Wednesday,26 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1284, (25 February - 2 March 2016))
Wednesday,26 September, 2018
Issue 1284, (25 February - 2 March 2016))

Ahram Weekly

Amend or upend?

Mona El-Nahhas reports on public efforts to protect the constitution

Al-Ahram Weekly

Dozens of public figures met on Tuesday evening at a Giza hotel to announce the start of a working plan on how to protect the 2014 Constitution. They formed working groups and committees that would determine which tools should be used towards achieving the target.

A document discussing the importance of applying the constitution was due to be distributed to those attending. It also replies to supporters of President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi who say the constitution has as many as six articles that limit Al-Sisi’s powers. Drafters of the document reject the claims, arguing that the president, by means of the constitution, has the upper hand over both the parliament and the government.

Organisers of the Tuesday meeting said the document was not final and would be subject to several amendments during wide-ranging public discussions.

“It’s an open forum. It would be better not to call it a front, as political affiliations would have no presence at the gathering,” Wahid Abdel-Meguid, deputy chairman of Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies and one of the leading members of the forum, told Al-Ahram Weekly on Monday. “Whoever wants to join us is more than welcome, on condition that he should leave aside his political leanings,” Abdel-Meguid added.

The forum does not play any political role, having a legal, constitutional and cultural nature.

Members of the initiative deny having any connection with the campaign “No to Amending the Constitution” launched in December last year by members of both the leftist Al-Karama Party and Popular Current after several members called for a constitutional amendment.

Amr Moussa, chairman of the 50-member committee that drafted the 2014 Constitution, is reported to have established the Egyptian Institution for Protecting the Constitution, the first meeting of which is scheduled to be held on 8 March. It is not yet clear if Moussa’s institution and the organisers of Tuesday’s forum will coordinate in future.

Members of the forum, Abdel-Meguid told the Weekly, started to take action in mid-2015, nearly a year and a half after the unveiling of the constitution that was endorsed overwhelmingly in a national referendum.

“We were appalled by the numbers of legislation issued in flagrant violation of the constitution,” Abdel-Meguid said. He was referring to the anti-terrorism law, the terrorist entities law, the amendments introduced into the criminal procedures law and several other pieces of legislation.

“We got the impression that the constitution was detained at an unknown place, with nobody abiding by its articles. So, we decided it was time to put pressure to apply its articles,” Abdel-Meguid said.

“Applying the constitution will help build a civil and democratic state, where justice and equality are achieved,” said lawyer Samir Eleish, a forum organiser. Eleish noted that the constitution, for the first time in Egypt’s history, granted Egyptians unprecedented rights and freedoms that conform to the principles of the 2011 Revolution. “So the national interest imposes an immediate activation of the constitution, the fruits of which have not yet been reaped,” Eleish added.

Following Tuesday’s meeting, tours of several governorates will start with the aim of spreading what is being called a constitutional culture among people. Symposiums advising the public on what they stand to gain from the constitution will be one method used by the initiative’s members. Rights and duties of all society’s sectors that are stipulated in the constitution would be explained in detail during the tours.

Forum organisers would also contact a number of professional syndicates to coordinate efforts to protect the constitution. “The response we get from the public will define our next step, as it is too early to talk about all our tools now,” political analyst Hassan Nafaa, another forum member, told the Weekly. “It would be wiser to take action gradually and according to each development,” Nafaa said.

Making the constitution effective is not the sole target of the forum. Protecting the constitution from attempts to amend it also takes top priority. “We should stand firm against those who disregard the votes of millions of Egyptians, who by voting for the 2014 Constitution, lent legitimacy to the current regime,” said Nafaa. Both the presidential and parliamentary elections were held after the 2014 Constitution was drafted.

Forum members will monitor the government’s performance to decide whether talk about amending the constitution reflects an official view. “Then we should think about the tools that would help us confront such a catastrophic matter. We are not willing to go once again into the dark tunnel of despotism,” Nafaa said.

The issue of amending the constitution was first brought up in September of last year, in the wake of Al-Sisi’s statement in which he said that Egypt’s 2014 Constitution “was written with good intentions but nations cannot be built on good intentions alone”. Al-Sisi’s comment met with much criticism, later prompting him to tell the media not to read too much into his statements.

Still, a group of Al-Sisi’s supporters, led by preacher Sheikh Mazhar Shahin, hurried to launch the Popular Campaign for Amending the Constitution. Talking to Al-Youm Al-Sabah newspaper on 18 February, Shahin said he would soon contact a large number of MPs to press for amending the constitution in a way that allows the president to fully practice his authority.

According to Shahin, the constitution grants parliament wide-ranging powers while restricting the powers of the president. He said he was against limiting the president’s term in office to two four-year terms. Instead, he suggests that each term should be at least six years, to enable the president to achieve his goals.

“We should not pay much attention to whoever issues irresponsible statements regarding such an issue,” Abdel-Meguid said, referring to Shahin’s statements.

Talking to Al-Bawaba News on 19 February, Mustafa Bakri, a pro-Al-Sisi MP, said the issue of amending the constitution should be left to parliamentary members “who were elected to represent the public”. Bakri accused the forum’s members of deliberately stirring up crises.

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