EGYPT: Evaluating proposed constitutional amendments
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[Editor’s note: Analysts at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace are included among contributors to Babylon & Beyond. Carnegie is renowned for its political, economic and social analysis of the Middle East. The views represented are the author’s own.]
The amendment to Egypt’s constitution recently announced by Chancellor Tareq Bishri’s commission -- if adopted by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and approved by a majority of citizens in a general referendum -- will lay the foundation for constraining the near-absolute powers granted to the president by the 1971 constitution.
They are also a positive step toward administering pluralistic legislative and presidential elections before the end of the current transitional phase. Some of the proposed amendments would help rein in presidential power in Egypt by affecting the following constitutional articles:
• Article 77: Shorten presidential terms to four years and limit presidents to a maximum of two consecutive terms.
• Article 148: Constrain the president’s powers to announce a state of emergency and require a popular referendum to extend the state of emergency beyond six months.
• Article 179: Void presidential power to suspend citizens’ civil liberties and political rights.
• Article 76: Allow for pluralistic presidential elections in which multiple candidates compete, rather than restricting candidacies to members of the National Democratic Party’s general secretariat. To be eligible to run, presidential candidates must now secure either the support of 30 elected members from the People’s Assembly and the Shura Council, or 30,000 voters from at least 15 provinces -- with at least 1,000 votes from each province; or they must have membership in a political party with at least one elected seat in the two parliamentary chambers. In addition, the amendment states that a higher judicial commission oversee presidential elections. • Article 60: Stipulate that a higher judicial commission supervise the elections and the referendum. This will restore complete judicial oversight of electoral processes and place voting and vote counting under the supervision of judicial committee members.
• Article 93: Abolish the principle that ‘the council is the master of its decision’ by giving the Supreme Constitutional Court jurisdiction to rule on the validity of deputies’ membership in the People’s Assembly and the Shura Council.
• Article 189: Require the elected People’s Assembly and Shura Council to choose a constituent assembly of 100 members to draft a new constitution for Egypt within six months of the election of the two chambers.
Despite these proposed amendments, the 1971 constitution supports an authoritarian system of government that gives too much control to the president, violates the powers of the legislative and judicial branches, and suspends citizens’ liberties and rights. It is therefore unsuitable for managing a safe transition to democracy, which requires a parliamentary constitution and balanced powers among all three branches of government -- along with strong mechanisms of inter-branch oversight and accountability.
Amending the current constitution is not enough, but these proposed amendments help ensure that a new constitution will be written for a free democratic Egypt after the legislative elections.
-- Amr Hamzawy in Cairo
Amr Hamzawy is research director at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut and spokesman for Egypt’s Committee of Wise Men, which has recommended specific policy changes for the country’s transition.