A Sort of President Awaits Nation
Cairo — Candidates competing in Egypt’s first presidential election since Hosni Mubarak was ousted are vying for a prestigious position whose job description – oddly enough – has not yet been written. An unresolved dispute over who will write a new constitution for post-Mubarak Egypt has put the country in the unusual position of voting for a president with undefined authority.
“We still don’t know what responsibilities and powers the president will have,” says Negad El-Borai, a rights lawyer and democracy activist. “(Rival parties) want to see how the election turns out before deciding on a constitution that will define the president’s role.”
The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) suspended Egypt’s last constitution after Mubarak was toppled during a popular uprising in February 2011. A constitutional declaration passed by a national referendum the following month was intended to serve as a stop-gap measure until a new charter could be written.
The declaration tasked Egypt’s elected parliament with forming a 100-member constituent assembly to draft a new constitution ahead of presidential elections. However, problems arose after the Islamist- dominated parliament stacked the assembly with conservatives, prompting many secular and liberal assembly members to pull out in protest.
In April, an administrative court suspended the constituent assembly on the grounds that the new body was unrepresentative of the public at large.
“The assembly was supposed to represent all segments of society,” explains political science professor Mostafa Kamel El-Sayed, a former assembly member. “Instead it became weighed down with Islamists, who would have dominated the discourse at the exclusion of others.”
In the absence of a new constitution, Egypt’s next president will begin his tenure without any legal document to adequately define his authorities and responsibilities. Commentators warn that the situation could spark a power struggle between the predominantly Islamist parliament and the ruling military council – with each side trying to carve out executive authorities.
“A president without a constitution is like a marriage without a contract,” Mohamed Hassanein Heikal remarked during an interview to Al-Hayat satellite channel.
The veteran journalist argued that Egypt’s elections are pointless and illegitimate without a national charter to specify the president’s powers.
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