Document - Egypt: Constitution proposals faltering first step to reform
AI index: MDE 12/023/2011
28 February 2011
Egypt: Constitution proposals faltering first step to reform
Amnesty International today welcomed proposals to repeal emergency-style powers in the Egyptian constitution, but cautioned that the Egyptian authorities must take immediate action to lift the state of emergency, and to ensure that women are part of any process of political and human rights reform.
Amnesty International welcomes any initiative aimed at greater participation in Egypt’s future, and the fact that some of the articles of greatest concern are being revised or repealed. However, the organization is now calling for real human rights leadership from the Supreme Military Council, to ensure that fundamental human rights, including non-discrimination, are enshrined in the Constitution.
On 26 February 2011 an eight-member committee of legal experts, appointed by the Supreme Military Council to propose constitutional reform, called for eight articles of the Egyptian Constitution to be amended.
Amnesty International welcomes the proposal to repeal Article 179 of the Egyptian Constitution. Adopted in March 2007, the article effective wrote emergency-style powers into the Constitution, overriding constitutional guarantees against arbitrary arrest and detention; police searches without a warrant; and bugging of telephone calls and other private communications (set out in articles 41(1), 44 and 45(2) of the Constitution).
The article in its current state also permits the President to bypass the ordinary courts and refer terrorism suspects – including civilians – to a judicial authority of his choice, including military and emergency courts which have no right of appeal and a long history of conducting unfair trials.
The March 2007 referendum adopting Article 179 was boycotted by the political opposition and widely criticized by independent national monitors. At the time, Amnesty International denounced the adoption of the article as the greatest erosion of human rights in 26 years.
Amnesty International has repeated its call to the Egyptian authorities to immediately lift the 30-year-old state of emergency. The proposed constitutional amendments do not go far enough to ensure that the abuses under the current state of emergency do not continue. In particular, proposals to amend Article 148 of the Constitution, to make states of emergency longer than six months subject to a public referendum, would be inconsistent with international law.
Under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Egypt is a state party, any measures which suspend rights during a state of emergency must be of an exceptional and temporary nature – rather than be subject to routine ratification by a public referendum.
Amnesty International is further calling for the Egyptian authorities to ensure that women are represented in any process directed at political and human rights reform. The organization is concerned that no women jurists were chosen to be members of the committee to study constitution reform, and is calling for the Egyptian authorities to rectify this setback. Amnesty International is further concerned at a widely-reported statement by a representative of the Muslim Brotherhood, former MP Mohsen Radi, that women and members of Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority should not be eligible for the presidency. The Muslim Brotherhood, one of Egypt’s largest organized political opposition movements, is represented on the committee.
The amendments, proposed on 26 February 2011, are seen as paving the way for a new constitution, to be drafted by a commission of the Egyptian Parliament following parliamentary elections in the coming months. The amendments are expected to be put to a national referendum.
Other proposed amendments to the Constitution included reinstating direct judicial supervision of elections and limiting the Egyptian president’s terms of office.