Al-Ahram Weekly Online   17 - 23 March 2005
Issue No. 734
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

All in the fine print

By Abul-Ela Madi

President Hosni Mubarak's proposed amendment of Article 76 of the Constitution is a good thing. A large body of intellectuals, politicians, academics and civil society figures have been calling for such an amendment, among other things.

Now, more steps are needed. We need to elect a constitutive assembly that would write a new constitution. We need to establish the public's unfettered right to form parties, associations and societies. We need a media that is free in ownership and content, one that is not answerable to the ruling party. All the freedom-restricting laws, including the emergency laws, must be rescinded. All political detainees must be freed. No more torture or human rights abuses are to be condoned.

The demands are simple. First: multi-candidate presidential elections. Second: a maximum of two terms for the president and, third, limited presidential powers. So far, the president has granted only the first demand, and inadequately so. The restrictions that are being placed on presidential candidates do not make sense.

For example, candidates should not be required to get the approval of legislative and municipal councils known to be elected undemocratically. For a candidate to become viable, he or she should secure a number of signatures, 10,000 or so, from a minimum of 10 governorates. That would ensure that the candidate is serious about nomination. Also, the proposed elections committee does not need to include public figures along with judges. Instead, the committee should draw its members exclusively from the judiciary, for the latter are best qualified to supervise the elections.

It has been proposed that the elections should take place in one day, which is impossible, since the number of judges in Egypt is one-third of the constituencies. The judiciary needs a minimum of three days to supervise the elections properly, so the elections must take place over three days. Unless such measures are introduced, the suggested reform will remain incomplete, perhaps even meaningless.

This week's Soapbox speaker is head of the New Wassat Party.

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