Egypt unveils political reform

As constitutional amendments are rolled out , restrictions on religious political parties remain.

    A panel of experts set up by Egypt's ruling military council to amend the constitution has unveiled the first set of political reform since the revolution.

    Sobhi Saleh, a member of the judicial committee appointed by the military council, told Reuters news agency, that the army is set to cancel a law which gave ousted president Hosni Mubarak's administration the power to decide who
    was allowed to form a party, .

    The panel is also expected to call a referendum in March on historic changes to the constitution unveiled on Saturday, including reforms that will open up competition for the post of president which Mubarak held for 30 years.

    Both steps will be milestones along the road to elections, which officials have signalled could happen within months.

    Egyptians hope for a new democratic era, though some are concerned that the transition from decades of autocracy is too fast.

    "The military council hands power to the people in a gradual process," Sobhi said.

    "The parties law will be cancelled."

    Some limits remain

    While the proposed changes allow new political parties, restrictions on the participation of religious organisations have not been lifted.

    The Muslim Brotherhood, which is directly effected by the proposed changes, had previously said it would register as a legitimate political party once restrictions are no longer in place.

    After the army council took power, it immediately suspended the constitution, raising hopes that there would be major changes in election laws, as well as a softening of the almost unlimited powers of the presidency, as well as an end to the provision saying Islam is the national religion, which has led to the country's Coptic Christian minority often complaining of discrimination.

    "The Muslim Brotherhood group believes in the freedom of the formation of political parties. They are eager to have a political party," spokesperson Mohammed Mursi said in a statement on the group's website.

    The group was officially banned since 1954, but they were tolerated. As a result, they fielded candidates as independents in the 2005 election, garnering 20 per cent of seats in the Egyptian parliament.


    But the Brotherhood was marginalised in the most recent election in November and December, plagued by fraud, allegedly committed by the former ruling National Democratic Party.

    Tamir Moustafa, a professor of international relations at Simon Fraser University in the Canadian city of Vancouver, told Al Jazeera that there is still a long way to go to bring democracy to Egypt.

    "I don't know if there was a democratic process that was on track, but this is a beginning," he said.

    "Article 76 - the proposed amendment to Article 76 in the constitution really does open up for the first time probably a genuine multi-candidate presidential election."

    However, some opposition figures are concerned that a rush towards elections is not in the best interests of democratic change.

    Mubarak's administration had suppressed opposition groups for decades and sceptics say they need time to regroup,

    Many groups have also said that the Muslim Brotherhood is in the position to mount an election campaign, though the group says it will not seek a majority in parliament. It also ruled out running for the presidency.

    Al Jazeera's Anita McNaught has more from the capital Cairo.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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