EXCLUSIVE: Interview with Egypt’s Parliament Speaker on constitutional amendments
• Opposition was welcomed in the parliament sessions because “we do not have something to hide, or anything to fear”
• Parliament is a platform for open dialogue and national debate where everyone is heard
• The dialogue sessions had a good impression and established a “freedom of opinion era” in Egypt.
• The circumstances of the 2014 Constitution were “difficult.”
• The constitutional amendments have been suggested for a long time; ‘hence “not new.”
• Egypt’s National Election Authority (NEA) is an independent body, same as the judiciary.
• What has been achieved for the country in the past 5 years is a “miracle.”
• President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi did not interfere in any way in the constitutional amendments.
• Egyptian women are “real heroines and now is the time to empower them.”
• The government did not intervene in the constitutional amendments and did not attend its parliament meetings.
• Egypt needs to draft a new constitution; only the House of Representatives has the power to to amend some of the current constitution articles.
• Egypt’s Senate will contribute to improving Parliament performance, and I expect its election by 2020
Translated from Arabic into English by: Aya Samir
CAIRO – 20 April 2019: Egypt’s Parliament Speaker Ali Abdel Aal revealed “backstage-details” regarding the session in which the constitutional amendments were decided at the House of Representatives during an exclusive interview with Youm7 Editor-in-Chief Khaled Salah.
Abdel Aal stressed that the idea of submitting amendments to the Egyptian constitution had been “on the table” since the first session of Parliament, and cannot be considered a “new suggestion.”
2014 constitution, drafted following the ouster of an Islamist regime, did not respond to reality
“We all know the circumstances in which the 2014’s constitution was written; they were difficult and unusual circumstances. Many articles were written depending on members’ reactions and past political experiences,” Abdel Aal said. He added that this way produced some articles that were “not appropriate for the reality.”
Abdel Aal said "the proposed amendments will develop Egypt’s constitution and deal with a number of its current problems.” He pointed out that the current amendments make up an “integrated package of modifications” to the current constitution, of which empower women, establish Egypt’s Senate (also known as the Shura Council), set a position for a vice president, amend the presidency term and balance the relation between the state and judiciary.
He explained that Parliament dealt with “rumors” about the constitutional amendments with “transparency,” which he described as the “best weapon.”
The speaker underscored that opposition to the amendments were “heard” and approved,” such as applying the new presidency term immediately on the current presidency.
Regarding the guarantees provided for Egypt’s judiciary independence, Abdel Aal explained that the international standards of judicial independence require judiciary access to sufficient financial resources allowing it to carry out its tasks. “These International standards have also established that the allocation of an independent budget is one of the essential elements of judicial independence, and that the best way to ensure the independence of the judiciary lies in the fact that the responsibility of managing the budget is entrusted to the judiciary itself,” Abdel Aal said.
Regarding Egypt’s Senate elections, Abdel Aal expected it to be held by 2020, especially that drafting its law needs a long time.
On the amended presidency term, Abdel Aal said it was one of the most important articles discussed by the lawmakers. “We considered it as one of the main articles to maintain political stability.”
He added that “we asked ourselves: does the constitution's period of four years in presidency achieves the country’s stability? The answer was no.” Abdel Aal explained that the presidency terms in other countries are being reviewed, and have been expanded from five to seven years in several countries. He noted that Egypt needs a longer presidency terms for the sake of its economic plans.
“Presidency terms in other countries are being reviewed, and have been expanded from five to seven years in several countries,” Abdel Aal said. He noted that Egypt needs a longer presidency terms for the sake of its economic plans.
“According to Egypt’s circumstances, I think that no one can deny the stability that has been achieved recently. Living in a region full of conflicts, having more than 3,000 kilometers of open borders that need to be secured and protected, long-term economic plans of which a huge part has already been achieved… all of this means that we need to expand our political options to enhance the country’s stability,” Abdel Aal explained.
Women’s Parliament share rectified in amendments
On Women’s share of the new amendments, Abdel Aal said there is nearly 90 women currently in parliament, and their performance has been “honorable.” He explained that the current percentage of women’s seats in Parliament gives Egypt an “international privilege, especially that the International Parliament Union does not allow you to vote unless the voting delegation has female members.” According to his statements, the amendments will enhance women’s role and their participation in political life.
“ The amendments will enhance women’s role and their participation in political life,” Abdel Aal.
According to the amended Article (102, Paragraph 1), women will be given one fourth of the number of Parliament seats.
The article reads “[t]he House of Representatives shall consist of at least 450 members, elected through direct and secret ballot. At least quarter the number of the parliamentary seats shall be given to women.”
Since the establishment of the Egyptian House of Representatives, the number of women parliamentarians has never reached such percentage. In 1979, 1984 and 2010, when Egypt applied the quota, the Parliament witnessed a high female representation as a result of the application of the quota, according to a report by the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights (ECWR) in 2014, which called for at least 30 percent of Parliament to be allocated for women.
In 2010, 64 seats were allocated for women in Parliament, constituting 12 percent. But the figure declined to only 2 percent in the 2011/2012 Parliament, which was dominated by Islamists, after the country allocated a quota for candidates without specifying women’s order in electoral lists for political parties in elections, according to the ECWR report.
Sisi did not intervene in amendments, Parliament did not coordinate election with NEA
Egypt’s Parliament Speaker also emphasized that President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi did not intervene in the constitutional amendments, and only parliamentarians proposed and deliberated them. He denounced all “rumors” regarding alleged government interventions in the constitutional amendments. He affirmed that there were no contacts between Parliament and the government regarding the amendments.
“The constitutional amendments were submitted by Parliament members and discussed only within the Council,” Abdel Aal said.
“The constitutional amendments were submitted by Parliament members and discussed only within the Council,” Abdel Aal.
He added that “the government did not even attend our meetings or any of our discussions.”
Abdel Aal also stressed that Egypt’s National Election Authority (NEA) is an independent body, much like the judiciary. He said Parliament did not even coordinate anything about the public voting procedures, including the voting date, with the NEA.
Parliament heard opposition, entrenches pluralistic community
Abdel Aal also noted that opposition members had their “full opportunity” to expresses their point of view. He said he was shocked hearing that some of the opposition members called for a protest. “Why would they organize a protest while we have a parliament where we can discuss everything and debate,” Egypt’s speaker exclaimed.
“A health community is diverse and pluralistic. We must hear the opposition and welcome it; however, the opinion in the end should be for the majority,” Abdel Aal said.
“A health community is diverse and pluralistic. We must hear the opposition and welcome it; however, the opinion in the end should be for the majority,” Abdel Aal.
On April 16, a total number of 531 parliamentarians approved a draft report of a number of constitutional amendments presented earlier by its legislative committee. Only 22 parliament members refused the amendments while one member abstained from voting.
On the following day, April 17, Lasheen Ibrahim, head Egypt’s NEA, announced that the referendum on the constitutional amendments will be held Friday, April 19, to Sunday, April 21 for Egypt’s expats, and will take place starting from Saturday, April 20 to Monday, April 22 for citizens inside the country.
Ibrahim urged voters to take part in the poll, accompany their children, and enjoy their constitutional right, urging them to ignore the boycott calls, and to cast their ballot in the polling stations nationwide.
Khaled Salah is the editor-in-chief and father of Egyptian influential daily Youm7; the paper was twice selected by Forbes Middle East as having the most effective news website in the Middle East.
Khaled Salah, editor-in-chief of influential daily Youm7