By Heba Fahmy
CAIRO: Opposition groups criticized the constitutional decree announced Wednesday by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), stressing that it should have been put to a public referendum for approval.
The SCAF was expected to announce the decree at least one week ago, but media leaks suggested that there was controversy over its content.
The 62-article decree will act as a temporary constitution in place of the 1971 document that was suspended on Feb. 13, two days after ex-president Hosni Mubarak was forced to step down following a popular revolt.
According to recent constitutional amendments, which are part of this decree, a new constitution will be drafted by a 100-member constituent assembly chosen by MPs elected in legislative elections to be held next September, even before a president is elected two months later.
“The quick pace of a revolutionary movement doesn’t always offer the best solutions or circumstances,” former MP Mohamed El-Beltagi of the Muslim Brotherhood told Daily News Egypt.
“However, holding a referendum on the constitutional decree would have given it legitimacy,” El-Beltagi said, criticizing that fact that the decree left the sweeping authorities of the president intact.
Rifaat Al-Saeid, head of the leftist Tagammu Party, agreed: “Giving the president absolute power created a Pharaoh,” referring to Mubarak, who ruled the country for nearly 30 years.
El-Beltagi also denounced the stipulation that 50 percent of the lower house of parliament must represent workers and farmers, was not cancelled even though it was never implemented.
“The former regime used this article to field its members, mostly businessmen, who aren’t workers or farmers,” he said.
General Mamdouh Shahin, member of the SCAF and assistant to the Minister of Defense for Legal Affairs, justified the article in the press conference Wednesday by saying that 40 percent of Egypt’s population is illiterate and lives under the poverty line.
He added that there were many protests calling for improvements in living conditions, which made changing this article a threat to Egypt’s stability and security.
Karima Al-Hifnawy, member of the National Association for Change and the Kefaya opposition movement, slammed the constitutional decree saying, “We are forced to follow this decree which the army enforced on us, without the approval of the people or the opposition.”
The April 6 Youth Movement and Tagammu concurred.
“The constitutional decree, the political parties’ law and all the other laws were issued by the army without holding any discussions with civil society organizations or the opposition.” Al-Saeid said.
“The Supreme Council gave itself wide authorities without gauging the opinion of the people or opposition groups,” April 6 spokesman Mohamed Adel told Daily News Egypt.
Article 56 of the decree gives the SCAF the same authorities of the president and parliament until a new parliament and president are elected. These authorities include legislating laws, appointing cabinet members and appointing a number of PMs according to the constitution.
Al-Saied said that the positive articles in the decree include laws regarding personal and civil freedoms, which is “normal” in any constitution. “What’s important is for them to implement these articles on the ground,” Al-Saeid said.
“A constitutional decree should consist of 10 or 12 articles at the most, organizing and guiding general freedoms and political life during this transitional period,” El-Hifnawy said. “But this decree is akin to a complete constitution.”
Al-Hifnawy said the shrinking the authorities of the Shoura Council (the Upper House of Parliament) wasn’t enough.
“We want the Shoura Council to be cancelled, it was a council that served the previous regime and one-third of it was appointed by the government,” Al-Hifnawy said, responding to Shahin’s explanation that the Shoura Council will not be required to approve the laws issued by the elected People’s Assembly (PA).
The Coalition of the Youth of the Revolution held a press conference on Thursday also criticizing the constitutional decree and voicing Al-Hifnawy’s and the other opposition groups’ criticism.
“The constitutional decree was supposed to address our demands including allowing the freedom of establishing civil rights organizations and decreasing the president’s authorities,” Khaled El-Sayed, member of the youth coalition told DNE.
Al-Hifnawy and Al-Saied said that Egypt should follow a parliamentary not a presidential system of government.
Shahin, however, defended the council’s decision by explaining that deciding what system of government Egypt would follow and canceling the Shoura Council will be up to the constituent assembly which will draft the new constitution.
Mohamed Sarhan, member of Al-Wafd’s executive bureau, said the constitutional decree was very “balanced” and “acceptable,” except for the fact that it retained the women’s 64-seat quota in parliament and workers or farmers issue.
Amr Hashem, a political analyst at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, agreed with Sarhan but added that he did not believe that the Upper and Lower House of Parliament elections should be held at the same time in September.