A toothless president?
BY DALIA RABIE
Cairo: Somewhere between casting the ballots and announcing a winner, the incoming president’s authorities were outlined through a constitutional declaration issued by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.
Late Sunday, SCAF published an addendum to the constitutional declaration complementing the one issued on March 30, 2011, arguably stripping the president of basic authorities, rendering him practically powerless.
As SCAF broadened its powers, it chipped away at the authorities the elected president was expected to assume.
In the face of criticism, SCAF member General Mohamed Al-Asaar assured in a press conference Monday that the elected president will be handed over the “powers authorized for a president” by the end of June.
After the People’s Assembly was dissolved last week, Article 56 of the recent amendments gave SCAF the right to assume legislative authority until a new parliament is elected.
The amendments also give SCAF the authority to decide on all affairs related to the armed forces, appointing its leaders and extending their terms in office.
Until a new constitution is approved, its head, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi has all the authorities stipulated by laws and bylaws granted to the head of the armed forces, the minister of defense.
The amendments also obligate the president to get SCAF’s approval before declaring war.
Presidential candidate and lawyer Khaled Aly, along with the Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) and the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, filed a lawsuit to annul the constitutional declaration and put it up to a referendum.
Aly told The Egypt Monocle that the president should be the highest authority, criticizing the idea of SCAF establishing itself as a “state within a state.”
He likened the lopsided SCAF-president relationship to an inverted pyramid where the latter reverts to the former over vital matters.
According to Aly, until a new parliament is elected, the legislative authority should be with the president and not with SCAF.
Legal expert Mohamed El Damaty, board member of the Lawyers’ Syndicate, agreed, explaining that assuming legislative authority until a new parliament is elected is a power the president is entitled to.
“If you look at the 1971 constitution, the president had the power to issue laws and decrees until a new parliament convenes and reviews it,” said Damaty.
In the declaration, SCAF also set a week’s deadline, after which it would take matters into its own hands and form the constituent assembly that would draft the constitution.
Aly said that forming the constituent assembly should also be left to the elected president.
Damaty echoed Aly’s sentiment, adding that “by controlling the constituent assembly [SCAF] will make itself a state within a state and at the end of the day when this is up for a referendum, the people just say yes,” he said.
The amendments also stipulate that the president cannot resort to the armed forces to maintain order and protect state facilities in case of turmoil unless he obtains SCAF’s approval, an article Aly also criticized.
Aly described the amendments to the constitutional declaration as “substantial changes” that SCAF cannot decide on its own.
Lawyers’ Syndicate board member Khaled Abu Kreisha suggested that the authorities SCAF outlined for itself, and of which it stripped the incoming president, should be temporary.
“What authorities are they going to hand over [at the end of this month]? This is not a late handover of power, there’s nothing to hand over,” he said.
Abu Kreisha said these amendments should be revised in the new constitution.
He explained that the armed forces should be part of the fabric of society, protecting the people. Making it an independent entity whose budget or decisions cannot be questioned is unacceptable and a threat to Egypt, he said.
While Al-Asaar said that the elected president will appoint the new Cabinet, Article 53 stipulates that SCAF has the authority to appoint its leaders and extend their terms in office, leaving the fate of the defense minister’s position in limbo.
Abu Kreisha said that since SCAF made itself an independent authority, it is highly unlikely that it will allow the president to appoint a defense minister.
Earlier on Tuesday, SCAF denied reports that it appointed the president’s chief of staff. According to Abu Kreisha, the issue of the chief of staff is insignificant, relatively speaking.
Damaty finds the powers the president has been left with are not fitting for an elected president.
“He doesn’t have the power to appoint the Minister of Defense, which is one of the most crucial leading ministries,” he explained, adding that is a critical power for the president to have. –The Egypt Monocle
Additional reporting by Safaa Abdoun