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Egypt proposes competitive presidential elections

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Two weeks after a huge uprising forced President Hosni Mubarak to step down, hundreds of Egyptian students rallied at the pyramids in hopes of getting tourists to start visiting the country again. (Feb. 25)

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By SARAH EL DEEB
The Associated Press
Saturday, February 26, 2011; 8:04 PM

CAIRO -- A constitutional reform panel on Saturday recommended opening Egypt's presidential elections to competition and imposing a two-term limit on future presidents - a dramatic shift from a system that allowed the ousted Hosni Mubarak to rule for three decades.

The changes are among 10 proposed constitutional amendments that are to be put to a popular referendum later this year. The proposals appeared to address many of the demands of the reform movement that help lead the 18-day popular uprising that forced Mubarak to step down on Feb. 11.

But some Egyptians worry that the proposed changes don't go far enough to ensure a transition to democratic rule, and could allow the entrenched old guard to maintain its grip on power.

The most important of the eight-member panel's proposals would greatly loosen restrictions on who could run for president, opening the field to independents and candidates from small opposition parties. That marks a drastic change from the previous system that gave Mubarak's ruling National Democratic Party a stranglehold on who could run.

"We were denied the right to have candidates before. Now they opened the door for whoever wants to run," said pro-reform Judge Ahmed Mekky. "This is a step forward."

A candidate would be allowed to run by doing one of three things: collecting 30,000 signatures from 15 of Egypt's 29 provinces; receiving the approval of at least 30 members of the elected parliament; or representing a party with at least one lawmaker in parliament.

The panel also recommended full judicial supervision of the electoral process, which would address regular criticism that the government routinely rigged past elections to ensure Mubarak's party retained its hold on power.

On Egypt's widely criticized emergency laws, which have been in place for 30 years and grant police sweeping powers of arrest, the panel proposed limiting their use to a six-month period with the approval of an elected parliament. Extending their use beyond that should be put to a public referendum, it said.

The recommendations did not directly address the law governing the formation of political parties - a process that previously was controlled by Mubarak's ruling party. Nor did they meet the demand of some protesters that the current constitution be simply scrapped and a new one created from scratch.

But the panel's chief, Tareq el-Bishri - considered one of Egypt's top legal minds - said the proposals "constitute a temporary constitution, after which a new constitution for the country can be drafted."

The suggestions were welcomed by some. Others dismissed them as patchwork changes to a faulty constitution that among other things gives unlimited powers to the president.

Islam Lotfi, a leading youth activist and a member of Egypt's most organized political movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, said the promise to rewrite the constitution responds to a major demand of the protesters.


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