“Egypt: ‘Constitutional amendments amount to coup’

Tensions have soared in Egypt after the military dealt a number of blows to the democratic process in the form of court decisions and constitutional amendments. In a column on theallAfrica.com site, political analyst Catriona Knapman notes that the latest and most blatant of these is the Constitutional Declaration, issued on 17 June, which grants the ruling Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) legislative powers as well as greater control over the constitution-drafting process. ‘Lawyers and activists were left to grapple with the legality and implications of what many now describe as a coup d’état. The military made its first move on 13 June by issuing Decree No. 4991, which grants the military power to arrest civilians for an extensive list of crimes, including acts disrupting traffic and public protest. A coalition of human rights groups and activists described it as ‘a legal shield for army intervention in the daily life of Egyptians’.

The second move came on 14 June , two days before the final round of the presidential elections, as the Supreme Constitutional Court announced its verdict on two major decisions. The first concerned the Political Isolation Law whose goal is to deny political rights to persons associated with Mubarak’s former regime. The court declared the law unconstitutional, allowing Ahmed Shafiq, who was Hosni Mubarak’s interim Prime Minister in 2011, to run in the final round of the elections. As a candidate supported by SCAF, the political ramifications of the decision were inescapable.’ Knapman says the second decision claimed the parliamentary elections for the Lower House last year had been unconstitutional as party members had been allowed to contest the one third of seats reserved for independent candidates. ‘This thus called for parliament to be dissolved until fresh elections. Debate is still ongoing on whether or not there is now a functioning parliament. The Constitutional Court judgment declared that one third of parliamentarians were illegal, but doubt remains as to whether this requires the complete or partial dissolution of Parliament,’ she added.