Problems on hold
Societal dialogue on the constitutional amendments proposed has taken off the third week of this month, March 2019, and runs for sixty days. This gives all society sectors full opportunity to voice their opinion on the amendments.
The first hearings featured the opinions of representatives of al-Azhar Islamic institution and those of the Coptic Church. Hearings by members of Egyptian universities followed, as well as press and media persons. In succession, opinions will be heard by members of the judiciary and national councils, professional syndicates, and political parties, as well as politicians. Finally, it will be for economists, members of economic and financial institutions, representatives of civil society, and public figures to have their say. As I see it, the outcome of these extensive hearings will persuade everyone that the constitutional amendments proposed have been subjected to a fully democratic procedure before any decision is taken regarding them. The opinions expressed should crystallise a vision that would rally the public to a well-informed vote once the amendments are put up for a transparent public referendum. This means that Egyptians would be fully convinced that their amended constitution expresses their desires regarding authority and legislation for years to come, until needs arise for new amendments.
Anyone who has followed the hearings will not fail to observe the healthy diversity of opinion expressed, that is apart from the unanimous view that the Egyptian army is the protective shield that guards the nation. It is beneficial to highlight the various opinions expressed, and to follow up on them until a final text is drafted by parliament and put up to the vote. Following is a sample of the opinion.
The proposed extension of the presidential term to six years instead of the current four was supported by Judge Monsef Naguib Soliman who is the legal counsellor of the Coptic Church. Judge Soliman said he had already called for a longer term when he was member of the Committee of the Fifty which drafted the current 2014 Constitution. The amendment was also supported by Makram Muhammad Ahmad, Head of the Supreme Media Council, who in addition posed a request for multiple presidential terms instead of the current two. He said the Constitution might include a transitional provision for up to five successive terms for the same president as long as he fulfils his role. Karam Gabr, head of the National Press Authority disagreed with Mr Ahmad, approving an extended term but opposing any provision for more than the currently stipulated two terms. Farid Tanaghu who heads the State Council, Egypt’s highest administrative court, was in agreement with Muhammad Amin Mahfouz, first deputy to the Justice Minister, in supporting an extended presidential term of six years instead of the current four. They said this was a demand widely voiced by the people, seeing that it would afford a better opportunity for stability given the regional conditions.
The proposal to elect one or more vice president was accepted almost unanimously, the exception being Sabry al-Senousi, Dean of Cairo University’s Faculty of Law, who said a vice president would be redundant, given the extensive authorities the current Constitution places in the Prime Minister’s portfolio.
Anba Pola, representative of the Coptic Church, strongly approved the proposal to establish an upper house to Egypt’s parliament. He said he had been frustrated back in 2014 as a member of the Committee of the Fifty, when the committee decided on a one-house parliament. It was a pity, he said, that a pivotal entity such as the upper house should have been regarded as useless, and consequently rejected. Judge Soliman also came in support of the proposal, stressing that the upper house should be granted legislative competences that do not conflict with those of the lower house, a point totally agreed upon by Abdel-Rehim Ali, Head of the news portal al-Bawaba News. Muhammad Othman al-Khesht, President of Cairo University, opposed the proposal, saying there was no need for an additional legislative body; the current one-house parliament, he said, handled legislation in a highly adequate manner. The State, Dr Khesht said, cannot afford the legislative inflation that a second legislative body would create.
The proposed amendment to allot a 25 per cent quota of parliamentary seats to women met widely-diverse opinions. Supporters included Dr Senousi; Mr Ahmad; Salah Eddin Fawzy, Professor of Constitutional Law; Abdel-Razaq Foutin, Chief Editor of the daily State-owned al-Gumhouriya; journalist and writer Khaled Salah; and Abdel-Mohsen Salama, chairman of the board of the State-owned al-Ahram Publishing House. Opponents, however, included Mr Ali and Wagdy Zein al-Abidin, Chief Editor of al-Wafd, the mouthpiece of al-Wafd liberal party; who saw that allotting predetermined permanent quotas for women, Copts, peasants and workers, and even youth, renders them all ‘exceptional sectors’. Rather, the opponents said, such quotas should be applied only transitionally, so that elections may be entirely free. For her part, Maya Mursi, Head of the National Council for Women, demanded that the women’s quota should be raised to 50 per cent, seeing that women constitute half the society.
I will be printing more about the proposed constitutional amendments in the future, hoping that this would grant our readers better awareness of the topic, so that when the time comes for them to head to the polls, they would be adequately informed.
31 March 2019