Yesterday the Egyptian people voted on the constitutional amendment proposals by a constitutional reform panel. The constitutional reform panel was appointed by the provisional military government of the Egyptian Supreme Armed Forces Council. Objections were raised to the membership of the panel; the Supreme Armed Forces Council didn’t appoint a single woman to participate in these crucial debates on their country’s future.
Nonetheless, the panel debated, and while women’s issues have not received closer consideration in this amending stage, several proposed constitutional amendments mentioned in the above-cited BBC article sound like sensible reforms:
Presidential terms would be shortened from 6 to 4 years, and the president would be term-limited to no more than 2 terms;
The president would be required by law to appoint a vice president–something Mubarak didn’t do for about 30 years until in the midst of the recent protests he tried to salvage his presidency;
The president must be at least 40 years old, and his wife must be an Egyptian citizen.
But while these measures sound like commonsense reforms, it warrants mention that only the 2 best-established parties in Egypt–deposed President-for-life Hosni Mubarak’s National Democratic Party and the Muslim Brotherhood–have explicitly-endorsed the series of proposed amendments in the recent referendum. Absent from these measures, for example, are stronger controls on presidential power–and if the referendum passes and the constitution is amended now, this means elections will be held in September–and the pre-existing and well-organized National Democratic Party and Muslim Brotherhood will have a big organizational advantage.
Will Egypt end up with a 2-party political system and retain a unitary executive? Such democratic systems aren’t necessarily disastrous, as our own in the United States attests. If the referendum is voted down, it would be one of the most-powerful demonstrations yet of the resilience and independence of the Egyptian protest movement. The Muslim Brotherhood strongly endorses quick constitutional changes and elections, and was strangely given responsibility for operating some polling stations rather than the transitional military government; the conservative military, for its part, has focused on more-obvious institutional and personnel changes and legal reforms, and then wants to have done with it. But if the amendment package fails at the referendum, a constitutional convention will be called, allowing radical redrawing of the Egyptian constitution but unavoidably pushing elections back beyond September.
In that case both the opportunities and the inherent uncertainties surrounding Egypt’s future would be enhanced. There will be a more in-depth update on Egypt’s constitutional amendment referendum soon.