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Mubarak agrees to consider constitutional changes

Embattled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Tuesday agreed to appoint a committee to oversee changes to the constitution, a concession to opposition groups that have long complained they are shut out of the electoral process.

Vice President Omar Suleiman, who has led talks with opposition groups calling for Mubarak's ouster, said the 11-member committee would conclude its work by the end of February.

What are the objections to the constitution as it is now written?

The constitution has been amended twice since 2005. But the most recent changes in 2007, which were intended to soften the amendments made two years earlier did not fundamentally loosen the control of Mubarak and his ruling National Democratic Party.

The constitution appears to permit independent parties to put forward presidential candidates, but only if they receive the support of 250 members of Parliament and representatives of every local council in at least 14 governorates. This is a nearly insurmountable barrier given that Parliament is dominated by the NDP.

The constitution also does not set a limit on the number of terms that a president can serve, an omission that has enabled Mubarak to retain control for five terms over 30 years.

Would these changes satisfy the opposition?

For many in the opposition, the answer is no. Some of the leaders have called for a more radical overhaul, beginning with the immediate resignation of Mubarak. Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel laureate and a leading voice of the opposition, has proposed discarding the document and dissolving Parliament.

Opponents want to reinstate judicial oversight of elections and to change the composition of the Presidential Election Commission, which is weighted in favor of whoever controls Parliament.

What is the likelihood that real change will come out of the committee's work?

The committee will be led by a jurist who is a staunch supporter of Mubarak who was involved in drafting the earlier amendments, many of which were assailed as undemocratic. The group, however, does include a reform-minded judge and vocal opponents of Mubarak.

What isn't being addressed by the committee?

One controversial "antiterrorism" amendment from 2007 gives the government the right to make arbitrary arrests, conduct searches and wiretaps without warrant, and transfer cases from civilian courts to military tribunals.

This amendment was a permanent extension of executive power. Prior to that Mubarak, with the cooperation of Parliament, had imposed a near constant state of emergency that overrode many of the freedoms of assembly and speech enumerated in the constitution.

Vice President Suleiman did not address whether the antiterrorism amendment would be revisited, saying only that the state of emergency would be lifted "in accordance with the security situation."

Information from the Guardian, al-Masry al-Youm, Reuters, the Associated Press and the New York Times was used in this report.

Mubarak agrees to consider constitutional changes 02/08/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 9, 2011 10:52am]
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