Egypt Democracy Watch

Here are the recent news and developments concerning the political life and democratic stirring in Egypt gathered from the Egypt Monitor.

Egypt watch is of extreme importance for the Middle East democratization research. For my comment on this subject go to Arab Democracy and Egypt Paradigm.

Egypt Democracy Watch:
(Covers the latest two months)

People's Assembly Preparing a Report on Constitutional Amendments

On July 11, the People's Assembly- lower house of parliament- starting to discuss constitutional amendment to be presented to president Mubarak. A report will be handed to president Mubarak, who in turn will choose the amendments to be introduced.

Mubarak Abolishes Jail Sentences for publication Offenses

In a sudden last minute move, on July 10, president Mubarak instructed members of parliament from the ruling National Democratic Party to abolish publication offenses in a new law on the press. This move came to ease the tensions between civil society activists and the regime. It is also among the first of Mubarak's 2005 presidential election campaign promises to be achieved.

Newspapers on Strike and Demonstartion over New Law

On Sunday July 9, twenty four opposition and independent newspaper did not appear as a protest to the law on publication offenses. The same day, a demonstrations were held in front of the parliament, this comes amid growing tensions between the regime and civil society over the issue of freedom of the press.

Attorney General Orders Release of 73 Political Prisoners

On July 5, the newly appointed Attorney General, Abdel-Magid Mahmoud, ordered the release of 73 jailed political activists. Two days earlier, he ordered the release of 96 political activists. The political activists from various opposition groups and civil society were arrested when demonstrating to support and independent judiciary and are now facing trial on the ground of illegal rallies and blocking traffic.

Judges Express their Solidarity to Journalists

Zakaria Abdel-Aziz, head of the Judges Club, made a visit to the Journalist Syndicate on July 4, to express the judges solidarity with journalists in opposing jail sentences in publication offenses. Other professional associations also expressed their solidarity with journalists and vowed to participate in demonstrations on July 9.

Board of Journalists Syndicate Threatens to Resign

In the wake of the protests concerning the law on publication offenses, on July 4, the board members of the Journalists syndicate (JR) threatened to present their resignation if the regime succeeds in issuing the new law. Journalists consider that in a free press their should be no jail sentences for publication offenses, while the regime wants to keep this sentence if there are publications offenses concern important government officials. The JR also considers that its general assembly is in permanent session until the regime issues a law that guarantees free press.

Journalists Facing Increased Confrontation with the Regime over New Law

A delegation of the the Journalist Syndicate met with the speaker of the People's Assembly - the lower house of parliament - on Monday July 3d, but failed to bridge the gap between the regime and the syndicate over a new law on publication offenses. A similar meeting took with the speaker of the Consultative Council - the upper house of parliament - two days earlier with the same outcome: an increased confrontation between the syndicate and the regime.

The Journalist Syndicate wishes to abolish jail sentences for publication offenses, while the law presented by the government abolishes publication offenses except for those concerning financial matters dealing with heads of national authorities, cabinet ministers and heads of states. The syndicate considers that the new law protects corruption if the press is not able to tackle topics related to corruption of officials.

Prominent Opposition Journalist Faces Jail Sentence

Ibrahim Issa, a prominent and outspoken opposition journalist and editor of the independent newspaper "Al-Dostour", received a one year jail sentence on June 26. Issa, together with two other journalists are accused of "humiliating the president of the republic" in their articles. It is the first time this accusation has been used since the establishment of the republic in 1953. Issa is known as being one of the most outspoken journalists against the regime. The Egyptian opposition and journalists expressed their solidarity with Issa and his colleagues.

Al-Ghad Party Honoring Political Prisoners

Al-Ghad - the "Tomorrow"- party held a ceremony to honor political prisoners on Thursday June 29 in its headquarter in Cairo. The event will highlight the case of Ayman Nour, the party's founder, and will also honor released political prisoners.

The Alliance of Egyptian-Americans Takes a Position on US aid to Egypt

The Alliance of Egyptian-Americans (AEA) -Mid-Atlantic Chapter- said the US assistance package to Egypt should be tied to political reforms and the respect of human rights. The AEA urged the United States administration to link the 1.7 billion dollar assistance to Egypt to progress made on political reforms based on president Mubarak 2005 presidential campaign promises.

Consultative Council Prepares Report on Constitutional Amendments

The Consultative Council (CC), the upper chamber of the Egyptian parliament, prepared a report to president Mubarak on constitutional amendments. The report was created on Mubarak's request, the president will study it will propose amendments to the parliament. The report proposes to replace the single candidate system with one of proportional representation so as to increase the representation of women in elected bodies, to cancel articles of the constitution that stipulate that legislation should be based on socialist principles, to increase the power of the Prime Minister in general and particularly if the country is facing danger. The Wafd party presented its vision for the constitutional reforms to the People's Assembly- the lower chamber of parliament- in which it focused on decreasing the power of the president in favor of a Prime Minister accountable to the parliament.

New Law of the Judiciary gets Initial Aproval By the People's Assembly

The People's Assembly (PA) gave its initial approval to the new law on the judiciary. Members of parliament from the ruling National Democratic party (NDP) support the new law, while it did not get backing from opposition and independent MPs who expressed their solidarity with the demands of the Judges. During the discussion, the speaker of the People's Assembly accused opposition and independents members of parliament of "poisoning" the judges' ideas by visiting the Judges Club, which led to a withdrawal of all opposition and independent MPs from the session, leaving the session to NDP MPs.

Court Verdict Cancel Legislative Election in a Cairo District

The appeal court canceled the result of the 2005 legislative election in Cairo's Sixth electoral district on Thursday June 22. The ruling was against National Democratic Party declared winners and in favor of three candidates among which a female member of the Muslim Brotherhood. The ruling is unlikely to have an effect, as according to Egyptian law parliament is "sovereign" and has the authority to reject any ruling against its members, even if a court proves that there were irregularities during elections.

General Assembly of the Judges Club Insists on Indpendence of the Judiciary

The general assembly of the Judges Club (JC) met on Friday June 23 to react to the latest developments on the new law of the judiciary. The JC opposed the new law because it does not grant a genuine independence to the judiciary. The government did not take into consideration the major changes that Egyptian judges wishes to see. The new law still gives the executive branch of government an important leverage over the judiciary. Zakaria Abdel-Aziz, head of the JC, vowed to continue the judges' struggle until the regime approves the draft law presented by the JC.

Upper Chamber of Parliament Approves New Law of the Judiciary

The Consultative Council (CC), the upper chamber of parliament, approved a new law on the judiciary of June 21. This comes directly after the legislative committee of the People's Assembly (PA) - the lower chamber of parliament- approved the new law. The PA legislative committee hosted a heated debate between MPs from the ruling National Democratic party and the opposition over the law as the latter believe that it does not grant genuine independence for the judiciary. The Judge Club expressed its discontent with the new law while the government maintains that the new law grants greater independence to the judiciary.

Court Case Against Members of Parliament who Switched Alliegence

An appeal on a court case against members of parliament (MP) who switched allegiance was scheduled for November 26. The case concerns independent candidates who joined the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) after being elected as independents in the 2005 legislative elections. The case was presented to the administrative court by a voter who considered that MPs who switched loyalty after being elected betrayed their constituencies.

Sit In in the Journalist Syndicate

The Journalist Syndicate organized a sit in on June 16 to protest against the government delays abolishing jail sentences for publication offences. The syndicate also expressed its solidarity with three journalists facing jail sentences for publication offences. Galal Aref, head of the syndicate, expressed his opposition to a new law "to fight rumours", currently under study by the People's Assembly, calling it unconstitutional.

Council of Ministers Aprroves the New Law of the Judiciary

The Council of Ministers approved the new law of the judiciary in an urgent meeting on Tuesday June 13. The new law now awaits approval from the People's Assembly--Egypt's lower chamber of parliament. The move angered the judges who believe that the council of ministers ignored many of their demands, and they vowed to continue their struggle for a truly independent judiciary.

Parliament Discussing Constitutional Amendment to be Presented to Mubarak

The two chambers of parliament, the People's Assembly (PA) and the Shura Council, have been debating constitutional amendments to be presented to President Mubarak this month, who in turn will decide on the amendments to be presented to parliament and to the people for approval by referendum.

Opposition Members of Parliament (MPs) from diverse ideological backgrounds that includes members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the liberal Wafd party and leftist parties, agreed that Egypt is in urgent need of a new constitution that would turn the country into a parliamentary democracy.

On the other hand, MPs from the ruling National Democratic (NDP) party seemed to disagree on the issue of whether the Shura Council, the higher chamber of parliament, should have its power increased so as to be similar to the PA. They also agreed to change the article that states that half MPs should be workers and farmers and that there should be a quota for women.

NDP MPs, apparently in agreement with the Muslim Brotherhood, agreed on keeping Article 2 of the constitution, which states that Sharia Law shall be the main source of legislation.

International Republican Institute Asked to Stop its Activities

The Egyptian authorities asked the International Republican Institute (IRI) to end its activities in Egypt. The IRI has been working with Egyptian non-governmental organizations on pro-democracy programs for almost a year. The Egyptian authorities accused the IRI of interfering in Egypt's internal affairs and for not having the proper license to operate in Egypt. On the other hand, the IRI maintained that it is operating legally in Egypt according the Egyptian laws despite some Egyptian administrative obstruction.

Authorities Preventing a Demonstartion in Support of Pro-Democracy Detainees

The security forces prevented pro-democracy and human rights activists from demonstrating in front of Qasr El-Nil police station, one of the main stations in central Cairo. The demonstration came as a sign of solidarity with activists who were arrested in a rally in support of the independence of the judiciary on May 25. The protest was scheduled for Thursday June 1st, but tight security stopped activists from reaching the police station.

A Committee To Investigate Those Involved In Rigging Elections

The Lawyer Syndicate decided to set up a committee to take action against individuals who were involved in irregularities in the 2005 parliamentary elections. This action comes in response to Attorney General Maher Abdel-Wahed's decision to start an investigation into board member of the Lawyer Syndicate, Gamal Tag-El-Din, and three journalists for their alleged involvement in leaking the names of judges involved in irregularities in the legislative elections- known as the "Black List of Judges".

Judges Club to Coordinate with Journalist Syndicate

The Judges Club has decided to coordinate its efforts with the Journalist Syndicate in the struggle for an independent judiciary and the abolition of jail sentences for publication offenses. The Judges Club believes that an independent judiciary requires a free press, as transparency and accountability are the pillars of any democracy.

The government is currently discussing proposals to enact new laws on the judiciary and the press, prompting fears by some that the new rules will consolidate the authoritarian structures of the state rather than opening up the system.

Ayman Nour Lost Appeal

Al-Ghad party leader, Ayman Nour lost his appeal to reverse a five years sentence. His lawyer mainatins that there are twelve mistakes in the procedures, which should annul the verdict, according to Egyptian Law. Even if granted a presidential pardon, Mr. Nour will not be elligible for elected office for at least six years even after a potential presidential pardon.

Pro-Reform Judge Reprimanded

On May 18, a disciplinary panel reprimanded pro-democracy judge Hi sham Al-Bastawisi and cleared his colleague Mahmoud Mekki from allegation of interfering in politics when denouncing fraud in the 2005 parliamentary elections. The two outspoken judges were threatened of losing their positions. This comes as a move by the Egyptian regime to intimidate the judges and pressure them to end their demands for an independent judiciary. The verdict comes a week after heavy clashes between pro-democracy and security forces took place on the date of a hearing with the judges.

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