Problems on hold
President Sisi’s credit of love and respect has been rising by the day in the hearts of Egyptians. His every word, move, or trip fills us with a sense of pride for having him as President of Egypt, a feeling we had long missed. With him at the helm, we move forward to restore our national dignity and prestige, and to work at building a modern civic Egypt.
I will not indulge in heaping praise over President Sisi; in fact, and contrary to what many may expect, I will venture on an issue that has been placed on hold for some time and has been cause for worry on my part. I am concerned at some quotes attributed to the President and, more so, at recent calls by his fans and supporters, which I believe might work to abort some of the gains achieved during the last two years.
On 30 June 2013 Egyptians waged a revolution which led to the overthrow of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood regime that had come to power in the wake of the 2011 Arab Spring. In January 2014, Egypt established a Constitution which I consider the greatest of all Egyptian constitutions yet. Significantly, it defined and balanced the authorities of the president, parliament and government. This new equilibrium put an end to the era of Egypt as a presidential republic. It established instead a presidential-parliamentary system in which the people, represented by their democratically elected MPs, have a say in legislation and governance, and monitor the administrative authority up to the president himself. Furthermore, the new Constitution set a clear, well-defined period of four years as the term in office of the elected president, and the possibility to re-elect the President for only one second term. This means that a total of eight years is the maximum period any president can remain in office, regardless of the degree of his popularity or success.
I would like to point out that setting a time limit for the presidential term was not meant to deprive Egypt of a patriotic president who would wisely steer the nation towards remarkable achievement. Rather, it aimed at shielding Egyptians from the arrogance of a president who may bask in the confidence of remaining in power indefinitely. Egypt already went down this road with former President Mubarak who remained in office for 30 years (1981 – 2011). More importantly, by defining a time limit for a president in office, the Constitution ensures rotation of power and the peaceful riddance of any president who fails at soundly leading the nation, defending its people and working for their best, or who jeopardises the nation’s safety and security.
We deeply admire President Sisi for various reasons: his siding with the will of the people on 30 June 2013, his leading Egypt in impressive strides towards economic and political conciliation with the world, and his piercing vision of gigantic national projects. However, our admiration should not lead us to turn a blind eye to any slip by the President or his aides. It should not drive us to support calls to amend the Constitution so as to secure a longer period for Sisi as president.
Our love for President Sisi should translate into rational admiration, watchful awareness, and persistence in honouring the Constitution. We must help push him forward and shield him from going astray. In this context, I here cite a few recent incidents that have given rise to concern.
As Egyptians advance towards democratic maturity, they can no longer be on the receiving end of what the presidency announces. This should not be taken to mean that the executive authority can do nothing except with the people’s approval, since that would practically paralyse the system. But the unexpected dismissal of Ibrahim Mahlab’s government last month required an explanation. True, Egyptians at large had expected some cabinet reshuffle, but not a complete government change. This should have had to wait till yearend when the new parliament is elected. The recent inexplicable change led to cruel rumours tarnishing Mr Mahlab; they were only given the lie when President Sisi restored the previous PM’s dignity by appointing him among his consultants. Yet the questions that begged answers persisted: Why was Mr Mahlab dismissed in the first place? And why were we kept in the dark?
The second incident that raised concerns was one that took place during the current electioneering for the upcoming parliamentary elections. Amid the confusion on the political and party scene, one veteran politician launched a call to found what he dubbed “the President’s Party” to support the President. I am grateful this call was met with no backing because it would have represented a serious setback in Egypt’s political equilibrium. It would have gone against the Egyptian political system in which the President should stand on equal footing from all political parties; even if a president-elect comes from a specific party, he is required to give up his party membership once he is elected president.
I believe that the recent call to amend the Constitution in order to ensure a longer period in office for President Sisi lacks political wisdom. Behind it lie the feeble motives of allowing the President a longer span of time to fulfil his plans to modernise Egypt. It is as though we insist on turning the clock back to the one-man rule, absence of State institutions, and lack of national planning. It even implies that we face a dearth of competent, visionary Egyptians who can truly lead. In which case a calamity would be sure to befall Egypt the day President Sisi leaves office.
I hope we soon outgrow political adolescence and reach the democratic maturity that upholds constitutional legitimacy.
4 October 2015