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The Constitution: Egypt's Job One

By       Message WILLIAM FISHER     Permalink
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Eleven days before he finally resigned, Hosni Mubarak may have had a chance to reverse his fortunes. Suddenly filled with a spirit of peace-making and reconciliation, the president offered up a smorgasbord of "reforms" he promised to make.

Among them was amending several articles of the Egyptian Constitution. Calls for these amendments had been going on for years. So central were they to the political well-being of the Egyptian people, that foreign powers -- principally the United States --had intervened privately and publicly -- to persuade its most dependable Middle East ally to actually get something done.

But it was too late. The crowd in Tahrir Square didn't believe their President. They had heard it all before. Mubarak was through.

So, days later, the task of re-writing the Constitutional amendments fell to a committee appointed by the Military Panel now governing Egypt.

Why is this important? Because over the years, the Mubarak regime created amendments to the Constitution. Their purpose was to make it virtually impossible to become a candidate, become a recognized political party, and have competent and independent monitoring of all elections.

Writing these new Constitutional articles is a modest assignment. The committee is not mandated to rewrite the entire Constitution; that may come later. But the Committee's work is nonetheless critical. For it will be addressing the articles that, more than any others, have promulgated one-man rule in Egypt, kept the opposition from forming legal political parties, and thus effectively marginalized all candidates not named Mubarak.

The committee will work to be responsive to the leaders of the Tahrir Square opposition. They want the constitutional changes to reflect clearer separation of powers, strengthening of an independent judiciary, and less power for the president. That won't all happen by writing a few amendments, but it's a start.

And unless the committee finishes its work and the public votes "yes' in a scheduled April referendum, it will be impossible to hold a presidential election in November.

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Here, with thanks to Reuters, are the Articles the Committee is working on:


Article 77 of the suspended constitution allowed the president to seek re-election indefinitely. After specifying the length of the president's term, the article says he " may be re-elected for other successive terms."

The term of the Presidency is six Gregorian years starting from the date of the announcement of the result of the plebiscite that is used to decide the winner. The opposition has frequently called for a two-term limit on the president. This is a customary practice ion many democratic countries.

Article 88 cancelled the direct supervision of elections by the judiciary. Replacing it in 1977 was the Supreme Electoral Commission, of which the opposition has been widely critical for its lack of independence. Parliamentary elections were largely controlled by the Ministry of Interior.

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The opposition has always called for constitutional changes to deter election rigging, a widespread practice for many decades. Supervision of selections by the relatively clean-handed judiciary was seen by the opposition as a deterrent to vote rigging. This practice has resulted in election results that were patently fraudulent and which earned Egypt the disrespect of many of its most important allies.

Article 93 dictates that the eligibility of its members can be decided only the People's Assembly. The ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) majority has used this article to ignore court rulings invalidating election results.

Article 179, which will be eliminated, allowed the president to refer any terror related case to any judicial body, which gave him the right to use

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William Fisher has managed economic development programs in the Middle East and elsewhere for the US State Department and the US Agency for International Development. He served in the international affairs area in the Kennedy Administration and now (more...)

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