Experts meet in Cairo to study new constitution


EGYPT’S INTERIM leader, Muhammad Hussein Tantawi, met a panel of judges and legal experts yesterday who are charged with reforming the country’s constitution within 10 days.

The panel, headed by Tareq al-Bishri, a highly respected scholar belonging to the moderate Muslim religious trend, is set to purge provisions which conferred on ousted President Hosni Mubarak a monopoly of power. The amended document will be submitted to a referendum in two months’ time.

Panel member Sobhi Saleh, a former deputy backed by the Muslim Brotherhood, said the task before the group was to ensure the freedom of political parties ahead of early elections for parliament and president. “After the transition to a democratic political life and freedom, parties and political forces can come together and work on an entirely new constitution,” he said.

The Brotherhood expressed approval of Mr Saleh’s appointment and revealed that it plans to form a political party once Egypt has made the transition to democratic rule.

The movement, founded in 1928, has been officially outlawed since 1954 but has been permitted to run social welfare projects and to endorse independent candidates for parliament.

The Brotherhood’s announcement coincided with a meeting of secular democracy activists seeking to establish a political party which could incorporate into its name the date mass action began, January 25th.

The supreme council of the armed forces, headed by Gen Tantawi, seems to have set a 10-day deadline to reassure democracy activists that the council is serious about the transition to multi-party rule by setting a firm agenda for constitutional reform and fresh elections. The council has also taken other steps demanded by the democracy camp.

In a bid to end impunity for individuals accused of human rights abuses, Adly Fayed, director of public security at the interior ministry, and Ismail el-Shaer, the capital’s security chief, have been sacked for involvement in the decision to fire on demonstrators during the 18-day campaign to topple Mr Mubarak.

These dismissals took place after the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights lodged a report with the prosecutor general charging former interior minister Habib al-Adly with ordering police and internal security officers to shoot live and rubber bullets at protesters on January 25th and 28th. Scores of demonstrators were killed and wounded on these two days.

The military has also ordered the interior ministry to investigate the files of 100,000 political prisoners imprisoned by the Mubarak regime, with the aim of releasing these detainees, one of the democracy movement’s urgent requirements.

However, the generals have not lifted the emergency law imposed in 1981. This is regarded by democracy and human rights activists as a crucial test of the military’s intentions.

They also call for the creation of a transitional governing council, the formation of an interim government of technocrats, removal of restrictions on political parties, press freedom, and the right to organise unions and non-governmental agencies.

The democracy movement insists on the abolition of trials of civilians by military courts and dissolution of Mr Mubarak’s National Democratic Party.

In response to popular pressure to secure the return of state assets appropriated by Mr Mubarak’s associates, the government has asked the US and EU to freeze the bank accounts of half a dozen officials close to the former president. His own name is, however, not on the list.

There are unconfirmed reports that Mr Mubarak, diagnosed last year with pancreatic cancer, has fallen into deep depression, refused to take his medication, and is in a coma at his residence in the Sinai resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.