2007: Redrawing the map

President Mubarak’s proposal to amend 34 constitutional articles curtails the growing political role of the Muslim Brotherhood, writes Gamal Essam El-Din

In two letters submitted to the People’s Assembly and Shura Council on Tuesday President Hosni Mubarak called for 34 amendments to the constitution. “Egypt,” said Mubarak, “has not seen such a number of proposals since 1980.” In the next three months, the Assembly and Council will be busy drafting the amendments before they are put to the public in a referendum early April.
The proposed amendments fall into four groups and reflect the nine-point objectives set out in Mubarak’s 2005 presidential election programme.
The first group includes 10 articles — 1, 4, 5, 12 (first paragraph), 24, 30, 33, 37, 56 (second paragraph), 73 and 180 (first paragraph) — and focuses on ridding the constitution of the socialist framework promulgated in the 1960s. Article 95 will also be reworded.
The second group deals with election procedures and will change the regulations governing candidacy for parliamentary elections in addition to fixing a quota of parliamentary seats for women. Articles 62, 94 and 88 fall into this batch.
Nineteen articles covering the presidential prerogatives, the powers of the executive and the running of presidential elections will also be changed, including Article 76. The balance between the president and executive, legislative and judicial powers will alter as the office of the president loses some powers in favour of the cabinet and the People’s Assembly. A new anti- terrorism law will also be promulgated.
Article 5 will also be amended in a way that formalises the ban on parties based on religion, race and lineage.
The reaction of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) to Mubarak’s proposals was generally positive, though some NDP MPs complained they were kept in the dark about the changes until the last minute.
In the words of Ahmed Abu Heggy, an NDP MP from Upper Egypt, “most MPs are aware that it is the party’s Policies Committee, led by Gamal Mubarak, which has taken charge of cooking the amendments.”
He argues that a broader base of NDP MPs should have been involved in formulating the proposals since it will be impossible for the party’s MPs to propose changes once the legislation is put to discussion before the Assembly.
The Policies Committee received advice from leading lawyers and constitutional experts, including Parliamentary Speaker Fathi Sorour, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Moufid Shehab, Chairwoman of the Legislative Affairs Committee Amal Othman, Constitutional Law Professor Ramzi El-Shaer, Presidential Adviser Mubarak Mohamed Dakrouri, Chairman of the Shura Council Legislative Committee Abdel-Rehim Nafie, former Prosecutor- General Ragaa El-Arabi and Lawyer Fathi Ragab.
Opposition and independent circles see the proposals as an attempt to curtail the growing role of the Muslim Brotherhood in political life.
Out of 34 amendments, says Al-Ahram political analyst Amr Hashem Rabie, only seven break new ground. Foremost among them, he says, is Mubarak’s proposal that a formal ban be imposed on parties based on religion.
In Mubarak’s words, “in a country that has proudly guarded national unity and built a solid structure over the years, political participation should be based on the nation and not religion, race or lineage.” The change, says Rabie, is clearly intended to make it impossible for Islamist movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood or any of its offshoots, such as Al-Wasat Party, to gain legitimacy in the future.
NDP spokesman Mohamed Kamal believes the “objective of the amendment is to empower civil parties which, when they are weak, create a vacuum that is then filled with Islamists”.
Amending articles 62 and 94 will effectively redraw Egypt’s election system.
“I propose that Article 62 be amended to allow political parties greater representation in the People’s Assembly and Shura Council, allow women to assume a more prominent role in political life and empower legislators to change the election system in the future as society develops different needs,” said Mubarak.
“Changing the election system from an individual to slate candidacy will prevent the Muslim Brotherhood from running in elections as independents and cut off their access to parliament,” says Rabie. Brotherhood’ s seats in parliament grew from 17 in 2000 to 88 in 2005.
Mubarak’s letter to parliament also made it clear that Article 76 will be reamended to make it easier only for political party candidates to run in presidential elections.
“The letter did not mention independents, another blow to Brotherhood, ” argues Rabie. “The harsh security crackdown suggests that the regime has given a green light to remove the Brotherhood from political life.”
The opposition agrees that Mubarak’s most serious proposal is the decision to amend Article 88 which regulates judicial supervision of elections.
“I am requesting an amendment that will accommodate the growing number of voters and the effective supervision of polling stations,” said the president, adding that he hoped “the new system will make sure that elections can be conducted in a single day.”
It too, believes Rabie, bodes ill not only for the Brotherhood but for other political forces.
“Full judicial supervision, as upheld by the Supreme Constitutional Court in 2000, has been effective in eliminating vote rigging and made it possible for the opposition to gain 25 per cent of seats, more than they have managed in half a century,” said Rabie. “Eliminating such supervision could take us back to the days when the NDP was making use of one-day elections to gain up to 95 per cent of seats.” The multi-stage elections have been introduced by the Court since 2000.
Leaders of opposition parties are totally opposed to changing Article 88.
“As interpreted by the Constitutional Court, it is the best guarantee of the integrity of elections,” said Al-Wafd leader Mahmoud Abaza.
Ahmed Saber, spokesman of the independent Judges’ Club, insists “two options are available; either judicial supervision be phased out altogether or be maintained in the way it was interpreted by the Constitutional Court. I think judges would stay away from supervising elections if Article 88 was drafted to eliminate their full role in this process because judges cannot shoulder the blame for rigged votes.”
Rabie does not think the amendments will curtail presidential powers. “He has ignored amending Article 77 or 108 and 148, which give him the power to promulgate legislative decrees at the expense of the People’s Assembly.” Above all, he added, Mubarak has refused to amend Article 82 to make the appointment of a vice president an obligatory matter. The refusal to appoint a vice president since coming to power has led to growing speculation that Gamal Mubarak is being groomed to succeed his father, rumours both Mubaraks have denied.
Parliamentary speaker Fathi Sorour said the Assembly’s general committee, including the chairmen of 19 committees and representatives of political parties and independents, will meet on 6 and 8 January to prepare an initial report on Mubarak’s proposals. Following this, the Assembly will discuss the report and then refer it to the Legislative Committee to prepare a final draft of proposed amendments in less than two months.
“During this period,” says Sorour, “the Assembly will hold a series of hearing sessions to gauge the views of MPs, constitutional experts and political commentators. ”

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