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Time for change
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 31 - 01 - 2019

MPs this week proposed amendments to the 2014 constitution. More than fifth of MPs submitted a motion on Sunday requesting 17 of the country's 247-article constitution be changed.
In two urgent meetings on Sunday and Tuesday parliament's General Committee, headed by Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal and including his two deputies, the heads of parliament's 25 committees and representatives of political parties and independent MPs, approved the amendments in principle.
A report on the amendments will now be prepared and put to a vote. If the vote is in favour the report on the proposed amendments will be referred to parliament's Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee to be discussed in detail.
Abdel-Aal issued a statement saying all political forces inside and outside parliament will be allowed to give their view on the proposed amendments.
“Representatives of political forces will be allowed to attend the hearing sessions held by the Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee and express their opinions on the proposed amendments,” said Abdel-Aal.
“I promise that the proposed amendments will serve national security interests and internal stability and observe all local and international constitutional principles and standards.”
“I want to assure the public that should the changes be subject to a parliamentary vote they will pass only after the House of Representatives is convinced they serve the interests of citizens and the nation as a whole.”
Abdel-Aal stressed “MPs will make sure that freedoms and forms of equality among citizens are firmly respected.”
The proposed amendments, said Abdel-Aal, have seven aims: to boost parliamentary representation of women, Copts, expatriates and the physically challenged; to create an upper house to help widen participation in political and parliamentary life; to increase the length of the presidential term from four to six years; to bring back the post of vice president; reform judicial authorities; create a coordination council for judicial authorities to be headed by the president and change the way the minister of defence is appointed.
Abdel-Aal's move came hours after Abdel-Hadi Al-Qasabi, leader of the majority Support Egypt parliamentary bloc and head of the Social Solidarity Committee, submitted the motion. Al-Qasabi told reporters that the suggested changes, signed by more than 120 MPs, included increasing the presidential term from four to six years, creating a second chamber — “the Senate” — and boosting the representation of women, young people and Copts in parliament.
“The motion was drawn up after much study and aims to correct the flaws in some articles in the 2014 constitution.”
The 2014 constitution, argued Al-Qasabi, was drafted in a hurry, under international pressure and during troubled times.
“Now Egypt has recovered stability some of the charter's articles relating to the rotation of power, parliamentary performance, the regulation of judicial authorities and the selection of the minister of defence should be amended to give greater long-term stability,” he said.
“The amendments will be subject to three months' intense debate in parliament and in the Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee and if everything goes OK it will be up to the Egyptian people to give the final say in a public referendum.”
“MPs believe an extension of the presidential term is necessary to give the elected president time to implement his election programme and they want to return to a bicameral system to give greater space for political activists to participate in parliamentary life,” said Al-Qasabi.
He revealed the proposed changes include dropping articles 212 and 213 on press and media regulation on the grounds “the complicated problems state-owned press and media organisations face” require more comprehensive solutions.
“The constitutional amendments should be concluded within four months. Parliament should decide whether the motion is passed or rejected within 30 days. It will then take two months to discuss the proposed amendments and vote on them. If they are approved the president of the republic will then ask citizens to vote on them in a yes/no public referendum,” said Al-Qasabi.
In its two meetings, parliament's General Committee praised the amendments.
“From time to time countries need to amend their constitutions to keep pace with developments on the ground,” said Abdel-Aal. “Any new amendments, however, should aim to reinforce democracy and help sovereign institutions perform efficiently.”
The representatives of three political parties — the Conservatives, the Tagammu and the Egyptian Socialist Democratic Party — refused to endorse the motion. The 16-member leftist bloc of the 25-30 group of MPs also issued a statement on Monday rejecting the proposed amendments.
The group's spokesman Gamal Al-Sherif said in a press conference that “the amendments represent an aggression on the principle of rotation of power.”
“What is being proposed is that the presidential term be extended from four to six years, and that current President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi be allowed to run for another two terms, each of six years, after his current, second term ends in 2022,” said Al-Sherif.
He also argued the amendments undermine the independence of the judiciary and the media and “mandate the Armed Forces to defend the constitution and democracy, another big danger.”
Some MPs affiliated with the majority oppose the provision 25 per cent of parliamentary seats be reserved for women.
Al-Qasabi insists “the amendments are in line with the last paragraph of Article 226 which states that texts related to re-electing the president or the principles of freedom and equality can be amended only upon the offering of greater guarantees.” He added the amendments do not include articles related to Islamic Sharia, Al-Azhar or the ban on the formation of religious parties.

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