Problems on hold
Today I resume writing on my ‘yes’ vote to the constitutional amendments proposed earlier this year and put up for public referendum on 20 – 22 April. The result was an 88 per cent vote in favour of the amendments, at a 44 per cent turnout. In my last editorial, dated 5 May 2019, I went through the articles that were put up for the vote one by one, and explained my stance regarding each. Today I discuss Article 241 bis, to be added to the Constitution. It stipulates that the term of the current President ends six years since he took office in 2018, that is in 2024, and that he may run for a consecutive term.
I have a conditional reservation on the text of Article 241 bis, because it carries two intentional violations in order not to conflict with Article 140 which reads: “The President of the Republic shall be elected for six Gregorian calendar years… and shall not assume the post of president for more than two consecutive presidential terms.” The first violation in the Article 241 bis text states “his current presidential term” instead of “his second presidential term”; the second violation comes further down the text: “the current President may be re-elected for a consecutive term”, while in truth he would be re-elected for “a third term”. As long as the public and the legislators have agreed to allow President Sisi to stay in power after his current ‘second’ term, it would have been more expedient to clearly state that his first term which ran from 2014 to 2018 would not be taken into account; this would have ensured the constitutional legitimacy of the text of Article 241 bis.
I wish to make it clear that I am not venturing on this analysis to express disapprobation of President Sisi remaining in office. I have already voted in favour of the constitutional amendments and share with the majority of Egyptians their affection for the President and their utter confidence in his love for Egypt and his relentless, dedicated efforts towards her stability and development on all fronts, also his huge achievements in upholding Egypt’s strategic interests with the Arab World, Africa, and internationally. President Sisi is beyond doubt the man of the hour, qualified to carry on the project he initiated and take Egypt to new horizons, to the fully modern, civic State.
But the ‘man of the hour’ cannot be the ‘man of all hours’. We must realise that no matter the well-earned trust we place in President Sisi, and no matter how long his years in authority may extend, he will eventually have to step down and hand the reins of power to a subsequent, elected president. We must also realise that the time of everlasting authority is gone, and that in the modern State power rotation is not implemented by people taking to the streets and calling for the departure of their president. The standard in a modern State is peaceful power rotation within time frames for the presidency set by the Constitution; change is imperative and is ensured by the emergence of new figures who would run for president.
We must also realise that the constitutional text that bans a president from remaining in power more than two consecutive terms is intended to protect the people against any president who would come to power and refuse to leave. We must thus brace ourselves to reform and develop our political scene and parties to be sufficiently robust to produce political figures that engage with the public, and that in time can run for President of the Republic.
This is not the first time I broach this important national issue; I have repeatedly tackled it. Today I choose excerpts of what I wrote on 22 October 2017 under the title “Why I would vote for Sisi” at the onset of the campaign to re-elect him for a second presidential term 2018 – 2022:
“I endorse all national efforts to back the nomination of Sisi for a second presidential term, and I hope his great love for Egypt drives him to invest time and effort to reform the political and party map in Egypt equally to his great achievements in her development… The current Constitution was drafted with a vigilant eye that aimed at eradicating the scourge of interminable or lifetime presidential terms, a flaw Egypt has suffered from since it ceased to be a monarchy in 1953. Securing the peaceful power rotation stipulated by the Constitution, however, hinges on creating a robust political map and strong party system able to produce promising leaders fit to fill the post of President of the Republic. Only then can the Constitution effectively protect the nation against burgeoning authority or despotic presidents.
“I am well aware that the fragmentation and feebleness of the parties send no reassuring message to Egyptians as to the capacity of parties to produce figures fit to compete for the post of president. I am sure that President Sisi himself is not happy with this situation; he already expressed this when he commented: “I have more than once called upon parties with similar 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”… Back then, President Sisi was expressing a wish… Today, as I endorse the campaign to nominate him for a second presidential term, I strongly aspire that he would tackle this issue.”
This is what I wrote in 2017; today, in the wake of the constitutional amendments, I can find nothing more important or more relevant.