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National dialogue begins
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 14 - 03 - 2019

Parliament's Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee began meeting yesterday to discuss amendments to Egypt's 2014 Constitution. The committee's Deputy Chairman Ahmed Helmi Al-Sherif told Al-Ahram Weekly that the dialogue was originally scheduled to begin on Monday but was postponed while the Arab-African Youth Platform took place.
“The dialogue will continue next week with hearing sessions on Saturday 23 March, Sunday 24 March, Monday 25 March and Thursday 28 March when representatives from all sectors of society will be able to give their views on the proposed changes.”
In the month leading up to 16 March the committee heard the views of state institutions, political parties, public figures and ordinary citizens, said Al-Sherif.
“The committee received comments and remarks from different sectors, including Egyptian expatriates. The consultations revealed differences, but also wide support for amending Article 140 of the constitution, increasing presidential terms from four to six years and allowing President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi to stand for two additional terms once the constitutional amendments are approved in a public referendum.”
The amendments involve changes to Articles 102, 140, 160, 189, 190, 193, 200, 204, 234, 243 and 244. The majority Support Egypt parliamentary bloc which submitted the amendments on 11 February has also proposed eight new articles be added to the constitution.
Parliament Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal says the amendments have six objectives: to create a 25 per cent quota of seats reserved for female candidates; create a second house (the Senate); increase presidential terms from four to six years; reinstate the post of vice president; regulate the system for selecting the heads of judicial authorities and re-define the role of the army in defending the country.
Yesterday, representatives of teaching boards and student unions, officials from Al-Azhar and the Coptic Church and journalists and media workers took part in the first national dialogue meeting.
Ministries, provincial governorates and national councils were scheduled to join the second meeting today. On 23 March the Minister of Justice and representatives from the judicial authorities and the armed forces have been invited to a third meeting. A day later it will be the turn of representatives from professional syndicates, trade unions, the private sector and economic institutions, including the Central Bank of Egypt.
The fifth and sixth national dialogue meetings are expected to be the most significant. The fifth will include up to 120 political party officials while the sixth, scheduled for 28 March, will be devoted to reviewing the remarks of constitutional law experts, NGOs and civil society organisations, businessmen, Egyptian expatriates and public figures.
Among the figures invited to give their views are Mubarak-era speaker of parliament Fathi Sorour, Bibliotheca Alexandrina head Mostafa Al-Fiqi; former minister of parliamentary affairs Magdi Al-Agati; Court of Cassation head Fathi Al-Masri, Deputy Head of the State Cases Authority Mohamed Abdel-Wahab Al-Eissawi; Head of the Administrative Control Authority Abdel-Raouf Moussa; Cairo's Appeal Court Head Gaber Al-Maraghi; Head of the State Security Court Hassan Farid; Head of the committee in charge of sequestrating the funds of terrorist organisations Mohamed Yasser Abul-Fotouh and former deputy head of the Supreme Constitutional Court Mohamed Abdel-Aziz Al-Shennawi.
One notable name missing is that of Amr Moussa, the former foreign minister and chair of the 50-member Constituent Assembly which drafted the 2014 current constitution. In a tweet early in February Moussa said there should be serious consultations over the proposed changes and argued it was far too early to tell whether the 2014 Constitution needed to be changed.
Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee member Abdel-Moneim Al-Oleimi told the Weekly that Parliament Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal will participate in most of the dialogue meetings and be available to respond to questions, as will Support Egypt bloc leader Abdel-Hadi Al-Qasabi.
“At the end of the dialogue on 28 March the committee will hold two weeks of closed door meetings during which a final draft of the amendments will be produced,” says Al-Oleimi.
“A report will be complied and placed before a plenary session of parliament. If two-thirds of MPs back the changes the final draft of amendments will be sent to President Al-Sisi who will invite citizens to vote on them in a public referendum.”
Bahaaeddin Abu Shoka, head of the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs, said in a TV interview last week that he expects a referendum on the amendments be held at the end of April, before Ramadan starts on 6 May.
“The vote in parliament will cover all the amendments. It will be a single package rather than an amendment by amendment vote,” he said.

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