• December 3, 2012
  • 17 minutes read

Egypt VP Mahmoud Makki in Televised Interview Sunday, Draft Constitution Best for Egypt

Egypt VP Mahmoud Makki in Televised Interview Sunday, Draft Constitution Best for Egypt

In an interview with Al-Jazeera satellite TV channel, Sunday, Egyptian Vice-President Mahmoud Makki said that, as a judge, he was somewhat concerned about the wording of the President’s Constitutional Declaration (PCD); but he knew that the goal was to ensure the independence of the judiciary and to distance judges from the political arena.

VP Makki added that he was reassured by the president’s detailed explanation and interpretation of the PCD articles. He further added that the PCD will be in effect for only 13 days more, and would be cancelled by the new constitution, saying that this was one of the most important reasons that should reassure Egyptian judges.

He also hailed the current draft constitution as the best in the history of Egypt, praising the effort made by members of the Constituent Assembly (CA) tasked with writing the new charter.

VP Makki expressed satisfaction with the constitution-making mechanisms that led to completion of the draft within 6 months, as well as the announcement of the referendum date in the exceptional circumstances Egypt is currently passing through.

Q. As a judge and one of the symbols of the Independence of the Judiciary Movement in Egypt, what does Mahmoud Makki think of the PCD issued November 21, 2012?

A. The wording of the PCD may cause some concern, with regard to guarantees of independence of the judiciary and the powers of Egyptian judges. I, therefore, believe that the judges’ concern is justified. But those who know the reasons and motives behind the President’s Decrees – like me, by virtue of my position in the Presidency – certainly have a different view of the PCD.

What I want to emphasize is that I got fully satisfactory answers from the President: the purpose was to keep judges out of politics and avoid judges being used to subvert state institutions. I trust in the President and his sincerity; and I have known and dealt with him for a very long time.

I was also worried of the exceptional power of legislation, with the President holding both the Legislative and the Executive Authorities. But I also know the President’s pledge not to abuse the power of legislation. And he did honor his promise. He did not use his power to legislate except in matters of public interest.

Despite certain reservations on some phrases in the PCD, and also on articles that do not need to be included in it – because the president already has the powers and competences they detail – as a judge, I assure that the President vowed with all honesty and clarity not to abuse the authority granted by the PCD.

Indeed, the President has said and proved more than once that he supports the independence of the judiciary and is keen to ensure the integrity and immunity of the judiciary, and is also resolved to keep the judiciary away from politics.

I did warn, in the Public Prosecutor’s earlier crisis, that the judiciary was being politicized, with certain players pushing it into the political arena, and that those who care for judges, those who care for their homeland and the people, must keep the judiciary out of politics.

Q. Are we to understand these words in the context of statements you said yesterday – that the wrath of the judges was justified?

A. Yes, and I mean Independence of the Judiciary Movement judges who protested in a proper, respectful manner expressing their views on the PCD in a statement issued and signed by 20 judges, all of whom participated previously in the defense of the independence of the judiciary. Those have principles and know when to stop protesting.

Back in 2005 and 2006, we threatened to disrupt work and refrain from supervising a referendum. We held a protest rally at the Judges’ Club; but citizens’ interests did not get delayed, not even by one hour, despite unanimous agreement on protest action. We were keen to perform our duty; and we were determined not to let our people down. We said the citizen will not pay the price.

I said that the judges’ anger was justified; but unjustified was the judges’ involvement in political work, and their going far beyond expressing concerns, fears and even anger for a perceived assault on the judiciary. There were limits the judges should have respected.

I remember in 2006, we had a protest rally which we tried to stage inside the High Court. The President of the Court of Appeal at this time promised to open the court doors for us on a weekend day. Nevertheless, the doors stayed shut in the face of the judges.

Then, we stood together in the street in a very imposing, silent vigil and refused to let anyone other than judges join the protest. We were keen for judges to stand alone, to express their views properly and in a respectable manner – not with cheers and banners and shouting, to maintain the credibility of the judiciary. Needless to say, what some judges did recently is something completely different, which I totally denounce.

Yes, I have reservations on the PCD, but I assure Egyptian judges that the President vowed not to misuse exceptional powers and authorities. Furthermore, the PCD has only 13 days before expiring with the completion of the public referendum on the new national charter.

Q. What guarantees did you mean when you said the President assures the judges?

A. The President was surprised that the words and meanings of the PCD were badly misinterpreted. He did not imagine that the judges would regard the PCD as an assault against them while the intention was to take judges away from the political arena – to safeguard state institutions.

When he found that members of the Supreme Judicial Council had reservations on the PCD texts, he invited them to a meeting and explained to them the meaning of every word; and they approved every word contained therein and were reassured. The President insisted on setting that down in an official statement.

Q. Do you believe that the date of the referendum is appropriate?

A. Setting a date for the referendum is not optional for the president. Article 60 of the Constitutional Declaration issued on March 30, 2011 – a declaration that rules Egypt until now – states that the President must set the date of the referendum within 15 days from the date the charter-writing panel (the CA) completes its work. The CA completed its work, although the President gave it a longer period in which to finish writing the new constitution.

There is no coordination or communication between the President and members of the CA, which worked in complete freedom and without any interference. Thus the President had to set a date for a referendum on the constitution. He chose the furthest date, although the text of the PCD gives him the right to hold the referendum on the same day when the CA completes its vote.

But the President was keen to enlighten people during that 2-week period, in which people can read the draft Constitution and study its articles in an unprecedented social dialogue. Ultimately, it will be up to the will of the people to decide on the new charter.

Q. Now, I put this question to you as one of the elders of Egyptian judiciary – what do you think of the draft constitution?

A. Constitutions cannot fully reflect all society’s different views. It is an expression of several different visions. In any case, I followed the constitution-writing process with great interest, including the summary of the final draft which was read in the last session that kept us all awake until the morning.

After the scene we all witnessed on that day, mass media claimed all parties and factions withdrew and just one group monopolized this Constitution. After all that, I say that if this constitution is the handiwork of this group alone, it deserves all our gratitude.

I noticed that some CA members made suggestions in the final voting session to amend some of the texts drafted in agreement or compromise with all the parties and currents represented in the CA. However, the CA itself defended those ‘withdrawn’ members and kept everything that had been agreed upon with them as they wanted, rather than seize the opportunity of their withdrawal – knowing they held different views – to amend the text previously agreed upon.

The CA said, literally: "Those members abandoned their commitment; but we are committed to what we have agreed upon; and we will not change consensus texts".

By all accounts, the Constitution produced by this Assembly is the best step forward for Egypt. It is better than the Constitution of 1971, especially in the chapters on Rights and Freedoms, and Powers of the President – where it reduced his authorities – and in developing a mechanism to amend the constitution itself.

As you know, the Constitution is not an everlasting document. In warning those who contemplated the idea of restoring the dissolved parliament, I said: "Get busy preparing yourselves for fresh parliamentary elections. Parliament, with one-fifth of its member, can propose amendments to the constitution. Address the people with respect and win them over, you’ll win parliamentary seats, and so your words will be heard. Because the people are the source of authority".

I hope consensus can be achieved through the ongoing dialogue among all social and political parties and forces, because we really are in a critical phase, and we need to move forward fast.

Q. Are you pleased with the procedures followed in writing and finally approving this draft constitution?

A. Under current conditions, prevailing tensions, excessive exaggerations and total and deliberate distortion of the Constitution which I deem a very balanced and enlightened document, I can wholeheartedly say I am pleased with this charter.

I also appreciate the tremendous effort that has gone into this draft constitution, and the dedication of CA members who gave so many hours and days of their lives over 6 months in order to give Egypt the best possible charter at this stage, for a much better tomorrow.

Q. Any last words for the judiciary at large, as one of the symbols of this authority and the symbols of patriotic sacrifice, that we all hold dear?

A. I address these words to my colleagues, Egyptian judges: "I believe you are most aware of the nature and dangers of this phase. You are also the most jealous for this homeland. You were always credited for protecting this homeland.

"You also were credited for protecting the rights and freedoms of all citizens. Now, we are in dire need of the best endeavors of loyal and honorable judges to defend the future of our children and the future of the homeland.

"Each honest patriotic judge must extend a helping hand to his or her people and homeland, to protect state institutions. Now, it is your turn to make a great effort that will be recorded forever in history. You must stand by the people and safeguard their will to express their opinion in a referendum on the new constitution. Your message has already hit home. I believe you always show how great Egyptian judiciary is."