Cablegate: Egypt: Possible Presidential Aspirations Spark Constitutional Debate

DE RUEHEG #2395/01 3641452
P 301452Z DEC 09

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 CAIRO 002395



E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/30/2029
SUBJECT: EGYPT: POSSIBLE PRESIDENTIAL ASPIRATIONS SPARK CONSTITUTIONAL DEBATE REF: CAIRO 2279 Classified By: Economic-Political Minister-Counselor Donald A. Blome for reason 1.4 (d).
1. Key Points: -- (SBU) Former IEEA Chairman Mohamed El Baradei's December 4 statement (ref A) outlining needed constitutional reforms for him to consider a presidential bid has fueled critical public discussion of Egypt's Constitution, particularly the articles dealing with presidential eligibility, term limits, and supervision of elections. -- (SBU) In a December 23 interview, Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa said that despite calls from Egyptian political commentators that he consider a presidential campaign in 2011, constitutional "obstacles" preclude his candidacy. -- (SBU) The ruling National Democratic Party's (NDP) Policy Committee met on December 26. Following the meeting, committee chairman and NDP Assistant Secretary General Gamal Mubarak said that the NDP has no intention of pushing for changes to Egypt's Constitution in advance of the 2010 (parliamentary) and 2011 (presidential) election cycle.

2. (C) Comment: El Baradei and Moussa's comments on constitutional reform clearly struck a chord with the Egyptian opposition. While the details of the constitutional debate may not resonate with the wider public, public criticism of the GoE and NDP-backed system by figures as well known and prominent as El Baradei and Moussa does, eliciting a surprisingly quick response from the NDP and Gamal Mubarak. --------------------------------------------- ----- Article 76's Criteria for Presidential Eligibility --------------------------------------------- -----

3. (SBU) In discussing potential presidential bids, El Baradei and Moussa both focus on the obstacles to independent candidates created by Article 76 of Egypt's Constitution. Article 76 stipulates that a candidate for the presidency must receive the "support of at least 250 elected members of the People's Assembly, 25 members of the Shura Council, and ten members of every local council in at least 14 governorates." Because the NDP overwhelmingly controls these legislative bodies, local political analysts agree that, as a practical matter, it would be nearly impossible for an independent candidate to obtain sufficient support to qualify. As Moussa asked in the December 23 edition of independent newspaper Al Masry Al Youm, "how will I garner the support of 250 members of parliament if I am to participate as an independent? The answer is the way is blocked."

4. (SBU) Article 76 establishes a second mechanism for presidential eligibility. Political parties "whose members have obtained at least one seat in (the most recent legislative elections) may nominate (for president) any member of its higher board...provided he has been a member of such board for at least one year." Neither El Baradei nor Moussa are members of political parties, let alone "higher boards," and both assert that they will remain independent.

5. (SBU) In the interview with Al Masry Al Youm, Moussa also criticized Article 77, which establishes a six year term for the presidency, but places no limits on the number of terms a president may hold. Moussa described the lack of a term limit as "at odds with the natural system of life." Other commentators, including Cairo University political science professor Hassan Nafaa writing in the December 27 edition of Al Masry Al Youm, focus on Article 88, which was amended in 2007 to eliminate judicial supervision of elections and established an NDP-controlled Higher Election Committee. Both aspects are seen as additional impediments to independent candidates, as well as erasing an important check on government control of the election process. ------------------------------------- Wider Calls for Constitutional Reform -------------------------------------

6. (SBU) Opposition groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood and the April 6 movement, have added their voices to the call for reform of constitutional election provisions. The April 6th Movement recently announced that it had invited the CAIRO 00002395 002 OF 002 Muslim Brotherhood, the Ghad party, and other opposition groups to participate in a January 2010 conference focused on constitutional reform. In recent days, activists established the Ayez Haqee ("I Want My Rights") Facebook site, urging Egyptians to grant powers of attorney to El Baradei authorizing him to demand constitutional reform. Ayez Haqee organizers claim the power of attorney concept mirrors an approach used in the early 20th century to give independence leader Saad Zaghloul authority to demand an end to British rule. --------------------------------------------- --- NDP: No Constitutional Changes Before Elections --------------------------------------------- ---

7. (SBU) Following a December 26 meeting of the NDP's Policies Council, Gamal Mubarak addressed calls for constitutional reform. Mubarak said that the NDP will not support constitutional reform in advance of the upcoming elections and pointed to the NDP's constitutional reform efforts in 2007. (Note: The much criticized constitutional reforms in 2007 included the amendments to Article 88 to eliminate judicial oversight of elections and amendments to Article 5 to ban political parties with a religious basis. End note.) NDP Secretary General and Shura Council Speaker Safwat El Sherif added that Articles 76, 77 and 88 will set the rules for the upcoming elections. Scobey

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