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02-26-2011 by L. S. Carbonell

Cairo, Egypt

The first recommendations for reform of the Egyptian constitution have been presented by the panel appointed to satisfy the demands of the protesters who ousted President Hosni Mubarak earlier this month. They have suggested easing restrictions on who can run for the Presidency, imposing term limits for the Presidency and a time limit on the emergency law, which were in place in Egypt for the full thirty years of Mubarak’s rule. Use of the emergency law provisions would be limited to six months, after which a public referendum would be needed. Use of emergency law powers is a popular way for Middle Eastern dictators to keep control of their countries, citing the on-going threat of war with Israel to justify martial law in their own nations.

The changes to the Constitution will be presented to a popular referendum.

The legal panel proposing these amendments was only appointed last week by the military council who have been running Egypt since Murbarak’s February 11 departure. The military has said they want to hand over control to a civilian government within six months, and elections had previously been scheduled for September.

The protesters have reconvened in Tahrir Square after Friday prayers just to keep pressure on the military. They are demanding that Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq be removed because he was appointed by Mubarak and want more civilian participation in the transition process.

The panel recommended a total of 10 amendments to the Constitution. These include full judiciary participation in the elections, a move intended to limit the ability of the ruling party to control the elections. Candidate would be eligible to run for president if they can get 30,000 signatures from different provinces. Previously, Mubarak hand-picked candidates at all levels of the government.

The head of the panel, Tareq el-Bishri, one of Egypt’s top attorneys, said that the panel’s suggestions would be put to the public in a referendum, but that these amendments “constitute a temporary constitution, after which a new constitution can be drafted.” by the new Parliament. The protesters had demanded that the constitution be rewritten because so much of it favored Mubarak and his party and it was too easily abused.

The Egyptian military and the civilian government that will shortly replace it have many tasks ahead of them to satisfy the protesters, not least of which is breaking the centuries-old practice of layers of corruption in business and government. The military has already raised the salaries of most government workers.


The last reports from Bahrain and Jordan indicated that while protests were continuing in Manama, Bahrain, the royal family is trying to negotiate reforms and Jordan’s King Abdullah II is doing the same. Protests, however, are ongoing in Yemen and Algiers as most people await the outcome in Libya. It is feared that if Moammar Qaddafi pulls off a divine intervention and survives, other regimes might feel that they too can use deadly force to deal with protesters. There has been a quiet round-up and release of potential protesters in Syria, where opposition to the Assad regime is not as great as in other Middle Eastern countries. No abuse of those detained has been reported. Protests in Iraq are getting intermingled with the usual Shia-Sunni-Kurd violence and the insurgency. Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is irrationally mimicking Qaddafi’s use of police and live ammo in dealing with protesters and so far, there has been no intervention by the American government which is protecting al-Maliki within the Baghdad Green Zone.

All of the unrest has driven oil prices towards the $100 a barrel mark, though only Libya’s and Iraq’s oil have been interrupted so far. Since the unrest may be on-going for years, as one Middle Eastern country after another enters into the democracy movement, this might be a good time for the Western Hemisphere to look at alternatives to participating in the world oil supply. At present, all oil produced anywhere in the world becomes part of the “world oil supply” to be distributed to refineries around the world. No nation or region holds on to its own oil. That makes everyone dependent upon the politics of a newly destabilized region. Balancing our dependency on foreign oil with our devotion to the cause of democracy is going to be a very tricky high wire act for the Obama administration.

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