Problems on hold
The amendments proposed to Egypt’s Constitution have been subjected to a wide-scale societal dialogue that concluded on 28 March.
The first hearings featured the opinions of representatives of religious institutions, Egyptian universities, the press and media, the judiciary, professional syndicates, and politicians; I briefed my readers on these discussions in my 31 March editorial. Then it was the turn of economists; businessmen; representatives of chambers of commerce, industry and tourism; and representatives of the banking sector, investment associations, hotels and free zones to have their say.
Today I carry on presenting the main points brought up in the hearings, hoping that this would work to boost the awareness of our readers on the amendments and the different viewpoints regarding them. The House of Representatives’ Committee for Legislative and Constitutional Affairs will write the final draft and present it to the House on 14 April for a vote. Once a draft is finalised, it will be put up to public referendum.
In the last societal dialogue hearings, the proposed extension of the presidential term to six years instead of the current four was almost unanimously supported. Most of the participants were aware that this amendment was crucial to ensure the country’s stability, and for the current reform and development to be carried to term. On the other hand, the head of the Lawyers’ Syndicate, Sameh Ashour, had a different opinion regarding the way to tackle this amendment. He proposed the introduction of a transitional text to be added to Article 140 of the Constitution, which concerns the election of the president of the republic, to allow the current president to run the coming presidential elections side by side with other candidates.
None of the participants in the dialogue objected to the proposal of electing one or more vice-presidents, but all insisted that it was imperative to clearly outline the powers and prerogatives of the vice-president.
The proposal to establish an upper house to Egypt’s parliament was unanimously endorsed by the participants who demanded that the competencies of the upper house be reviewed so that it becomes a second, active parliamentary chamber. Whereas it was understood that the upper house possesses a legislative function, Mr Magdy Malak, head of the hotels association said that it should also be tasked with a supervisory role. He stressed the need for full separation of competencies between the two houses to avoid legislative confusion.
As in the previous societal dialogue hearings, the proposed amendment of allotting a quota of parliamentary seats to women was met with widely-diverse viewpoints. Some agreed to consistently allot women 25 per cent of the parliamentary seats, while others demanded that this quota be allotted only for a transitional period. Mr Mohamed Zaki El Sewedy, Chairman of the Federation of Egyptian Industries, suggested to divide the quota allotted to women evenly between women over and under the age of 35, in order to bring younger generations into political work. Mr Mohamed Abdel-Salam, Chairman and Managing Director of Misr for Central Clearing, agreed to allot the said quota to women but only through elections and not by appointment. On the other hand, Mr Mohamed Khamis, Chairman of 6th of October City Investors Association, was against the allotment of a quota for women; if granted, he said, it would open the door to quotas to other sectors of the society. It is true that the original request for the constitutional amendments had suggested measures to politically empower not only women but also workers and peasants, youth, Christians, persons with special needs and expatriate Egyptians.
I look back with comfort at the outcome of the societal dialogue hearings, and at the freedom and transparency with which the various viewpoints were presented. I eagerly await the final draft of the constitutional amendments that will be written by parliament’s Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee. Once it passes a vote by the House, and is endorsed by the people through a public referendum, it will govern new paths in our near political future.
7 April 2019