Egyptians today to decide on constitutional amendments

The referendum on constitutional amendments, sponsored by Egypt's ruling military, is a major step towards country's transition to democracy and if passed, it will introduce several changes, including presidential term limits and open the field to multiple political parties.

The amendments were suggested by a committee formed by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces which has been in control of the country since President Housni Mubarak was ousted after a popular uprising.

The voting will start at 8 am (local time) and end at 7 pm. Any Egyptian over the age of 18 and holding an identity card will be eligible to vote and hence the voting electoral is estimated at 40 million.

The voting will be supervised by 16,000 members of the different judicial bodies, while the police will secure all polling stations. Phosphorous ink will be used to ensure no vote will be repeated.

The first Deputy Chairman of the State Council Muhammad Ahmed Atiyah, who is also the head of a judicial committee the referendum, said they offer "all possible facilities to enable civil society organisations, agencies concerned and media outlets to observe voting" and that they will provide necessary related permits.

The amendments limit the presidential term to two terms of four years each for any Egyptian who has to be married to an Egyptian and born to Egyptian parents.

The amendments also install judicial supervision on all elections -- parliamentary and presidential. The amendments, however, do not touch on the authorities of the president who remains the head of the judiciary, police and executive estate. He/She will also have to power to dissolve both parliament and remove the cabinet or call for the amendment of the constitution.

However, presidential hopefuls Amr Moussa and Muhammad al Baradei refuse the amendments as they would create a new dictator. Another presidential candidate, Judge Hesham al-Bastawisi, also rejects the amendments.

Bastawisi noted a "new constitution to form a parliamentarian state and limit the authorities of the President is among the most important requests of the revolution".

Another influential group refusing the amendments is the youth of the 25 January revolution, of which Mahmud Adel is a member. He says after the revolution Egypt deserves an entire makeover of the constitution. Five hundred of these youth protested in Al-Tahrir square yesterday to do not accept these amendments, fearing if they are accepted then the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamists, which are the most organised groups, have a chance of winning a majority in parliament and hence write the constitution.

A facebook group, created on March 12, invited Egyptians to vote "no" for the amendments because "our revolution wants a new constitution for the country". Meanwhile the Information and Decision Support Center affiliated with the Egyptian cabinet says 60 per cent of Egyptians refuse the amendments.

On the other hand the former ruling National Democratic Party as well as the Muslim Brotherhood called on its members to vote in favour of the amendments.

One of the young leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, Abdurahman Khaled explains why he will vote to the amendments: "Yes to the constitutional amendments because they will bring us a new constitution and a free parliament. They are the fastest most secure manner that will lead us to true democracy on all levels: political, economic and social. We say yes to the constitutional amendments because they represent a straight line between two points which is the shortest link."

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