Carnegie endowment experts focus on democratic contradictions in amendments

In a report released March 23, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace outlined contradictions between the democratic appearance and authoritarian reality of the current constitutional amendments and analyzed the Mubarak government’s motives behind reform.

It focuses on how the amendments seem to provide opposition parties with reforms they have advocated for years, such as increased legislative power, but, in reality, gives the president even tighter control over the government.

The report joins many other international analyses of the amendments in condemning the democratic appearance of the changes and their oppressive reality. With careful references to the text, this report goes beyond condemnation and provides evidence for each of its conclusions about the repercussions of these amendments.

Amr Hamzawy gives a particularly lucid analysis of how the amendments fit into the regime’s political agenda. He outlines four goals: first, restricting the Muslim Brotherhood; second, preventing liberals and Islamists from uniting in one opposition movement; third “to create a new set of constitutional tools to further entrench its hold on political life,” and last, to gain domestic and international legitimacy by appearing as if it cooperates with the opposition.

The Carnegie report is particularly apt at underlining how the supposedly democratic provisions of this law will not actually result in increased popular power. For instance, the changes in Article 88, the election law, calling for supervision of elections by an “electoral commission,” instead of “judicial oversight” mandated by the Supreme Constitutional Court’s 2000 decision, may not result in free and fair elections. The amendment’s wording leaves open the possibility that the regime will control appointments to the electoral commission.

The Carnegie Endowment, in agreement with international media and analysts, reported that much of the new legislation for opposition parties is also intended to target the Muslim Brotherhood.

Amendments to Article 5 restrict political activity “within any religious frame of reference,” while changes to Article 62 restrict opportunities for independent candidates, and increase political access for officially sanctioned opposition parties. Therefore, many Muslim Brothers, who have avoided regime scrutiny by running as independents, will not be able to run because their political group is banned from creating a party list.

While several amendments, including those to Article 115 and Article 127, give Parliament new and more extensive powers, Article 136 allows the President to dissolve the parliament “in case of necessity.” Carnegie experts believe that this provision negates Parliament’s new powers.

“It now becomes possible that, should politics become increasingly contentious, Egypt will follow the precedent established in several other Arab countries, where parliaments have been dissolved frequently and left that way for months or even years,” said the report.

The Carnegie report describes how the changes to Article 179 will legalize some of the most contested parts of Egypt’s current emergency law, such as “arbitrary arrest, search without warrant, and violation of privacy,” all of which have been criticized domestically and internationally as human rights violations.

According to Amr Hamzawy, these reforms may help the Mubarak regime to maintain power now, but could destabilize it in the future. “The regime is likely pass its undemocratic amendments at almost no cost to its immediate stability, but some difficult questions will arise in the coming period,” he wrote. “Will the regime be able to manage the political marginalization of the Brotherhood without driving some of its popular base toward radicalization?”

The report, entitled “Egypt’s Controversial Constitutional Amendments,” was co-authored by Michele Dunne, Nathan J. Brown and Amr Hamzawy, all Senior Associates at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and includes English translations of the most controversial sections. It is available on the Carnegie Endowment’s website.