood will be ready to compete in the elections.”
Abdel Fattah agreed with Nour saying, “The transitional period is very short and will only give the most organized, established powers the chance to compete in the presidential elections.
“This narrows it down to the NDP and the Muslim Brotherhood,” Abdel Fattah added.
“The Brotherhood might strike a deal with the NDP in exchange for allowing them to establish a political party and become more recognized by the government as a legitimate opposition power,” he said.
The MB group had repeatedly announced that it had no intention of fielding a presidential candidate.
Prominent member of Al-Tagammu Party, Fathia Al-Assal said, “A constituent assembly is supposed to form a new constitution appropriate to the current circumstances.
“I’m not convinced with grafting the constitution like what’s happening now,” she said.
“I believe drafting a new constitution can take a month, not six months,” Al-Assal said. “As we have a lot of constitutions we can use and extract from in order to have a one that represents us today,” she added.
El-Beltagy stressed the need for dialogue with the people and opposition groups before the referendum is held to approve the constitutional amendments.
Saleh, however, reiterated that the proposed amendments to Article 189 stipulate that the elected members of the new parliament must appoint a 100-member constituent assembly to draft a new constitution within six months of its appointment.
The new constitution would be approved by a referendum within 15 days of its completion without any interference from the upcoming president, he said, in an attempt to allay fears that other controversial articles in the constitution will remain unchanged.
“This article gives the people back their power to determine their own future and choose the constitution that will best represent them,” Saleh told Daily News Egypt.
“Our job was to amend the constitution [to accommodate the coming elections] not to change the governing system of Egypt into a parliamentary system,” he said.
The proposed amendments stipulate that a president can only rule for a maximum of two four-year terms.
The amendments proposed to Article 75 set conditions for presidential candidates that include a minimum age of 40, stipulating that the nominee and his or her parents be Egyptian citizens never held a foreign citizenship. Potential nominees cannot be married to a non-Egyptian.
These conditions raised questions regarding the eligibility of former IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei to run in the upcoming presidential elections.
Moustafa El-Naggar, general coordinator of the campaign supporting ElBaradei told Daily News Egypt, “There is nothing in the proposed amendments that would prevent ElBaradei from running in the coming elections.
“ElBaradei’s parents and wife are all Egyptian and he would easily be able to garner the support needed from the parliament to run,” El-Naggar added.
According to the proposed amendments, candidates are eligible to run if they collect 30,000 signatures from at least 15 governorates in Egypt, with a minimum of 1,000 supporters in each, or if they are endorsed by 30 members of parliament, or if their party has at least one seat in parliament.
The president is committed to appointing one or more vice presidents within 60 days after taking office, according to the proposed amendments.
Nour, however, said he was against this point, describing it as “absurd.”
“A vice president should be elected along with the president during presidential elections,” Nour told DNE.
The Egyptian Coalition for Civic Education and Women’s Participation, which comprises over 100 NGOs, denounced amendments proposed to Articles 75, 76 and 189, saying they exclude women candidates from presidential elections.
In a statement issued Tuesday, the coalition said the amendments led to “great worries … for they did not achieve what the Egyptian people aimed for, nor meet the revolution’s demands.”
The coalition stated that Article 75 limits presidential candidates to men only, while Article 76 “reflects a clear disruption of equal opportunities,” and “paves the way before the electoral briberies, buying votes, in addition that it puts the future of the president in the hands of a specific power.”
Regarding Article 189, the coalition said the formation of a constituent in order to issue a new constitution does not ensure the existence of women and men experts from outside the Shoura Council and People’s Assembly, calling for including “a condition whereby the constituent should have experts from outside both of the two councils, in which gender balance should be taken into consideration in order to have sound participation of women experts.”
The army suspended the constitution on Feb. 13 after it assumed power when former president Hosni Mubarak stepped down two days earlier while serving his sixth term.
The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces announced that the referendum on the constitutional amendments will be held on March 19 to prepare for parliamentary elections in June and presidential elections in August.
The new elected president will be handed over authority in the beginning of October.