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Controversy looms over 40-year-old constitution
Published in Daily News Egypt on 15 - 03 - 2011

CAIRO: As the date for the referendum on the rather controversial constitutional amendments gets closer, opposition groups, parties and activists remain divided over whether to cast a yes or a no vote.
On March 19, Egyptians will have their say about the proposed amendments to the 40-year-old constitution.
Earlier on Feb. 13, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, ruling the country since former president Hosni Mubarak stepped down, suspended the constitution.
The army formed a committee of legal experts a few days later to amend a number of articles.
The referendum will be on amendments to Articles 75, 76, 77, 88, 93, 139 and 148, the cancellation of Article 179, inserting a paragraph in Article 189 and the adding two items to it.
Most of the suggested articles have to do with regulating legislative and presidential elections as well as parliamentary and presidential jurisdictions.
Several opposition forces and parities called for drafting a temporary constitution till parliamentary and presidential elections are held later this year, while others considered it a transitional phase that precedes drafting a new constitution.
Lawyer Essam El-Islamboly had filed a lawsuit before the Administrative Court calling for halting the referendum.
On Tuesday, the January 25 Revolution Youth Coalition released a statement saying they objected to the constitutional amendments, calling on citizens to cast a no ballot.
Al-Tagammu Party announced this week that it rejected the amendments, calling on citizens to vote against them in order to preserve the January 25 Revolution and pave the way for turning into a real democratic system instead of an authoritarian one.
Both Al-Wafd and Democratic Front opposition parties also opposed these adjustments for similar reasons.
Earlier last week, opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei said during a televised interview that he was against the amendments, describing them as “shallow.”
The former International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief objected to the amendments proposed on article 75 of the constitution which stipulate that presidential nominee and their parents must be Egyptian citizens, without having ever held a foreign citizenship.
Potential nominees cannot be married to a non-Egyptian.
Other opposition forces, however, welcomed the proposed amendments.
Founder of Al-Karama Party Hamdeen Sabahi said he completely agrees on the amendments “for the time being.”
He said in recent press statements that drafting a new constitution means the transitional phase during which the country is run by the military junta will be extended.
Sabahi had announced his intention to run for president a few months before Mubarak stepped down, launching a presidential campaign.
Among the groups agreeing on the constitutional amendments is the frozen Islamist Labor party.
Assistant Secretary General Naglaa Al-Qalyouby told Daily News Egypt that the party supports the amendments considering the move a transitional phase that Egyptians should accept “until the authority is handed over to civilians and a parliament and president are elected.”
“Drafting a new constitution will take a long time. And we are certain the coming [presidential and parliamentary] elections will be fully supervised by the judiciary,” she said.
The Muslim Brotherhood, the largest opposition group in Egypt, also voiced support for the amended constitution.
“In order to have a new constitution drafted within one year, these amendments have to be enacted so that parliamentary elections are held,” senior group member Essam El-Erian told DNE.
“We have no other choice. If we cast a no ballot, then we must look for a solution,” he added.
Some Brotherhood leaders have previously voiced dissatisfaction, saying these adjustments were not enough.
“We all still accept as true that these modifications are insufficient and we have comments on them. But since a new constitution will be formulated, we will later avoid all these [constitutional defects],” El-Erian said.
Amr Hashim, senior researcher at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, considers the division over whether to accept or reject the amendments as being a “healthy phenomenon.”
“It is probably the first time that voters cast their ballot without knowing the result beforehand,” Hashim told DNE.
Some legal experts believe the current situation will eventually lead to a constitutional stalemate, arguing that the constitution was automatically terminated after Mubarak stepped down.
“The constitution is no longer active after the regime was toppled,” Cairo University constitutional law professor Raafat Fouda said.
“The army's decision to suspend the constitution is of no use; and so is the call to amend it,” Fouda told DNE.
“The amendment of the constitution is in fact unconstitutional…because it can only be made to something it exists,” he argued.
According to Fouda, “the armed forces had no authority to form a constitutional amendment committee in the first place because they are a guarantor of the revolution not a ruling authority.
“Even if the old constitution was active, the army had no right to rule the country,” he agued.
Based on Article 84, in case of the vacancy of the presidential office, or the permanent disability of the president, the speaker of the People's Assembly (the Lower House of Parliament) shall temporarily assume the presidency.
If the assembly is dissolved, the president of the Supreme Constitutional Court shall take over the presidency on condition that neither one shall nominate themselves for the presidency.
The Egyptian constitution is made of 211 articles. It was adopted in 1971 and amended in 1980, 2005 and 2007.


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