By William Fisher
The former chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei, will be a candidate for president of Egypt, provided that a viable democratic system in is place.
The Egyptian-born international diplomat made his declaration during a televised interview. He characterized as “superficial” the new constitutional amendments prepared by the committee appointed by the army and later presented to leaders of the uprising. Others in the so-called Tahrir Square group have also expressed serious misgivings about the robustness of the amendments.
ElBaradei has met some grassroots criticism for not being present in Egypt during the entire period of the uprising. He was in Cairo long before the pro-democracy movement began to flower and has returned several times during the upheavals. It is reported that some leaders of the pro-democracy forces are not convinced that he understands their vision of a new Egypt.
But he is arguably the most attractive of the would-be candidates, some observers say, because is known to and respected by the international community. Other candidates mentioned include Ayman Noor, who opposed Mubarak in the 2005 election and was then imprisoned; and Amr Moussa, the head of the Arab League. But Moussa is seen by some as having for too long done the bidding of the very governments the pro-democracy movement would dump.
ElBaradei urged Egypt's military rulers to discard the amendments or delay a scheduled March 19 popular referendum on them to allow time for a completely new constitution to be drawn up.
ElBaradei objection to the amendments is that they do not adequately limit the powers of the president or give enough time for political parties to form.
Without he formation of political parties, a try multiparty election is not possible. Moreover, the advantage in such an election would go to the best organized of the current parties, The Muslim Brotherhood and what is left of Mubarak’s National Democratic Party (NDP).
He added, "The current constitution fell. It would be an insult to the revolution if we decided to retrieve this constitution. I call for a new constitution, a presidential vote and then parliamentary vote."
ElBaradei’s comments on the constitution are emblematic of what the Arab Reform Bulletin of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace is calling “a sharp divide” that has emerged among legal experts and opposition groups as to whether the proposed amendments to the constitution will be enough to allow elections to take place.
The Bulletin says, “One side argues that the amendments must be implemented so that elections can be held on schedule, while the other insists that a new constitution must be drafted and elections postponed. Opponents to the amendments argue that there is an absence of basic security and order in Egypt (as is demonstrated by the continued presence of thugs attacking protesters and sectarian strife causing injuries and deaths), and therefore elections cannot be held. Others have called for postponing the referendum in order to foster national dialogue on the matter.”
It adds, “Some are worried that if the amendments fail to be ratified, it will send a signal that the population prefers the current constitution. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has created a committee to monitor opposition to the amendments.
The Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs suggested developing a new constitution within 30 days by creating an assembly of 50 to 100 constitutional law scholars and leaders of political parties. Egypt's first female judge, Tahani al-Gebali, has emerged as one of the most outspoken critics of the amendments.
Other commentators are taking a similar line. Hossam Issa, a law professor, said, "If the amendments are passed, the situation will become very sad because we will be reproducing Mubarak's regime. We want a new Constitution. These partial amendments are being introduced to a Constitution that has already become nil. The Constitution fell the same day power was handed over to the armed forces."
Said Yasser Al Qadi, Chairman of the Information and Technology Industry Development Agency, says, "The main objective is to increase the base of participation in a fair and transparent, effective democracy, and the final outcome of the dialogue will be access to more tools and applications, safer and more accurate technology, the option of electronic voting, and a study on how to provide Egyptians with the ability to vote"
And Cairene Mohamad Z. Gomaa, a respected international consultant, feels that, “People are looking to a whole new constitution that expresses their aspirations, while the Army only asked for changes of some articles. This is a main and significant difference, of course. People are afraid that restriction to few changes may make old constitution continue, at the end of the day.”
Gomaa told The Public Record, “I was tending to agree with the constitutional changes. However, after a more deep analysis them of these proposed changes and their consequences, in the light of the new strong requests and army preliminary agreement trends of changing the order of the process, to start with the election of the president then the parliament, I decided to say no on March 19th, refusing the constitutional changes.”
He explained: “This change was mainly due to the exceptional excessive presidential power through the articles still left in the constitution. With such powers, the new elected president may rule at least one year and a half until a new constitution is agreed upon and that depends on whether the elected president considers that necessary. Imagine how such extra power can spoil even any moral angle transferring him to a pharaoh. The fears are real with one of the constitutional changes saying that the president has the right to ask for changing one or more of the constitution’s articles (the new one, in this case!). It is definitely unsafe way to go ahead and defies the true meaning of democracy. There are large arguments and requests against the changes and the 19th referendum that may change the situation, I hope.“
ElBaradei also said he would work to improve relations between Egypt and Iran.
According to the Arab Reform Bulletin, he stressed that his first focus as president would be to reform the education system, involving as many experts as possible. On the issue of Israel, ElBaradei said that the current peace process is a farce, but that a Palestinian state cannot be created through war.
In other developments, Coptic sit-ins have continued following outbreaks of sectarian violence. For the sixth day, Coptic Christians have protested against the burning of a Helwan church and the ensuing sectarian violence that occurred. The protesters insist on continuing their protests until all their demands are met. These include the arrest of those behind the torching of the church, the immediate construction of a new church in the same site, and dismissing the governor of Helwan who the protesters see as responsible for the incident.
Many Muslims have joined the sit-in in Cairo to show solidarity with the Coptic demands, and a large demonstration is being organized tomorrow for the same purpose. The Coptic Church is also expected to send a group of representatives to the sit-in to convince the protesters to give the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces a chance to contain the situation. Thousands of Copts attended the funeral in Cairo for the victims of the sectarian violence.
Sectarian violence has been condemned by Dr. Mohammed Badie, the supreme guide of the Muslim Brotherhood. He has called on all Egyptians to safeguard state institutions, adhere to the law and present demands in a peaceful manner. The statement accused the National Democratic Party (NDP) and the state security apparatus of igniting the clashes in order to foster chaos and instability in a delicate environment.
The new Prime Minister, Essam Sharaf, has begun to expedite deployment of uniformed police to return to Cairo streets for the first time since police withdrew from the streets on January 28th.
Uniformed police officers have returned to Tahrir Square in an attempt to restore order to a largely unstable Egypt. The military has maintained a presence in the square, and has broken up the long-term sit-in in the square, however military statements have called for the return of civilian law enforcement to replace the military security forces.
Sharaf accelerated the return of police officers to all posts, and hopes that they will be able to fully carry out their duties without incident. A demonstration was planned for Friday in Tahrir Square to call for national unity in the wake of sectarian violence and to demand state security be abolished.