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Next Egyptian President´s Job Is Ill-Defined (WSJ) WALL STREET JOURNAL) By MATT BRADLEY CAIRO, EGYPT 05/14/12)Source: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303505504577402253906286824.html WALL STREET JOURNAL WALL STREET JOURNAL Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
Elections Begin Next Week, as a Fight Over the Constitutional- Drafting Process Leaves Unsettling Void in Power Structure

CAIRO—As Egyptians prepare for what many hope will be their country´s first free presidential elections next week, an impasse between liberal politicians and Islamists over a new constitution means candidates are vying for an ill-defined role.

An impasse between Egypt´s liberal politicians and Islamists over a new constitution means candidates are vying for an ill-defined role. As Egyptians prepare for what many hope will be their country´s first free presidential elections next week,

Weeks of disagreement over who will write Egypt´s next constitution have dashed hopes that the founding document will be written before elections end in mid-June. That puts Egyptians in the unusual position of voting for a president whose powers and relationship to other government bodies are vague.

"Now we will have a president. What is the authority of this president? He will have to fight for this authority," said Nigad Al Boreai, a liberal-minded human-rights attorney.

The debate, centering on who will sit in the assembly charged with drafting a new constitution, is part of a wider power struggle among Egypt´s branches of government. A constitutional void—in which a lame- duck military leadership, a military-appointed cabinet of ministers, an Islamist-dominated parliament, and soon, a president will battle for power in a political arena bound by few rules—threatens to unsettle Egypt´s first steps toward civilian rule.

Egyptian politicians are divided as to whether an existing constitutional declaration, passed unilaterally by the interim military regime last year, provides the checks and balances needed to guide the presidency through the months before parliament can appoint a constitutional congress, draft the founding document and put it to the Egyptian public for approval.

Liberal-minded politicians —who enjoy little representation in parliament—argue that the military should issue a stop-gap constitutional declaration to delineate presidential powers in places where the 63-article constitutional declaration is too vague. The articles say little about the power of the presidency to wage war or dissolve parliament, for example.

Some politicians suspect that any military declaration would lean toward empowering the new president at the expense of the Islamist- dominated legislature. A moderate Islamist, Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, and a secular-minded former diplomat, Amr Moussa, are the frontrunners in the vote set to begin Wednesday.

Members of Egypt´s Islamist-dominated parliament, for their part, say an additional constitutional declaration is unnecessary. They say that the military´s March 2011 constitutional declaration is comprehensive enough to govern the presidency before a new version can be drafted.

Both arguments reflect a fundamental disagreement over how the new constitution should be written. Islamist politicians, particularly from the powerful Muslim Brotherhood, hope Egypt will adopt a parliamentary system like that of Britain.

Islamist presidential candidates, such as the Brotherhood´s Mohamed Morsi, have so far had an unimpressive showing in their presidential bids.

A parliament-dominated constitution would empower Islamists and give them authority over the cabinet of ministers who handle the government´s day-to-day administration.

More-liberal politicians, meanwhile, hope to see a mixed presidential- parliamentary system like the one in France—one that would offer a strong executive hand to check the Islamists in parliament.

Ahmed Said, the leader of the secular-minded Free Egyptians Party, said of Islamist politicians, "The horrifying thing that we have right now is that I have seen the greed in their eyes to take over everything very quickly." Mr. Said is among a few dozen politicians negotiating the terms of the constituent assembly.

The constitutional process was never supposed to be this bumpy. A nationwide referendum in March, 2011, gave parliament the power to nominate the constituent assembly. But the articles—which were overwhelmingly approved by the public— didn´t specify the terms by which Parliament would nominate the 100-person assembly.

After the parliament voted to stack the constituent assembly with conservative lawmakers, a supreme administrative court suspended it last month on grounds the new body was unrepresentative of the public at large and that parliament can´t legally determine its own role in the assembly.

But negotiations among political parties to reform the constituent assembly have taken weeks. The debate hinges on how many of document´s drafters will draw from the parliament itself or from various institutions such as labor groups, professional organizations and religious bodies.

Representatives from the Brotherhood´s political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, who enjoy a dominant plurality in parliament, argue that the military´s own constitutional declaration stipulates that the legislature should decide who will draft the new constitution.

Osama Yassin, an FJP member of parliament who is negotiating over the constitutional drafting process with other political parties, said he expected the parliament to draft a law governing the constituent assembly this week.

That will still leave the question of presidential powers unresolved only six weeks before the ruling generals have promised to transfer power to an elected president. (Copyright © Dow Jones & Company, Inc.) 05/14/12)


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