Next Egyptian President´s Job Is Ill-Defined (WSJ) WALL STREET JOURNAL) By MATT BRADLEY CAIRO, EGYPT 05/14/12)
WALL STREET JOURNAL
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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
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
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,
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