Debate heats up over Article 76
Deputies from the Muslim Brotherhood railed against the ruling party in parliamentary debates about Article 76 this week. Gamal Essam El-Din
Stung by the arrest of 28 of their members, MPs from the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood group took the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) to task during two days of parliamentary hearings about amending Article 76 of the constitution to allow multi-candidate presidential elections.
The Brotherhood's parliamentary speaker, Mohamed Mursi, said the amendment would not bear fruit as long as security forces use the emergency law to round up and marginalise political activists and political forces. For the amendment to be meaningful, Mursi said, "we need a radical change in the mentality of the regime."
Ali Laban, another Brotherhood firebrand, said the NDP was doing its best to void the proposed constitutional amendment of any meaning. "The application of the emergency law and abuse of human rights," said Laban, "are two major stumbling blocks in the amendment's way." Citing the arrests of 28 members of the Brotherhood in the Middle Delta city of Tanta, Laban alleged that the Interior Ministry rewards security officers with promotions whenever they launch a crackdown on the Brotherhood.
Stepping up their attack, Brotherhood MPs said the NDP had already decided to rig the presidential and parliamentary elections. The NDP, said Hamdi Hassan, a Brotherhood MP from Alexandria, was "set to amplify its shameful and unprecedented reputation for rigging elections" with this fall's contests.
A war of words ensued, with senior NDP MPs warning Brotherhood deputies against "flexing their muscles". Parliamentary Speaker Fathi Sorour said he would not permit the Brotherhood deputies to hurl direct insults and accusations against the NDP and its leaders.
The Brotherhood's fierce anti-NDP stance had much to do with the arrests of some of its leading members. But it also stemmed from the group's discontent with the way of discussion over amending Article 76.
While the official NDP position on amending the constitution to allow multi-candidate direct presidential elections will be announced next week, the hearing sessions in parliament showed a consensus emerging among NDP MPs on the principles that should govern the drafting of Article 76. According to Hussein Megawer, NDP's official speaker in parliament, presidential hopefuls should have to get the backing of 10 per cent of elected MPs in the People's Assembly and Shura Council. They would also need the support of 10 per cent of elected members in municipal councils in 13 governorates (or half the total number of governorates).
Those are the conditions for independent presidential hopefuls, Megawer said; as for political parties, the NDP believes that each party aiming to field a presidential candidate should have at least an elected MP in either the People's Assembly or Shura Council. Brotherhood MPs were livid about the NDP's guidelines. If the amendment of Article 76 turned out to be mere window- dressing, Mursi said, the NDP would be exposing the regime to tremendous foreign (specifically American) pressure and accusations of fraud.
The Brotherhood's view is that presidential hopefuls should have to obtain the direct support of 20,000 registered voters. "This is far better than 10 per cent of MPs in parliament," Mursi said. There is a total of 620 elected MPs in both the People's Assembly and Shura Council. "With no more than 34 opposition and independent MPs in the People's Assembly and six in the Shura Council, it will be impossible for independent presidential hopefuls to obtain the quorum required by the NDP."
Independent MP Adel Eid, agreeing with Mursi, suggested that independent hopefuls be required to get the support of 50,000 voters in at least 10 governorates.
The NDP's stance on the commission overseeing the presidential elections also raised eyebrows with the opposition. Megawer said the ruling party wants to see a mix of judicial and public figures. "Egypt abounds in prestigious public figures who can be positive assets to this commission, such as former UN secretary-general Boutros Boutros-Ghali." The other side thinks the commission should be confined to judicial figures. Mursi said it must be headed by the chairman of the Supreme Constitutional Court and include four judges from the cassation court.
There was also debate over whether or not the presidential elections should take place in just one day. Businessman Ahmed Ezz, a senior member of the NDP, argued that presidential elections in most countries, including the United States, take place in one day. "The United States, which claims itself to be a direct democracy and whose president is championing promotion of democracy in our region, insists that presidential elections take place in one day," Ezz said. Brotherhood MPs said holding the elections on a single day was a clear recipe for rigging. Since there are only 11-12,000 judges and over 35,000 polling stations, Mursi said, it will be impossible for the presidential elections to be placed under full judicial control in one day.
The debate took place in light of an emerging constitutional crisis, with hundreds of judges threatening not to supervise this year's presidential elections. The judges are saying the 33- year-old law regulating the judicial authority must be amended to give them full supervisory powers over the elections, and have scheduled an extraordinary general assembly meeting for 13 May to protest against the Justice Ministry's announcement that there wasn't enough time to submit a new judicial authority law to parliament during its current session.