Sunday,23 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1271, (19-25 November 2015)
Sunday,23 September, 2018
Issue 1271, (19-25 November 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Women and Copts oppose constitutional changes

Newly elected female and Coptic MPs say that amending the constitution should not be a priority for the coming parliament, reports Gamal Essam El-Din

Al-Ahram Weekly

A majority of Egypt’s newly elected female and Coptic MPs say supervising the government’s performance, improving the economic conditions of ordinary Egyptians and fighting corruption should be the priorities of the next parliament and not amending the constitution to increase the powers of the president or lengthen his term in office.

Sarah Othman, a newly elected MP from Al-Minya, told parliamentary reporters that she is opposed to any changes to the new constitution.

“I voted in favour of the current constitution because it creates a balance between the president and parliament. I don’t want it amended to pave the way for the creation of a new dictator,” said Othman.

Constitutions under the Mubarak and Muslim Brotherhood regimes “turned Egypt’s presidents into dictators,” she said. “Mubarak was a dictator who wanted to create a family dynasty, while Morsi wanted to create a Muslim Brotherhood one.”

Othman is critical of the performance of the government of Prime Minister Sherif Ismail and urged MPs to focus on “supervising the performance of this weak administration.”

Amal Zakria Qotb, a representative from the Nile Delta governorate of Beheira, also criticised moves to change the constitution.

“It is barely a year old,” she said. “We need more time to assess whether the constitution serves the supreme interests of the country or not.”

Qotb also opened fire on the Ismail cabinet. “Those who followed the way the government dealt with the recent floods in Alexandria and Beheira can feel only sorry,” she said. Qotb urged MPs to focus on scrutinising the performance of the government and, should there be no improvement, to withdraw their support for it.

MP Ghada Agami told reporters that, although she was a member of President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s election campaign in 2014, she is against any amendment of the constitution.

“I support Al-Sisi but that does not mean I am in favour of amending the constitution to give more powers to the president. MPs need to focus on other vital issues, implementing the constitution’s articles on rights and freedoms and improving the daily living conditions of ordinary Egyptians among them.”

Agami too thought the Ismail government’s performance lackluster. “I really regret that Ibrahim Mahlab left. He was a man of great ability,” she said.

Elizabeth Abdel-Messih, a Coptic woman who won a seat in Assiut, said, “The most important priority for the coming parliament is to review the performance of the government of Prime Minister Sherif Ismail.”

She does not think the president was exerting pressure on new MPs to change the constitution when he said, in August, “The constitution was written with good intentions but nations cannot be built solely on good intentions.”

According to Abdel-Messih, “He was simply stressing how important it is that powers granted to parliament be exercised wisely and in cooperation with the president.”

New Coptic MP Mamdouh Maklad opposes any changes to the new constitution. “The 2014 constitution created a good balance between the powers of the president and of parliament. It should not be tampered with,” he said.

“Instead, parliament should concentrate on overseeing the performance of the government and ensuring it acts in ways that will improve the daily lives of ordinary Egyptians, and that means fighting corruption in government circles.”

Said Maklad, “Those who think they are doing the president a favour by vowing to amend the constitution are wrong. What they will really cause him is harm.

“The public will judge MPs who put amending the constitution on the top of their agenda harshly. They will be viewed by most Egyptians as promoting their personal interests over those of the public.”

Sherif Al-Nadi, a Coptic MP elected in Al-Minya, said, “Solving the problems of ordinary citizens and improving their lives must be the first priority of the coming parliament.

“We cannot act like the Mubarak-era, rubberstamp parliaments that were directed by the president. An overhaul of discriminatory laws that violate the constitution is long overdue. A unified law on the construction of places of worship and new legislation regulating the personal status of Copts could go a long way in ending sectarian strife and reinforcing freedoms.”

Many MPs who won seats in the first stage of the parliamentary elections say they want Articles 140, 146, 147 and 161 of the new constitution to be amended to return powers to the president.

Abdel-Reheim Ali, an independent MP from Giza, wants the president to be able to reshuffle or dismiss governments without first consulting parliament.

Khaled Al-Sadr, head of the House of Representatives’ general secretariat, told reporters that out of 273 candidates who won seats in the first stage of the parliamentary elections, 272 have been given their parliamentary membership cards.

Only Mohamed Fakhri Hanafi, an Egyptian living in the United Arab Emirates and elected as part of the For the Love of Egypt coalition, has still to present himself and collect his card.

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