Thursday, March 31, 2011

Egypt's military issue Interim Constitution, 25 January Youth are preparing new big demonstration

 General Mamdouh Shahin (R), assistant minister of defense for legal and constitutional affairs, and general Ismail Etman, like him a member of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) during the announcement of the Constitutional Declaration. (Al-Ahram)

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), the de facto rulers of Egypt, and the government both have made a number announcements in recent days concerning the next steps towards a democratization of the country, a number of which are accentuating the differences between the army and the revolutionaries of 25 January.
It started with announcement of the dates of the parliamentary and presidential elections respectively, which are not really contested. The elections for the maglis as-shaab, the lower house of parliament, will take place in september. The presidential ones will follow in October or November. Earlier the SCAF had set the date for the parliamentary elections in July. But after protests from nanby sides that this was too early for the parties to be prepared, it was postponed a few months.

More controversial was the publication of the amended law on the parties, which at the one hand considerably expands the possiblities for parties to be admitted, but at the other complicates the procedures involved. In the new law not 1000 but 5000 signatures are needed before a party can apply. Also the law compells parties to publish the name of the founders in an add in one of the state owned newspapers, of which the cost  can amount to no less than 1 million Egyptian pounds.
Yet more controversial was the announcement of an 'Ínterim Constitutional Declaration', which will be the basisc law of the country until a new parliament will install a committee to writ a complete nbew constitution. This Declaration was made public on Wednesday during a press conference by general Mamdouh Shahin, assistant minister of defense and member of the SCAF. On top is an article stating that half of the seats in the maglis as shaab, must be reserved for workers and farmers. This completey outdated article goes back to the days of Gamal Abdel-Nasser.
The Declaration consists of 62 articles, divided between four chapters regulating the performance of the state, including basic rights and freedoms; the system of government; and the rule of law. Eighty percnet of it is derived from Sadat's constitution of 1971, including the controversial Article 2, which says that Islam is the religion of the state and that the principles of Islamic Sharia law are the main source of legislation in Egypt. The declaration contains the nine amendments approved in the 19 March referendum, which limited the presidency to two four-year terms, eased the restrictions on candidates seeking to run for president and compelled the new president to select a vice-president within his first 60 days. Also  they stated that elections must be held under supervision of judges.  in power. It furthermore puts an end to an indefinite state of emergency and calls for a constituent assembly to be formed by the new houses of parliament to draft a new permanent constitution.
The anouncemnet of the Constitutional Declaration runs counter to what the Youth Coalition of the 25 January revolution and parties like Elbaradei's Nationalo Association for Change had asked for, nameluy a complete new constitution. Some of the parties were also not very pleaqsed by the announcmenet by the government-Sharaf of a  national dialogue with 160 public figures belonging to different political forces. Deputy prime minister Yehia Al-Gammal indicated that 'the main objective of the dialogue  (held under the title 'Towards a new social contract for Egypt') is to give the chance for all political forces to reach an agenda of priorities for the coming stage. Major paties like the Wafd, Tagammu and Nasserist parties, said that, they had not received any inviations and that apart from that it was questionable how fruitful such a dialogue could be when it is the SCAF that has 'the final say on political decisions'.
Another irritating development for political activists was that Minister of Justice Mohamed El-Guindy refused to abrogate the newly issued anti-protest law.

The 25 January Revolution Youth Coalition, meanwhile came to the conclusion that new action is needed to save the revolution.  It is trying to organise a massive million-man protest under the slogan the 'Friday of Salvation'. The coalition includes activists of the 6th April Movement, Kifaya, the Democratic Front Party, Ayman Nour's Ghad Party, ElBaradei's National Association for Change and independents. A few hours before the SCAF issued its declaration, the coalition said in a statement that it will the  SCAF till  8 April to achieve the 25th Revolution's unfulfilled demands, which are listed as follows:
Speeding up the trial of ousted President Hosni Mubarak and his regime's 'gang of the three': Fathi Sorour, former speaker of the People's Assembly; Safwat El-Sherif, former chairman of the Shura Council and secretary-general of Mubarak's erstwhile ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), and Zakaria Azmi, Mubarak's chief of staff and the NDP's assistant secretary-general. These three, the coalition said, should be held accountable together with former minister of the interior Habib al-Adly for the more than 650 dead and the thousands of injured in attempts to put down the 25 January uprising.
The Coalition argued that  'three weeks ago, we decided to stop protesting at Tahrir Square in order to give SCAF and the government a chance to achieve the objectives of the 25 January Revolution, bring stability back and rebuild the country. But,' it said in its statement, 'while we were rebuilding our country, it took us by surprise that some are doing their best to steal the revolution. We will not allow the vestiges of the toppled regime — state security, Mubarak's NDP, thugs and corrupt business tycoons — to steal our revolution.'  The coalition called it 'highly provocative' that people like Sorour, still make press interviews and that Azmi is still in charge of running the affairs of the presidential staff and palaces. It wondered why Sorour, El-Sherif and Azmi had not been summoned for interrogation, although there are strong indications that they masterminded the 'Battle of the Camel' on 2 February to kill pro-democracy protesters on Tahrir Square.'
The coalition asked to from a special judicial committee to bring Mubarak and his corrupt aides to trial as soon as possible and that more serious efforts should be made to reclaim the assets of Mubarak and his family and associates from local and foreign banks. Also it demanded again that the former ruling party NDP be disbanded as soon as possible, its headquarters and provincial offices reclaimed and it members barred from political activities for at least five years.
Furtheron it called for cleansing media institutions — including state television and radio, and newspapers — of sycophants still loyal to Mubarak and his regime; dismantling local councils and ridding state universities of Mubarak's men. (The government Sharaf in the meantime replaced 17 leading journalists of state media by others who made less dirty hands during the Mubarak-era).
Finally, the coalition called for the release of all political prisoners, abrogating the newly-issued anti-protest law and forming a “presidential council” to be tasked with running the affairs of the country and drafting a new constitution.

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