The Parliament’s General Committee on Sunday discussed the compatibility of suggested constitutional amendments with Article 226 of the Constitution, which allows the president and a fifth of parliament members to propose an amendment to any article of the constitution. The meeting also tackled the necessity of the step in the light of Egypt’s current situation and the principles of both revolutions of January 2011 and June 2013.
The current call for amending the Constitution was not the first of its kind, as several members of parliament and legal experts have long been suggesting a change in the Constitution, on the base that it was suitable for the interim phase after the two revolutions, but not for the current conditions. The Parliament Speaker, Ali Abdel Aal, previously said, “The Constitution does not satisfy the aspirations of the Egyptians.”
On Saturday, more than 120 MPs have signed a petition requesting some constitutional amendments. It was submitted by Abdel-Hadi Al-Qasabi, the leader of the Support Egypt parliamentary coalition, to Abdel Aal. Almost all political parties in the parliament have signed the petition on constitutional amendments, except the leftist Tagammu and the Egyptian Socialist Democratic Party.
The petition was referred to the General Committee in accordance to Article 144 of the internal bylaws to ensure its compatibility with Article 226 in the Constitution, according to Abdel Aal.
The 25-30 parliamentary bloc has rejected the proposed constitutional amendments during press conference on Monday.
“There was not any positive comments on the amendments by constitutional experts,” said the bloc’s member, Diaa Dawood, urging that Article 226 stipulates that no constitutional amendments related to presidential terms or freedoms should be allowed.
Dawood added, “The extension of presidential term contradicts with what the Egyptians have demanded in the two revolutions.”
“If they want to amend Article 226, they should suspend the existing constitution and call for formulating a new one,” he continued.
Meanwhile, another member of the 25-30 parliamentary bloc, Emad Gad, said, “We cannot object this move as the Constitution guarantees the right to amend its articles.
Abdel Aal said during Sunday’s meeting of the general committee: “No just person could deny that the test of reality shows that some of the 2014 Constitution’s articles need some revision; there is nothing wrong in doing this; the experiences of other countries testify to this.”
He also said that “any amendment concerning the constitutional organisation of the governing authorities must be based on building strong, balanced, and democratic institutions capable of effectively discharging their responsibilities, without prejudice to the basic rights guaranteed by the constitution.”
The parliament speaker disclosed details of the request submitted by a fifth of the members to demand amendments of some constitutional articles, which included changes in two existing articles and addition of new eight articles.
The amendments proposed allocating at least a quarter of the 450 parliamentary seats for women, youth, Copts, persons with disabilities, and Egyptians expats through solid and fixed articles, establishing a second chamber for the parliament to be called the Senate, and addressing failures in existing constitutional articles related to the presidential term to become six years instead of four years, which might allow the current president to run for another new two terms following the completion of the current one.
The amendments further suggested introducing the post of vice president to assist the president in his duties, as well as reconsidering the procedure of the appointment of the defence minister, “given that the armed forces have demonstrated by siding with the people and their choices that it is the guarantor of democracy and a civil state.”
Moreover, they suggested amending constitutional article 200 to allow the Egyptian armed forces the responsibility for the protection of the constitution and the democracy and citizenship of the country.
The amendments also involved some articles related to judicial affairs which suggest that the president shall elect the head of the Constitutional Court from one of the oldest Vice-Presidents of the Court. According to the current constitution, the head of the Constitutional Court is elected by a general assembly of the court’s members.
Also, suggested is that the president elects the new members of the Supreme Constitutional Court after the nomination of both the president of the court and the general assembly with some names and selecting a general prosecutor from three judges nominated by the Supreme Judicial Council to be appointed for a term of four years only or until he reaches retirement age, as well as forming a judiciary coordination committee headed by the president.
The proposed amendments faced opposition from within and without the Egyptian parliament, given the fact that it will allow a term of office until 2034 for President Sisi as well as granting him considerable powers that may limit the independence of the country’s judiciary.
In a Facebook post, law professor Nour Farahat commented on the constitutional amendments, saying that the extension of the president’s period does is not aligned with what is mentioned in constitutional article 226.
The article bans amending the presidential term, therefore amendments cannot be applied and the article cannot be submitted for a referendum as it “violates a valid stipulation in the constitutional law”, Farahat continued, referring to article 157 of the constitution which stipulates prohibiting referendums on matters which violate the constitution.
The extension of the presidential term stirred debates on how parliament would work on its amendment, despite having a solid article banning its amendment in the existing constitution.
Legal experts have assumed a referendum would be conducted over the article or the whole constitution would be replaced with a new one to able to amend the disputed article. Local media outlets quoted anonymous people suggesting that amendments would allow the current president to run for two additional terms after completing the current one.
Legal expert Ihab Ramzy told Daily News Egypt that the amendment would be applied either retroactively or immediately.
“If the legislator, who will work on amending the article, determined the application of the amendment retroactively, the president will be allowed to run for an additional two terms, and if the legislator decided on an immediate effect, the current president will run for an extra two years and leave,” Ramzy clarified.
Member of parliamentary bloc 25-30, Haitham El-Hariri commented in a televised interview on the presidential term, saying that the amendment proposes allowing president to be re-elected for another two terms, and to disappear from the political scene for one term and return again to run for another two terms and continued that the matter is still not dissolved as the presidency did not yet provide its comment over the recent move of the MPs to amend the article.
Several human rights organisations, along with many citizens, politicians, and public figures have denounced the call to amend the Egyptian Constitution. They also signed a statement rejecting the move.
Egypt has suspended the 1971 Constitution following the 2011 Revolution and the ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak. A constitutional declaration was also issued in March 2011 and remained in force until the the 2012 Constitution, which was issued under the Muslim Brotherhood regime.
Following the overthrow of the Brotherhood in June 2013, the Defence Minister, Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, announced suspending the 2012 Constitution. Then, the Constitution of 2014 was passed in a referendum in January 2014.