Problems on hold
Egypt is currently undergoing a plethora of economic and political challenges while up to her ears fighting corruption and striving to reform education, healthcare and cultural effort, and overhaul infrastructure. This is in addition to arduous endeavours to improve living standards for the underprivileged, and to attract investment to bring in job opportunities and reduce unemployment. With the national agenda saddled with all sorts of burdens, it was stunning that a number of MPs should declare they intend to demand an amendment to the Constitution so as to extend the presidential term from four to six years. Has Egypt met all the constitutional requirements for development, progress, and establishment of a modern civil State, for us now to indulge in the academic luxury of amending the 2014 Constitution?
The 2014 Constitution was written once Egyptians in June 2013 succeeded, almost miraculously, in prising their country out of the clutches of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood (MB) rule that came on the heels of the 2011 Arab Spring. Patriotic figures from various Egyptian sectors gathered together then and drafted a new Constitution that established the mainstays of a modern civil State. The new Constitution clearly separates between State authorities, and meticulously defines their prerogatives and roles, with the aim of protecting democracy and securing peaceful rotation of power. True, Egyptians had a year earlier sensed the danger of the political Islam that overtook Egypt in the wake of the Arab Spring, and had realised that the MB would never relinquish power. It was thus senseless to wait for elections to change the Islamist regime; Egyptians took to the street in their masses of 33 millions on 30 June 2013 and rescued Egypt from political Islam. However, it is not possible to count on such behaviour every time Egyptians wish to change adverse political conditions or leaders that might originally come under a Constitution they fully accept; the 2014 Constitution was approved by a resounding 98 per cent in public referendum. That Constitution includes provisions that restrain authoritarianism and despotism, and provide for peaceful power rotation.
By defining a four-year presidential term to be renewed only once, the Constitution protects the nation against authoritarianism, and ensures power is peacefully handed over. Constitutions are not written to honour or reward loyal patriotic rulers, but to protect the people from the tyranny of despotic ones. The first on the ground application of the 2014 Constitution, by far the finest Egyptian Constitution since Egypt’s first Constitution in 1924, should not lead to a legislative rush to change any of its articles. We should not get carried away with calls for amendment of the Constitution to provide for a longer presidential term, only because the current President is esteemed by Egyptians and has to his credit a list of remarkable achievements in national effort, reform, development and international relations.
The Constitution entitles President Sisi to run for a second term. On account of his resounding achievement on all fronts, I have no doubt he will deservedly garner a torrent of public endorsement in the upcoming elections in 2018. The Constitution allows him to stay at the helm for a further four years, until 2022. Why worry for Egypt then? And why this emotional hysteria that seeks to amend the Constitution to ensure what goes beyond that? Why open the door for constitutional amendment that would definitely preoccupy the nation and deplete its political and economic capacities for the sake of futile battles, conflicts and divisions that can only impede the path of reform, development and democracy?
I am aware of rampant public fears in Egypt that the current political party arena, plagued with fragmentation and feebleness, falls short of producing figures that qualify as good presidents. I am even more aware of a quiet conviction among Egyptians that the safety and stability of Egypt greatly depends on the harmony and united effort between the ruling administration and the military institution, a condition ably fulfilled by the current President. Yet, I also know that the political parties are weak and ailing, and that this situation should not be left to fester much longer.
I am totally convinced that President Sisi ought to run for a second presidential term, which totally accords with the current Constitution. I ardently hope he dedicates his second term to address the political party predicament in Egypt, and to spearhead a national programme that would reform the party system, lead to democratic maturity, and prepare the parties to adequately and honourably contest posts of authority. This means the parties should overcome the political adolescence that works to jeopardise national security or relations among the various State institutions.
President Sisi already voiced that desire last May when he met the chief editors of Egypt’s State-owned papers. “I have more than once called upon parties with the same agendas and political views to merge, in order to create [a few] strong parties [instead of numerous, conflicting feeble ones]. Only then will the parties produce calibres that qualify for power rotation.” The rush to amend the Constitution only serves to cover up on political party inadequacy.
I hope that amending the party scene would take priority during President Sisi’s second term. President Sisi has achieved a lot for Egypt; but generating a vibrant political party arena would be the greatest of his achievements. He would go down in history as a man who did Egypt the best favour, and Egypt would gain much more than she would by amending the Constitution to keep him in power.
27 August 2017