Friday,24 November, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1359, (7 - 13 September 2017)
Friday,24 November, 2017
Issue 1359, (7 - 13 September 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Constitutional changes stymied

MPs back away from proposals to amend the constitution to extend presidential terms, reports Gamal Essam El-Din

 

Constitutional changes stymied
Constitutional changes stymied

Attempts by pro-government members of the House of Representatives to amend the 2014 constitution to extend the presidential term from four to six years and grant the office of president greater powers appear to have come unstuck following the intervention of high-profile public figures and senior MPs.

In a 23 August Tweet Ahmed Shafik, Hosni Mubarak’s last prime minister and a former presidential candidate, branded attempts to amend the constitution “childish and irresponsible”.

Shafik, who is currently living in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), narrowly lost Egypt’s 2012 presidential election to the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi, taking 48.3 per cent of the vote (12.4 million ballots) to Morsi’s 51.7 per cent (13.2 million ballots).

Ahmed Al-Dabaa, secretary-general of the National Movement Party (NMP) which Shafik helped found in 2011, said on 25 August that Shafik has not yet decided whether to stand in next year’s presidential election. According to Al-Dabaa, “Shafik is expected to give a final decision when the NMP holds its general congress in January.”

Shafik’s lawyer Shawki Al-Sayed told the press on 26 August that since all criminal charges against his client have been dropped there is nothing to prevent him running for president.

Kamal Amer, head of parliament’s Defence and National Security Committee, told reporters calls to amend the constitution were limited to a handful of MPs and it would be wiser to “concentrate on implementing the constitution rather than dissipate energies on amending a document which is only three years old. He warned that “amending the constitution ahead of next year’s presidential poll will undermine Egypt’s image in international circles for no plausible reasons.”

The campaign to change the constitution has been spearheaded by Alaa Abed, the head of parliament’s Human Rights Committee, and MP Ismail Nasreddin. Two weeks ago Nasreddin also proposed that the Shura Council, the second parliamentary chamber dissolved in the wake of the 2011 toppling of Mubarak, be revived.

Amer, a former head of Military Intelligence, says a majority of MPs back President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi for a second term.

“Though many public figures could launch a credible presidential campaign more and more MPs are coming to the conclusion that Al-Sisi needs a second term to consolidate economic and political stability,” said Amer.

“I expect a lot of MPs to publicly back Al-Sisi when parliament begins its new legislative season in October.”

Article 142 of the 2014 constitution stipulates presidential candidates must first secure the endorsement of a minimum of 20 MPs and 25,000 citizens from across at least 15 governorates in order to stand in presidential elections.

On 27 August parliament’s secretariat-general said it had not received official notice from any MPs of proposed amendments of the 2014 constitution. Nasreddin, who says it is “costly for Egypt in both financial and security terms to hold presidential elections every four years,” insists he will submit proposals to change the constitution when parliament reconvenes.

Nasreddin claims to have the backing of 25 MPs and hopes in October or November to have secured the required number of endorsements.

Article 226 of the constitution stipulates any proposed change must first be endorsed by a fifth of MPs before it can be discussed. After securing the required backing the proposed changes must then be voted for at least two thirds of MPs before being put to a public referendum.

MP Mustafa Bakri told Al-Ahram Weekly Abed and Nasreddin’s proposals are struggling to win the support of MPs.

“The consensus of the majority is that the run-up to the presidential poll is not the right time to make these changes. Debating such a sensitive issue is best delayed until after the election.”

“What Egypt needs in the coming stage is economic reform not constitutional amendments,” Osama Heikal, head of parliament’s Media, Culture and Antiquities Committee, told reporters. “In its next legislative session parliament should focus on economic reform and reducing borrowing rather than open a debate on controversial constitutional amendments.”

Two leading members of the Constituent Assembly which drafted the constitution have attacked the proposed changes. Amr Moussa, head of the assembly, said “parliament should look at ways of implementing the constitution not ways to change it,” while Abdel-Gelil Mustafa, who drafted the constitution’s chapter on freedoms, warned “the proposed amendments are not in the nation’s interest and pose a threat to internal stability.”

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