Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Egypt: Egypt’s Armed Forces Asked To Safeguard January 25 Revolution

By Bernhard Schell
Courtesy IDN-InDepth NewsReport

CAIRO (IDN) - The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), an eminent non-governmental organization, has expressed disappointment at the proposed amendments to Egypt’s Constitution and asked the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to review these so that the objectives of the "January 25 revolution" are not consigned to oblivion.

The draft amendments, scheduled to be put to a popular referendum on March 19, 2011, are "deeply flawed and have frustrated Egyptians' hope that they would usher in a democratic transition or address the problematic electoral system before parliamentary and presidential elections," states the CIHRS.

As a whole, the proposed amendments and a short transitional period of only six months "are liable to exclude the emergent political and youth forces that unleashed the revolution from representation and participation in shaping the country's future," the CIHRS states.

The reason, it adds, is that elections will take place under laws that restrict the right of civic association and curtail the free formation of political parties, NGOs, and trade unions. "In other words, the forces responsible for igniting the revolution will be denied legitimacy, despite the departure of (Hosni) Mubarak and certain pillars of the former regime."

Earlier, the CIHRS had in joint statements with the Forum of Independent Human Rights Organizations expressed its grave concern over the brevity of the transitional period and the intention of holding parliamentary elections within six months.

"We believe this will only reward the traditional forces that were defeated and marginalized by the January 25 revolution by handing them the two houses of parliament on a silver platter, before nascent political forces have the opportunity to organize within parties or other structures that will be capable of competing in general elections, organizing election campaigns, and harnessing the necessary human and material resources," the CIHRS says.

The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies is an independent regional non-governmental organization founded in 1993 to promote respect for the principles of human rights and democracy. It enjoys consultative status with the United Nations ECOSOC, and observer status in the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights. CIHRS is also a member of the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network (EMHRN) and the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX).

The CIHRS says: "Under the proposed amendment of Article 189, the two houses of parliament, "which will no doubt be dominated by traditional forces, will be charged with forming the constituent assembly that will draft the new constitution, which will likely entrench the same power relations and values which the January 25 revolution rose up against."

Considering that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces does not welcome the extension of the transitional period beyond six months and formation of a joint civilian-military council to manage the interim period, the CIHRS proposes a set of measures as a compromise:

1 - Start with presidential elections and postpone elections for the People’s Assembly and Shura Council. The reason: It makes little sense to elect a parliament that will be dissolved within one year after the drafting of a new constitution. Moreover, reconstituting and restructuring the police will require much time, which will make it difficult to secure and organize general elections in such a short period.

2 - The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces shall issue a temporary constitutional declaration regulating the second interim period. In particular, the declaration should limit the powers of the president and require a popular referendum for all supplementary legislation to the constitutional declaration issued prior to the new constitution.

The CIHRS says that such a declaration should be issued after consultation between the Supreme Council of Armed Forces, the elected president, the State Council, the Court of Cassation, the Supreme Constitutional Court, the Youth Coalition of Egypt's Revolution, and human rights organizations. The Supreme Council of the Armed forces may then transfer power to the elected "interim" president at the end of this first transitional phase.

3 - The CIHRS wants the “interim” president to form a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution, in consultation with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the State Council, the Court of Cassation, the Supreme Constitutional Court, the cabinet, the executive bureau of the Youth Coalition of Egypt’s Revolution, human rights organizations, and selected legal and intellectual figures, in order to guarantee that the constituent assembly includes all the necessary professional expertise for the task and also genuinely reflects Egypt's political, intellectual, religious, ethnic, and racial diversity. The draft of the new constitution should be put before a public referendum.

4 - Besides, all representative assemblies shall be elected under the new constitution and the relevant amended laws.


The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies says the proposed amendment to Article 75 of Egypt's Constitution has tailored the conditions for presidential candidates in such a way as to deny the right of candidacy to figures who have already announced their intention to run for president.

"Particularly egregious is the amendment's exclusion of dual citizens, even those who renounce their non-Egyptian nationality or have held a second nationality in the past, and those with non-Egyptian spouses. These provisions specifically exclude Ahmed Zuweil, who had already announced his intention to run," says the CIHRS.

It adds: "This narrow, chauvinistic view of national loyalty is inconsistent with provisions in Egyptian law that uphold the right of Egyptian citizens to dual nationality, and it disregards the fact that hundreds of thousands of Egyptians were forced to emigrate over the past five decades, either to escape persecution or because the country failed to foster an adequate environment that would respect the competencies, abilities, and aspirations of all Egyptians without discrimination.

"This restriction is a grave insult and impeaches the patriotism of an enormous number of Egyptians who gambled on their ability to succeed in free, competitive societies. It tells Egyptians abroad considering returning to their homeland after the revolution to help build a new country not to bother, and it establishes a broad category of second-class citizens."

Lending passion to the argument, the CIHRS adds: "It should be noted that the former president -- whose departure was seen by Israel as the loss of a strategic treasure -- had no nationality other than Egyptian. The same is true of spies convicted by Egyptian courts and some of the most reviled symbols of corruption and oppression in the Mubarak era."

Furthermore: "The amendment not only assumes that state secrets will be the subject of pillow talk with the president's non-Egyptian spouse, it shows little faith in the capacities of Egyptian women themselves, refusing to recognize their right to run for president, as is clear from the official text of the amendments posted on the website of the Information Bureau."

The CIHRS also finds fault with the amended Article 76 that, it says, retains the provision making the chief justice of the Supreme Constitutional Court the chair of the commission overseeing presidential elections, even though the chief justice is appointed by the president.

The amendment also insulates the commission's decisions from judicial review, an issue that was under severe criticism during the 2005 presidential elections. The CIHRS recalls that the Supreme Administrative Court stated in one of its rulings at that time that this immunity to the decision of the Presidential Elections Commission "contradicts other constitutional principles as it takes away from the right to litigate guaranteed in article 68 of the constitution. In addition this constitutes an attack on the mandate of the State Council according to article 172 of the constitution." (IDN-InDepthNews/07.03.2011)