The amendments to the Egyptian Constitution approved by parliament last week were a disastrous measure that will destroy what is left of political life in the country. They will be put to a referendum in a little over two months.
We are clearly facing a second coup with these changes to the constitution, staged by the very officials who are responsible for protecting the basic principles of the government in Egypt. This is a shameful thing by those who are supposed to represent the people and are trusted with looking out for their interests and those of future generations.
The proposed amendments are a blatant violation of the 2014 Constitution that was passed by a large majority. At the time, the document was described as the greatest constitution in Egyptian history, and it received support and praise from all of the political forces that backed and contributed to the coup against democracy in July 2013.
Arguably the most dangerous of these amendments is the one related to Article 226, which stipulates that no amendments pertaining to the re-election of the President can be made unless the amendment brings more guarantees. This means that Article 140 related to the re-election of the President cannot be amended unless this achieves further justice, integrity and democracy.
Meanwhile, according to the media, the presidential term of office is being changed from four to six years, while an exclusive-case “transitional article” will be introduced to guarantee that the current President, Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, could remain in office for two more terms, ending in 2034. In addition to this being unconstitutional, it violates Article 226 and its spirit, but the disaster lies in the amendment’s exclusivity. It has been tailored for a specific individual, whereas constitutional articles are meant to be general and abstract in order to have legal and moral credibility; they should not be tailored to suit one person.
Moreover, according to reports and news, the proposed amendments give the President, in his capacity as the representative of the executive authority, a large measure of control over the judiciary. He will, apparently, have the power to appoint the heads of the judicial bodies as he sees fit, and not in the customary way, where the president approves the choice of these organisations’ general assemblies.
The most dangerous matter in this regard is granting the military the power to determine the nature of the state. Reports have mentioned the addition of a new article which appoints the military as the guardian and protector of the Republic’s civil status. Apart from the contradictory nature and irony of this article, the problem lies in its political implications for the future. It means, for example, that the army will become a dominant institution that is above the law and constitution, as it dictates the nature of the state and the degree of its civil status. This is similar to the situation in Kemalist Turkey when the army “protected” the secular state for decades. This had a negative effect on the democratic transition and Turkey’s political life in general. It is also closer, despite the ideological differences, to the situation with Iran’s Guardian Council, which has been governed by a theocratic regime for four decades.
Furthermore, allowing the military to determine the nature of the state negates any role played by the people in deciding what they want, thus rendering any election a sham and an evasion of democracy. This also contradicts with the principle of the people’s sovereignty enshrined in Article 4 of the Constitution.
The army is being transformed from an institution under the executive authority, with the president as the supreme commander of the armed forces, to an institution higher than the other government institutions and under nobody’s control. Moreover, if such an article is added to the constitution, it could further involve the army in political conflict, which contradicts the nature of the military as an institution; it should remain neutral and above ideological and political conflicts.
It is no secret that Al-Sisi despises political parties, social movements, civil society, elections and the other benefits of democracy. It is also clear that he despises the Egyptian Constitution and the law, despite the oath of office that he took, in which he swore to protect the Republican system. Hence, it is no surprise that he is staging a coup against the Constitution, as he has said several times that he is bored by it, even though he believes that it was “written with good intentions”.
Al-Sisi is revoking his oaths, promises and statements in which he said that he will not make constitutional amendments and that he would not change matters regarding the election of the president. He has also insisted on several occasions that he would not remain in office after the end of his term; this is why we haven’t heard his voice since the coup against the constitution began.
With no concern at all about the objections to the proposed amendments, Al-Sisi seems to have great confidence that they will be passed, just as his first coup in July 2013 passed, as did his election for two terms, despite the political scandals. It is clear that he will do anything to pass these amendments in order to tighten his grip on all political, legislative and judicial institutions. Egypt’s President is even constitutionalising and legitimising his absolute control in a way that none of his predecessors ever dared to do.
This article first appeared in Arabic in Al-Araby Al-Jadeed on 18 February 2019
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.