National dialogue on constitutional amendments includes no opposition voices

Parliament speaker Ali Abdel Aal opened the first of six national dialogue sessions on a set of proposed amendments to Egypt’s Constitution on Wednesday by characterizing the process as an open and inclusive one.

“We need wide participation in the dialogue and we need all forces, including the opposition, to give their views on the amendments in an open, free and transparent way,” he said.

But while authorities have repeatedly billed the hearings as a public discussion with relevant stakeholders, the figures selected to take part in the national dialogue appear to have been hand-picked to include no opposition voices.

The Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee prepared a list of 720 figures who will attend the sessions, 116 of whom are known to be staunch government supporters, a source in the Parliament’s general secretariat tells Mada Masr. The remaining 604 participants will be selected by government officials and independent bodies and, according to the source, will also not include any dissenting voices.

The partisan makeup of the national dialogue was reflected in the first session on Wednesday, with none of the participants putting forward any meaningful arguments or protestations against the amendments, including what is widely seen as the most controversial and consequential change: to extend presidential terms limits which would allow President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi to stay in office until 2034.

During the session, representatives of national media bodies, constitutional law professors, the Coptic Church, Al-Azhar, and others all voiced their support for the amendments.

Mada Masr obtained a copy of the proposed plan for the national dialogue sessions, which was prepared by Parliament’s Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee. The participants will be distributed across a total of six sessions, with only nine of the participants attending all sessions — all of whom are strong backers of the amendments, the source says.

The nine participants are Salah Fawzy, a member of the committee of legal experts who were mandated to draft the 2014 Constitution; Mohamed Eid Mahgoub, the deputy minister of justice; Mostafa al-Fiqqi, head of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina and information secretary under former President Hosni Mubarak; Ibrahim Darwish, a constitutional expert; Farag al-Dorri, the former secretary general of the Shura Council; Mohamed al-Shennawi, the former deputy head of the Supreme Constitutional Court; Ragab Tagen, vice dean for the faculty of law at Cairo University; Fawzeya Abdel Sattar, the first female MP to head the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee in Parliament; and Mohamed al-Agati, former minister of parliamentary affairs.

In 2016, Agati said in a press statement that the Constitution “prohibits the amendment of presidential terms or any rights that have been obtained by the people,” but the source expects that Agati will backtrack from this position on amending presidential term limits.

Among the other figures named as participants in the hearings are a list of 11 law professors and another list consisting of 13 public figures, including former senior officials who served during Mubarak’s presidency, such as former house speaker Ahmed Fathy Sorour, and various judicial officials, including Hassan Farid, a judge notorious for issuing harsh prison sentences and blanket denials of requests to free defendants held in remand detention.

The first session, which was held on Wednesday, included representatives of private and public universities, Al-Azhar and Coptic Church, and press representatives from national media bodies, as well as prominent media figures and TV presenters selected by the Supreme Media Regulatory Council.

One hundred and twenty officials attended the second session on Thursday, representing various ministries, governor offices, independent organizations, oversight authorities, and national councils for women, disability rights and human rights, as well as representatives from the central bank and financial regulatory authorities.

While the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee gave various government bodies and other stakeholders the authority to nominate participants, the committee assumed the task of selecting the 90 participants who will attend the third session, which is allocated for judicial bodies. The session will be attended by the minister of justice, representatives of judicial bodies, and 30 representatives from the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and the Supreme Council of Police.

Syndicate heads will nominate 80 representatives of professional syndicates to attend the fourth session — which will also include 40 representatives from private sector companies and various business associations — while the fifth session will see 120 members of various political parties, to be nominated by party leaders, in attendance.

The sixth and final session will be attended by law professors and public figures who have been selected by the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee, as well as 80 intellectuals, sports figures, NGO representatives, and members of the Egyptian diaspora, who will be nominated by relevant ministers.

On Saturday, the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee opted to postpone the first national dialogue session from Monday to Wednesday, because house speaker Ali Abdel Aal and a number of MPs were in Aswan attending the Arab and African Youth Forum.

Parliament overwhelmingly approved the constitutional amendments in principle on February 14, and the house speaker announced that the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee would be open to receive remarks and suggestions about the amendments within 30 days of that date. Following that, two weeks of national dialogue sessions would be held. A report will then be returned to Parliament for a second vote before it is put to a national referendum, which is expected sometime in April.

Randa Mostafa 

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