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Pressing for consultations
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 14 - 02 - 2019

The House of Representatives has held a provisional vote on constitutional amendments. A 26-page initial report on the changes proposed by 155 MPs was discussed on Wednesday and Thursday.
Representatives of a majority of political parties and independent forces approved the report in principle but stipulated their continued support was contingent on the amendments being the subject of a serious national dialogue before they are put to a final vote.
Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal said the amendments and the report will be referred to the Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee to be discussed in detail.
“Political and civil society forces inside and outside parliament will be invited to attend the hearings to express their views on the amendments,” said Abdel-Aal. He added that the proposals seek to increase participation in political and parliamentary life by resurrecting a second chamber and increasing the number of women, young people and Copts in parliament, reinforce political stability by increasing presidential terms from four to six years and bringing back the post of vice president, reform judicial authorities and change the way the minister of defence is selected.
Independent political forces did express reservations over the way the amendments were submitted. Amr Moussa, a former foreign minister and head of the 50-member constituent assembly which drafted the current national charter, tweeted on 9 February that “there is a kind of ambiguity about the proposed amendments… they were submitted hastily and without adequate and transparent information about them.” He said the proposals should be discussed in a televised national dialogue in which all opposition forces should take part. “In the absence of this the consequences could be very negative for the country's political future and stability,” said Moussa.
When the 50-member constituent assembly began preparing the 2014 national charter it held a one-month national dialogue during which “all political forces and social classes were allowed to express their views in hearing sessions aired live on television.” It is a process Moussa would die to see repeated.
He also argued any amendments must uphold “civilian government and liberal freedoms, sustainable development, social justice, national unity, separation of powers, the rotation of power and administrative reform”.
Tagammu Party head Sayed Abdel-Aal said the speed with which the changes were submitted was a cause for concern.
“My fear is that the entire process will be conducted in haste and without adequate consultations,” he said, warning that should this be the case the amendments could increase political tensions.
The leftist 25-30 parliamentary group said in a press conference on 4 February that the proposed changes represented an assault on the principle of rotation of power. “We ask President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi to reject the proposals,” said the group.
In a statement on 6 February the Conservatives Party said it had decided to reject the constitutional amendments.
The party, led by oil tycoon Akmal Qortam, said the changes reflect the wishes of a handful of MPs rather than popular will.
“The proposed amendments lack any credible philosophy and actively undermine some of the principles — the independence of the judiciary, the balance between powers and the mixed parliamentary-presidential system — enshrined in Egypt's 2014 constitution,” the party said in a statement.
The Conservatives Party has six MPs and is not a member of the majority Support Egypt parliamentary alliance. Two of the party's MPs, Hala Abul-Saad and Ihab Al-Khouli, however, say they support the proposed changes.
Abul-Saad said the amendments reflect political developments in Egypt. “They are logical and will reinforce stability in the long run,” she said.
Al-Khouli argued the amendments will not undermine any freedoms and rights enshrined in the 2014 constitution.
The Free Egyptians Party, with 65 MPs, came out in support of the constitutional amendments.
“The 2014 constitution was passed during exceptional circumstances, at a time of political instability,” said the party's parliamentary spokesperson, Ayman Abul-Ela,
“and parliament is constitutionally authorised to introduce amendments that aim to reinforce political stability.”
Constitutional expert Shawki Al-Sayed points out that France has amended its constitution 24 times since 1958, and the US constitution has been changed 27 times since it was first formulated in 1789.
“During the forthcoming national dialogue leading members of the 50-member constituent assembly that drafted the current constitution should explain why they opted to set the presidential term at four years,” said Al-Sayed.
“An open debate is necessary to give credibility to the amendments,” said Al-Sayed.
He agrees that the way the amendments were submitted lacked transparency.
“This has led to the proliferation of malicious rumours and divided the nation into two camps: those who describe the amendments as a necessity for long-term stability and those who say they could spawn political instability,” he warned.
Wafd Party Spokesperson Yasser Al-Hodeibi complained that details of the proposed amendments were not yet available.
“We approve, in principle, changing some articles of the constitution, particularly the article setting the duration of presidential terms,” said Al-Hodeibi. He argued it was illogical to restrict presidential terms to four years when MPs are elected for five.
Political analyst and Al-Ahram columnist Abdel-Moneim Said wrote in an article on 9 February that he agreed “with the majority of MPs who say the constitution is neither a Quran nor a Bible and that we should do like other countries and change it from time to time”.
He warned, however, that MPs should not “ignore the opinion of the opposition simply on the grounds that they are the majority”.
“MPs — or those who are in power — have a responsibility to explain to the people in detail and in a transparent way why they want to amend the constitution.”
Said also pointed to the irony of the banned Muslim Brotherhood attacking the amendments.
“When it was in power the Brotherhood decided not only to suspend the constitution but to attack the Constitutional Court when it ruled the election laws unconstitutional,” he said.

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