Al-Ahram Weekly Online   31 March - 6 April 2011
Issue No. 1041
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Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Blueprint for the future

Charting the course for the next several months, the ruling military has just issued an elaborate constitutional declaration but not all are content. Gamal Essam El-Din reports

Eleven days after a referendum in which 77.2 per cent of voters said "yes" to a number of constitutional amendments, the Higher Council of the Armed Forces (HCAF) yesterday issued an interim constitutional declaration aimed at drawing up a political map of Egypt until a new parliament and a new head of state are elected.

But the declaration, announced in a press conference by Gen Mamdouh Shahin, the HCAF's legal adviser, immediately raised a number of questions. It included 62 articles, the most important being that half the seats in the People's Assembly -- parliament's lower house -- must be reserved for representatives of workers and farmers.

The declaration also espoused the 1971 constitution's widely debated Article 2, stating that Islam is the religion of the state and that the principles of Islamic Sharia (code of laws) are the main source of legislation in Egypt.

The declaration also stated that the powers of the Shura Council -- Egypt's upper house parliament -- will be reduced.

Shahin said that while parliamentary elections will be held in September, presidential elections will follow one or two months later.

In general, the constitutional declaration's 62 articles deal with four chapters regulating the performance of the state; basic rights and freedoms; the system of government; and the rule of law. The declaration espoused the constitutional amendments approved in the 19 March referendum, including limiting the presidency to two four-year terms and easing restrictions on candidates seeking to run in presidential campaigns.

They also state that elections must be held under full judicial supervision and compel the elected president to select a vice president within his first 60 days in office.

The declaration also puts an end to an indefinite state of emergency and calls for a constituent assembly to be formed by the new houses of parliament to draft a new constitution.

Shahin explained that the declaration espoused 80 per cent of the mainstays of the 1971 constitution.

"Change in the 1971 constitution will be left to the new president and parliament's constituent assembly," said Shahin. As for the 50 per cent quota of seats reserved for workers and farmers, Shahin argued that the article was maintained "because 40 per cent of Egyptians are still illiterate."

The interim constitutional declaration was the last in a series of steps taken by the HCAF in recent days with the objective of charting a path towards forthcoming parliamentary and presidential elections and civilian rule.

It also comes amid calls issued by the youth's 25 January Revolution to organise a massive million-man protest under the slogan "Save the Revolution" and "The Friday of Salvation".

The coalition cited unfulfilled demands as the reason for the need for a fresh, massive demonstration in Tahrir Square. It explained that on top of these demands was the necessity of speeding up the trial of ousted president Hosni Mubarak and what the coalition statement described as "his regime's most politically corrupt officials": Fathi Sorour, former speaker of the People's Assembly; Safwat El-Sherif, former chairman of the Shura Council and secretary-general of Mubarak's ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), and Zakaria Azmi, Mubarak's chief of staff and the NDP's assistant secretary-general.

The coalition added that it is highly provocative that Sorour still conducts press interviews on TV while Azmi remains in charge of running the affairs of the presidential staff and palaces.

The coalition asked that a special judicial committee be formed to bring Mubarak and his corrupt men to trial as soon as possible.

The coalition also demanded that Mubarak's ruling NDP be disbanded as soon as possible, with all of its headquarters and provincial offices sequestrated. It also called for "cleansing" media institutions -- including state television and radio and newspapers -- of sycophants who are still loyal to Mubarak and his regime; dismantling local councils and ridding state universities "of Mubarak's men".

The coalition also called for releasing all political prisoners, abrogating the newly-issued anti-protest law and forming a presidential council to be tasked with running the affairs of the country and drafting a new constitution.

In addition to the HCAF declaration, the government of Prime Minister Essam Sharaf also issued a number of reformist measures. A national dialogue was launched yesterday, including 160 public figures belonging to various political forces. The dialogue will be held under the title, "A new social contract for Egypt".

The HCAF announced on Monday that the 30-year-old state of emergency will be lifted ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled six months from now. It also indicated that Mubarak was under house arrest in the Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh, quashing reports that he had fled to Saudi Arabia.

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