Egyptian Judicial Body Slams Proposed Constitutional Amendments

Egypt’s State Council Judges’ Club (similar to a syndicate) has strongly slammed the proposed constitutional amendments as violating the independency of judiciary. The judicial body criticism came in a memo that it has recently sent to the Egyptian parliament, according to El-Mashhad news website.

The Judges’ Club of the Egyptian State Council, the highest administrative court, headed by Counsellor Samir Yousef Al-Bahi, sent on 28 March 2019 a memo to the speaker of the House of Representatives (parliament), criticizing the proposed constitutional amendments. The memo said the proposals – that allow Sisi to remain in power until 2036 – violate the independency of the Egyptian judiciary and turn it into just a tool in the hands of the executive authority.

This is an important memo from one the significant judicial bodies that opposes the constitutional amendments that put the Egyptian judiciary under the president’s control. “The amendments to the Constitution must be based on a social, political and legal necessity … in order to ensure provision of the decent living of the citizen, and provide more basic guarantees of freedoms, and ensure the constitutional institutions’ performance of their role and achieve their objectives … Otherwise, there will be no wisdom or any legitimate objective behind the amendment.” the judges of the State Council said in their memo to the parliament.

It is to be mentioned that the Parliament in 2017 enacted a law that broadens Abdel Fatah al-Sisi’s power and allows him to appoint heads of the judicial bodies. Therefore, the constitutional amendments are seen as a move by the regime to constitutionalize this law will through including an article on judicial appointment by the president.

In an interview with CNBC in late 2017, Egypt’s Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi categorically denied an intention to amend the Egyptian Constitution. He also emphasized that he is committed to two 4-year presidential terms, and that he is against changing this system, adding: “We have a new Constitution now, and I am not with conducting any constitutional amendments during this period; I will respect the Constitution article that allows the President to remain in office for only two 4-year terms.”

Only a few months later, pro-regime media outlets early 2018 started to talk about constitutional amendments that allow Sisi to stay in power even after he ends his two terms in office stipulated by the Constitution of 2014, in addition to some other amendments.

Regime’s move towards the constitutional amendments

Promotion of the idea of ​​constitutional amendments – to ensure that Sisi will remain in power after the end of his second term – has started early. However, talk about these amendments took much more momentum early 2018 and particularly after the presidential election in May 2018, according to a report by the Egyptian Institute for Studies (EIS).

In February 2017, MP Ismail Nasr al-Din announced that he would mobilize MPs to sign a proposal he had prepared for amending the Constitution. He said that these amendments include extending the presidential term to six years instead of four, granting Sisi the capacity to appoint and dismiss members of the government, and abolishing the two-term barrier for presidential candidacy so that Sisi could run for a third term. In addition, there were other calls within the House of Representatives (parliament) to conduct constitutional amendments for extending Sisi’s term in office. However, talk about the need to make constitutional amendments declined and the issue was temporarily closed following harbingers that the West is dissatisfied with such move at that timing.

Also, Speaker of the House of Representatives Ali Abdel-Aal participated in the early promotion of the constitutional amendments. During discussion of a doctoral thesis at the Faculty of Law, Mansoura University in August 2017, he said that any constitution that is prepared during a state of instability requires review and reconsideration after restoring stability to the country. He added that the president of the country does not have the capacity to change a minister, except after a parliamentary ratification, “which is out of reason.”

Early February 2019, a group of parliamentarians submitted a proposal to the Speaker of the Egyptian Parliament Ali Abdel Aal to amend a host of constitutional articles including presidential term limits. The proposal was submitted by head of the state-allied Alliance to Support Egypt coalition MP Abdel Hady al-Qasabi and signed by one fifth of members of the House of Representatives. The amendments included extension of the presidential term from four to six years to enable Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to run for elections for two further terms after his second term concludes in 2022, which could keep him in office until 2034.

According to the sources in the Alliance to Support Egypt, the amendments will tackle several other issues beyond the presidential term limits, including allowing the president to appoint at least one vice president; reintroducing two state bodies effectively dissolved by the 2014 Constitution: an upper house of Parliament, formerly called the Shura Council but now to be called the Senate, and the Ministry of Information, which will replace the national authorities for press and broadcasting; and stipulating a 25 percent representation quota for women in parliamentary elections, with “adequate” representation for youth and Coptic Christians. This is in addition to adding an article that will make the Armed Forces “responsible for protecting the civil state, the sources said. Hardly had 48 hours passed when the suggested amendments were approved by Parliament’s General Committee and referred to the plenary for voting and ratification. A referendum on these amendments is expected be held next April before the beginning of Ramadan, Muslims’ fasting month, as Yasser Rizk, Akhbar al-Youm board chairman and editor, has said.

Regardless of the ongoing debate on the constitutionality of the amendments and their violation of the provisions of the Constitution (especially those related to the due respect to the constitution and law, or even the legality of that Constitution in particular, being prepared in the wake of a military coup), but the real problem lies in the political path drawn by these amendments for many years to come, as they allow Sisi to stay In power for life with new constitutional powers related to having absolute dominance over the judiciary, which means consolidation of the autocratic rule and concentration of power in his (Sisi’s) hands.

In addition, these amendments constitutionalize the military institution’s hegemony over the political life through adding new provisions that mandate the army to preserve democracy and protect the Constitution and the State’s civilian rule, an unprecedented move in Egypt’s history. In this way, the amendments allow the armed forces to intervene militarily to overthrow the government at any time, under the pretext of protecting the Constitution. Although this has been the de facto situation in Egypt since 1952, but it is the first time to state such provisions in the Constitution. That is why various political and revolutionary forces reject these constitutional amendments although they have different political orientations.  However, the common denominators between them remain strong in the face of this future path drawn by Sisi and the military institution.

Continuation of the current situation in Egypt without exerting any action undertaken by the Egyptian people and the opposition and revolutionary forces contributes to further complicating the scene and leads to consolidation of the existing regime and continuation of its repressive and failed practices, putting Egypt and the Egyptians at great risk.