3.31.2007

Egypt's Constitutional Amendments

They are meant to pave the way to a dynastic transfer of power to Mr Mubarak's son, Gamal. This is the best insightful comment on Egypt's constitutional amendments.

Obviously, Mr. Mubarak would not believe that Egypt is not Syria, and he persistently refuses to show respect for his country and people. Moreover, he thinks that by imprisoning bloggers and tailoring laws and constitutional amendments legalizing the police state, his regime has made of Egypt, he can ensure the 'dynastic republic' and then, his boy's forged succession.

However, the Egyptians have proved in the referendum day to the entire world that they deserve freedom and democracy when they left voting offices empty. It was really a slap to Arab authoritarianism through the Egyptian regime.

I eventually hope that Egypt authoritarians stop after this showdown and public humiliation in front of the watching world made to them by the Egyptian people, and let bloggers and democratic and liberal activists out of prisons, and get the boy a job, and be totally aware that Egypt is not Syria.

Finally, I should remind of the importance of Egypt's democratization to the entire region. I think that setting up the democratization process in Egypt is a key to democratization in the Middle East. Egypt under democratization would have a certain effects on the regional system, which would definitely change against authoritarianism that constitutes a historical basis for this system.

For the new Middle East, besides fighting extremism and totalitarianism, Egypt is the portal.

Related posts:

Egypt Democracy Watch

December 2006

July 2006

October 2006


Here is a comprehensive file on Egypt's constitutional amendments I have arranged:


Egypt: Civil Society and the Proposed Constitutional Amendments

Bahey Eldin Hassan

Arab Reform Bulletin
February 2007

On December 26, 2006 President Hosni Mubarak formally requested that the People's Assembly amend some 34 articles of the constitution, a move heralded by the government-controlled press as promising "a new era of democracy" and "the rise of the citizenry." Public interest in the amendments is low, however, as Egyptians are beginning to realize that the proposed amendments actually represent the constitutionalization of measures intended to undo the modest gains of the limited political opening of 2004-2005.

By the end of the autumn 2005 parliamentary elections, the erosion of such gains was already underway. The retrenchment was accomplished in 2005-2006 through administrative and security interference in the elections, the refusal to tolerate demonstrations, the imprisonment of Ghad Party leader Ayman Nour, the renewal of the State of Emergency, the postponement of local elections, and the use of the Emergency Law against hundreds of peaceful demonstrators with no connection to terrorism. Member of Parliament Talat Al Sadat was stripped of his immunity and convicted in a military trial for criticizing the armed forces. A license for the independent liberal leftist newspaper Al Badil (The Alternative) was denied and the Political Parties Committee refused the licensing requests of twelve new parties, some of whose applications were over a decade old.

Although some of the new proposed constitutional amendments are meaningless, several are causing particular concern among civil society organizations. Amendment of Article 88, for example, would curtail judicial supervision of general elections, which in 2005 exposed fraud and lack of transparency in the electoral process. This will mean a return to regime control of election results. Other amendments include further interference with judicial independence via the creation of a new supervisory body headed by the President.

The proposed amendments would also weaken constitutional guarantees of human rights in order to pave the way for lifting the State of Emergency in favor of a counter-terrorism law. Such changes are likely to grant security forces unlimited authority to detain persons, raid residences, and monitor postal and telephone communications without court permission. A special judicial regime might be created to grant the necessary authorization and provide political cover for the security apparatus. And reimposition of the State of Emergency will remain a possibility even when there is a new counter-terrorism law.

Regarding political life, by prohibiting religious parties the amendments appear to foreclose any hope of coming to terms with political Islam. Meanwhile, the creation of new non-religious parties continues to be blocked and existing parties are beset by administrative, legislative, and security restrictions.

In response to these developments, opposition groups and civil society have been divided and on the defensive. Heads of the centrist Wafd and lefitist Tagammu, older parties that now command little support, agreed in principle to Mubarak's proposed amendments, provoking sharp criticism and allegations of deal-making with the regime from within the two parties and in the independent press. The Judges' Club, among the most active and respected advocates of reform, has expressed concern that these amendments target human rights, judicial independence, and electoral transparency. The judges have demanded that the government permit international monitoring of future elections. Human rights organizations have expressed similar concerns about elections and the limiting of public freedoms under the pretext of combating terrorism. Some public figures and the Kifaya protest movement have called for a public boycott of discussion of the amendments and the coming referendum, arguing that previous experiences have resulted in the passage of regime initiatives without any meaningful change, while the ruling parting has benefited from the appearance that the amendments were the result of free democratic dialogue.

Many in the opposition and civil society are insisting on the amendment of Article 77 in order to set a limit of two presidential terms, with the understanding that this stipulation will not be applied retroactively to President Mubarak. Some analysts expect that Mubarak will agree to such an amendment in the final moments as a sop to the opposition parties.

The quasi-governmental National Council for Human Rights has recommended to the government that such term limits be established and that judicial supervision of elections be maintained. But the Council has unfortunately ignored issues strongly connected to its original purview, despite the fact that constitutional human rights guarantees will be the main victim of the amendments.

With the required two-thirds majority in the People's Assembly, there is little question that the ruling party will pass the amendments handily and move on to the required public referendum. Then the next move in the game will be to pass a raft of laws stemming from the amendments, thereby completing the constitutional and legislative process of closing the political opening in Egypt.

Bahey Eldin Hassan is director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies. This article was translated from Arabic by Kevin Burnham.

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Divisive Egypt reforms approved

BBC News
27 March 2007

Some polling centres saw just a trickle of voters

Controversial amendments to Egypt's constitution have been approved by 75.9% of those who voted in Monday's referendum, government officials say.

Turnout for the vote was 27%, the justice ministry said, although some independent groups put it at 5%.

The country's main opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, boycotted the vote and criticised the amendments as paving the way for a police state.

A senior Muslim Brotherhood official said the result was forged.

The 34 constitutional amendments include a ban on the creation of political parties based on religion, and sweeping security powers.

The government says the changes will deepen democracy, but opponents say it will be easier to rig future elections.

President Hosni Mubarak hailed the result on Monday.

"The people are the real winners in this referendum. What has been achieved does not represent the end of the road," he said.

Mr Mubarak promised further political, economic and social reforms but gave no specific details.

Mohamed Habib, the deputy leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, said the government had made up the referendum result.

"It is 100% forged... They are lying," he told the Reuters news agency.

Sweeping powers

Under Egyptian election laws, a low turnout does not affect the outcome, as a simple majority of votes cast is required for victory.

Even before the official results were announced, the government papers were celebrating a successful referendum, BBC Cairo correspondent Heba Saleh says.

Their front pages gloat about what they describe as massive participation and the failure of the opposition boycott.

It is a different picture in the private and opposition papers which report a low turnout of 10% or under, our correspondent says.

Religious ban

Officials say the changes will allow the drafting of a new anti-terrorism law to replace the emergency legislation in place since 1981, giving police wide powers of arrest and surveillance.

In addition, the amendments ban all religious-based political activity and parties, a blow to the Muslim Brotherhood - an Islamic party banned in Egypt which represents the strongest opposition force.

The Brotherhood ran in the legislative elections in 2005, with candidates standing as independents, and won 88 seats in parliament.

The amendments also allow the adoption of a new election law and do away with the need for judicial supervision of every ballot box.

Opposition groups have voiced fears about the wording of the articles on the new anti-terrorism law because it will be possible to bypass the constitutional guarantees protecting basic freedoms.

Human rights group Amnesty International has called the changes the greatest erosion of human rights since a state of emergency was declared after the assassination of President Anwar Sadat 26 years ago.

OFFICIAL RESULTS

9,701,833 people voted, 27.1 % of the country's 35,865,660 eligible voters
'Yes' vote 75.9%, 'no' vote 24.1%

KEY AMENDMENTS

Article 5:
Bans political activity/parties based on religion

Article 88:
Removes judicial supervision of elections

Article 179:
Invokes special powers to fight terrorism

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Egypt: A permanent emergency?

By Martin Asser
BBC News
27 March 2007

Opponents are calling the amendments the "death of Egypt"

For nearly two years, Egypt has been inching towards constitutional changes that could allow it to end one of the longest "emergencies" in history.

Emergency powers were implemented in 1981, after the assassination of President Anwar Sadat, and have been in force ever since.

But critics of Mr Sadat's enduring successor, Hosni Mubarak, say the amendments will enable a replacement of emergency laws with something just as authoritarian - but permanent.

The 34 new articles were approved by a vote in parliament - dominated by members of the ruling National Democratic Party on 19 March.

A week later they were put to a popular vote. Government officials said they were approved by more than three-quarters of voters, although the turnout was low - 27% according to official figures, much lower by other independent groups.

The opposition, led by independent supporters of the banned Muslim Brotherhood movement, boycotted the vote, saying the lightening referendum did not give them a chance to mount a proper "No" campaign.

Demise of socialism

The government says the constitutional changes will enhance Egypt's democracy and allow it to fight terrorism more effectively.

Article One, for example, changes Egypt from a "democratic, socialist state" based on an alliance of workers to "a democratic system based on citizenship".

The socialist economic system previously enshrined in Article 4 becomes a system "based on freedom of economic action... safeguarding ownership and preserving workers rights".

The anachronistic Article 59 - "safeguarding socialist gains is a national duty" - becomes a much more fashionable "conserving the environment is a national duty".

One of the most controversial amendments, Article 179, gives the president new powers to refer terrorist cases to any judicial authority he chooses - including military tribunals whose verdicts are not subject to appeal.

It also says the authorities may override three other articles protecting individual freedoms and privacy.

Dynastic transfer

Some amendments appear to be specifically written to perpetuate the rule of Mr Mubarak's National Democratic Party.

In fact, his critics say they are meant to pave the way to a dynastic transfer of power to Mr Mubarak's son, Gamal, currently a high-flying official in the NDP.

Article Five, for example, gives a nod towards a "political regime based on the multi-party system".

But it also bans "any political activity or political party based on any religious background or foundation".

It seems hardly a coincidence that the strongest challenge to the NDP comes from the Muslim Brotherhood, which is already banned but tolerated by the authorities. Now it is actually unconstitutional.

Article 88, which previously stipulated supervision of elections by members of the judiciary, has also been rewritten to remove that control.

This seems connected to a high-profile struggle last year when two senior judges unsuccessfully pressed for an inquiry into alleged electoral fraud during the general election in 2005.

Meanwhile Article 7 requires presidential candidates to be nominated by parties with at least 3% of elected members of parliament - another insurmountable obstacle for the Brotherhood.

Constraints

Amnesty International, a London-based human rights group, warned that the amendments would "write into permanent law emergency-style powers that have been used to violate human rights" since 1981.

Article 179 seems particularly draconian, stating that Articles 41, 44 and 45 (paragraph two) of the constitution must not "hamper" investigations into terrorist crimes.

These articles prevent detention without judicial authorities' permission, police searches without a warrant and eavesdropping on personal communications.

It is unclear how fully the government will use the new powers enshrined in the amendments.

Critics like Amnesty expect more of the same, in a country where political opponents are already subjected to numerous constraints preventing them from competing on an equal footing with the ruling party.

But the Muslim Brotherhood may be facing an even greater crackdown under Article Five, given that its entire programme can be summed up with the maxim "Islam is the solution".

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Q&A: Egyptian referendum

BBC News
23 March 2007

Egypt is to hold a controversial referendum on constitutional amendments on Monday 26 March.

The opposition, including the powerful Muslim Brotherhood, plans to boycott the ballot.

What's the referendum about?

The Egyptian government wants to make changes to the country's constitution, especially those sections concerning the conduct of elections and anti-terror legislation.

What changes are being proposed?

The proposed amendments include changes to 34 articles of the constitution. The changes include a ban on the establishment of religious parties and allow for the adoption of a new election law. They would allow the president to dissolve parliament unilaterally and dispense with the need for judicial supervision of every ballot box.

They would also allow for a new anti-terrorism law to replace emergency legislation that has been in place since 1981, when Hosni Mubarak first became president after the assassination of his predecessor, Anwar al-Sadat. The new law enshrines sweeping police powers of surveillance and arrest and allows for civilians to be tried by military courts in terrorism cases.

Why is the government so keen on the changes?

The government says that the proposed changes to the constitution are long overdue reforms that will strengthen democracy and the rule of law.

Why is the opposition boycotting the referendum?

The opposition says that the aim of the changes is to strengthen President Mubarak's grasp on power. It maintains that the watering down of the judicial supervision of elections will increase the likelihood of election abuses.

Parties such as the Muslim Brotherhood are likely to be hit hard by the proposed ban on political activity based on religion.

The opposition is also unhappy about the proposed new anti-terrorism law, which it says will turn Egypt into a police state.

It also objects to the bringing forward of the date of the referendum - which was originally set for 4 April - saying that this is indicative of the government's determination to ram through changes without taking into account any opposition.

What does the rest of the world say?

The human rights group Amnesty International is highly critical of the proposals, saying that they amount to the greatest erosion of human rights in Egypt since emergency laws were enacted in 1981 in the wake of the assassination of President Sadat.

The US has also expressed muted criticism of the proposed constitutional amendments.

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Egypt: Proposed constitutional amendments greatest erosion of human rights in 26 years

Amnesty International
Press release, 03/18/2007

Amnesty International today called on Egyptian members of parliament to reject proposed amendments to the country's constitution, which the organisation described as the most serious undermining of human rights safeguards in Egypt since the state of emergency was re-imposed in 1981.

The appeal came as the Egyptian Parliament prepared to approve this Sunday amendments to 34 articles of the constitution, including Article 179. The amendments to this Article would give sweeping powers of arrest to the police, grant broad authority to monitor private communications and allow the Egyptian president to bypass ordinary courts and refer people suspected of terrorism to military and special courts, in which they would be unlikely to receive fair trials.

"The proposed constitutional amendments would simply entrench the long-standing system of abuse under Egypt's state of emergency powers and give the misuse of those powers a bogus legitimacy. Instead of putting an end to the secret detentions, enforced "disappearances", torture and unfair trials before emergency and military courts, Egyptian MPs are now being asked to sign away even the constitutional protections against such human rights violations,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Deputy Director of Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa programme.

The amendment of Article 179 would pave the way for the introduction of a new anti-terrorism law that would undermine the principle of individual freedom [Article 41(1)], privacy of the home [Article 44] and privacy of correspondence, telephone calls and other communication [Article 45(2)]. The amendments would also grant the president the right to interfere in the judiciary by bypassing ordinary courts, including by referring people suspected of terrorism-related offences to military courts.

If approved by parliament, the amendments to Article 179 will be put to a popular referendum on 4 April along with amendments to 33 other articles of the Constitution. Egyptian NGOs and others have also expressed grave concerns about these other amendments including those which would ban the establishment of political parties based on religion and reduce the role of the judges in supervising elections and referendums. The first is seen as part of a government strategy to undermine the opposition Muslim Brotherhood following its improved showing in the 2005 elections. The second is seen as an attempt to prevent any repetition of events last year, when two leading judges denounced the government's failure to take action in response to evidence of electoral fraud during the presidential and parliamentary elections in 2005.

The amendments are being presented to MPs as a package on which they must vote yes or no. They cannot accept some and reject others, nor can they open up any of the proposed amendments for further parliamentary review.

"Amnesty International recognises the threat posed to Egypt by terrorism, but respect for and protection of fundamental human rights cannot simply be swept away by a majority vote," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.

"By pushing through these amendments, the government will write into the permanent law emergency-style powers that have been used to violate human rights over more than two decades, so that when it then bows at last to international criticism and lifts the state of emergency the impact will be no more than cosmetic. The parliament should not rubber stamp this. Instead, it should reject the amendments and insist that Egypt's national law adequately safeguards the universal rights enshrined under international law which Egypt has committed, but so conspicuously failed, to uphold."

Amnesty International firmly believes that the current constitutional reform must be seized as an opportunity to further strengthen human rights protection and to break with the practices of the past. None of the provisions of the emergency legislation should be entrenched in the new law or protected by the constitution.

Background
The proposed amendment of Article 179 stipulates the following:
“The State shall work to safeguard the general discipline and security in the face of the dangers of terror. The law shall regulate the provisions related to the measures of conclusion and investigation necessary for combating those dangers under the supervision of the Judiciary in a way that the measure stipulated in the first paragraph of Article 51 and Article 44 and the second paragraph of Article 45 of the Constitution not to hinder putting those provisions into effect.
The President of the Republic may submit any crime of terror crimes to any judicial body stipulated in the Constitution or the law.”

Demonstrators calling for rejection of the constitutional amendments were dispersed by police in Cairo on Friday. Scores were arrested and detained; most were quickly released but some 23 have been charged with public order offences.


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