The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Beyond Cosmetic Reform: Amending Article 76

This morning al-Ahram published the full text of the draft legislation to amend article 76 of the constitution in order to allow multi-candidacy, direct election for the Egyptian presidency. The draft outlines the conditions for potential candidates ahead of September's election.

The conditions are the worst of all previous speculation. See Baheyya's Palaver Vs. Politics for analysis and description.

The draft legislation says that 300 people from the Maglis al-Sh`ab, Maglis al-Shura, and Maglis al-Mahlaya (local councils) have to endorse a potential candidate. A candidate needs at least 65 MPs (14.6%) to be signed on, 25 Shura Council folk (around 10%) as well as 10 elected local councilmen in 14 of Egypt's 26 governates. That is 140 mostly local NDP councilmen.

The NDP commands 90% majority in the parliament and a 98.5% majority in the local councils. This all be ensures the exclusion of independent candidates (read Muslim Brotherhood but any other independent opposition figure i.e. Saad Eddin Ibrahim).

As for party-sponsored candidates, a party must have been in existence for 5-years (so no Ayman Nor because al-Ghad received its license in October 2004). And a party must have at least 5% representation in parliament. None of the parties in parliament meet this criteria except the ruling NDP. So no 82-year old Khalid Mohy al-Din (al-Tugammu) or Noman Guma (al-Wafd).

Furthermore, the presidential elections will be in full control of the "Presidential Elections Commission". It is presided over by the head of the Supreme Constitutional Court (co-opted), appointed judges (no one with any inclinations of independence will be chosen), and 5 public figures (3 appointed by parliament and 2 by Shura). The commissions findings are final and cannot be overruled by any institution or person. Similarly, the commission has a dominate monopoly over the presidential electoral process including complaints and result contestation. This is a big "We don't care" regarding the Judges dissent widely reported as of late.

Nor does this suggest that if these restrictive measures are enough because on the day of the presidential election (still not set) in September, this body will oversee 35,000 polling stations. Even if all 8,000 of Egypt's active judges oversaw the stations, it would not cover it. So expect rigging to be inevitable and high. Yet, NDP MP such as steel-magnet Ahmed Azz have been arguing in parliament that since "America does their presidential elections in one day, so should we."

al-Ahram Weekly's Gamal Essam El-Din has a good informative piece on the technicalities in the lead-up to the release of the draft legislation. For those particularly interested, his pieces the previous two-weeks are also good. They are here and here.

Now what does this all mean?

As it stand now, only the president could wade through through these exclusionary restrictions. This is not a surprise.

Yet, this is a draft proposal. It goes to Shura tomorrow for approval which I expect to go smoothly.

Then on 10 May, it goes to parliament. I expect two things in particular. Firstly, the condition that an opposition party must have 5% representation in parliament will be axed. They will keep the other restriction as a means directly targeting Nor and al-Ghad.
Second, I expect the number of public figures included in the Presidential Elections Commission to be expanded - not dramatically but perhaps doubled to number 10 (Perhaps they will wheel out Boutros Boutros-Ghali and Ahmad Kamal Abul-Magd for another go because their leadership lead to the "credible" and "critical" report from the National Council for Human Rights NCHR).

Beyond those predictions, I am waiting with the rest of you to see the rhetorical acrobatics that ensue with its passage into law (with subtle amendments). This will make it look like parliament put up a fight and is not completely a docile rubber-stamp. It is an inconsequential fight however.

We should know by the 11th or 12th what the passed amendment looks like, then two weeks later a popular referendum will accept or reject the parliament's approval.

If you cannot tell from my tone, I believe that this is beyond cosmetic. In fact, the Egyptian political establishment is delving into the realm of creating a new social science term with their masterful manipulation of cosmetic reform.

That aside, this is a big week in Egypt.

Kifaya is talking about holding a conference at the end of the week and the judges will meet in Cairo on the 13th. I am sure the MB and al-Ghad will also add something to the mix. My feeling is that they are going to feel empowered and opposition is going to increase in the wake of extreme reform cosmetics.

Another question that remains is on which side will the US fall - with the regime or with the opposition? To this point, the best description of US democracy promotion in Egypt since the "Freedom doctrine" in Bush's January inaugural speech has been unclear. We see signs like increasing normalization with Israel and the US establishment's adoration of Egypt's young business community but also Condi's cancellation of her trip in February because of Ayman's imprisonment.

Unlike Syria where US policy is very clear, towards Cairo it fluctuates.

I was out speaking to friends last night. The way they (correctly) understand the proposed draft legislation is that the 5% represenatation a party needs to nominate a candidate would not be enforced until the 2011 presidential election. This stipulation would be waived this round. So Khalid Mohy al-Din and Noman Guma can run but would not be able to in 6 years if the situation stays the same.

Also, this measure rules out al-Ghad's ability to nominate a candidate because they do not have any MPs who were elected. The al-Ghad people were elected as Wafdists in the 2000 parliamentary contest.

Sorry about the error above.