Amendments to Egypt’s constitution: pros and contras

In Egypt, this Saturday saw a referendum on the amendments to the constitution currently in force. 

The decision to introduce some amendments to the constitution has been taken after the revolution of January 25. Soon after that, a committee was founded to work out these amendments. It is headed by Tariq Al-Bishri – a historian, an author of 20 books and a moderate Islamist.

One of the amendments has to do with the terms of presidency. According to the constitution in force, which was adopted back in 1971, the country’s president is elected for the term of 6 years, and the same person can be re-elected any number of times. The amendment suggests limiting the term of presidency down to 4 years and not letting one and the same person to be elected more than two terms in succession. Another amendment says that after taking the office, the president must appoint one or several vice presidents within 60 days. 

There is also an amendment saying that the president must not be married to a foreigner. Out of all amendments, this one is probably criticized most of all – some people say that this is a violation of human rights. 

The amendments’ authors also suggest drastic changes in the articles which have to do with registering new political parties. Under Mr. Mubarak, there was a special commission on registering new parties, headed by a representative of the ruling National Democratic Party, which was rather arbitrary at allowing registration. Sometimes, it took several decades for a new party to become officially registered. The suggested amendment simplifies the registration’s procedure. However, not all are happy about that. Some people fear that this may lead to the official registration – and, later, probably, to a victory at elections – of the radical “Moslem Brothers” grouping. 

Many influential politicians in Egypt are criticizing these amendments. For example, former head of IAEA Mohamed ElBaradei, one of the most active seekers for presidency, says that these amendments are not radical enough to make Egypt a truly democratic country.

Nearly all the population took part in the referendum. At 8 a.m. local time, over 53 thousand polling station opened al over the country, and long queues immediately formed up. As the local media said, this was probably the first time in the last 30 or 40 years when people, young and old alike, were so politically active. Why so? Well, probably, they were glad to feel themselves real masters of their lives. A slogan which often showed up on the screen at the main Egyptian TV channel Al Nile, ran: “Yesterday, I was a demonstrator – today, I’m building new Egypt.”

“Look how many people have come to say their “yes” or “no”!” – 63-year old Ibrahim Mustafa, a taxi driver, says. “Probably, the biggest achievement of our revolution is freedom. Those who say “no” to the amendments are for the old regime. Those who say “yes” are for the new democratic Egypt.”

33-year old Abd Al Magid, who has come to Cairo from the country in search of a job, says “yes” to the amendments. “I’m happy,” he says, “we have gained what we were fighting for. Now, we have to work hard, and, if we do, in some five years, Egypt will be a totally different country.”

However, the editor-in-chief of the newspaper “Al Nahar” Osama Sharshar is afraid that drastic changes can be dangerous for Egypt. He says:

“We are afraid that, with the help of these amendments, “The Moslem Brothers” will win, first, the hearts of many people, than, the streets, and, finally, the power. With these amendments, it will be quite possible for this radical grouping to come to power in a legitimate way. However, we don’t need an Iranian-stile state. Egypt must have its own way.”

All over Egypt, so many people have come to the referendum that in some towns, polling stations had to work for some more time after the official time of the referendum’s end – 19 o’clock. Over 28 thousand police officers were maintaining order.    

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