Egypt parliament widens electoral field
Egypt's parliament overwhelmingly passed a constitutional amendment Tuesday allowing multicandidate presidential elections for the first time, but the opposition denounced the reform, saying it won't shake President Hosni Mubarak's grip on power.
During his 23-year rule, Mubarak has been repeatedly re-elected in balloting in which he was the only candidate. His government has touted his surprise proposal to open the field to multiple candidates ahead of September's election as a major democratic reform.
"This is a constitutional massacre," Abdel Azeem Maghrabi, an independent deputy, said during the parliament debate, which was broadcast live on state television. "Enough, enough, enough!" he said.
"We returned to zero point," said Ayman Nour, the leader of opposition Tomorrow party who has declared his intention to run.
The next step is for a public referendum, possibly later this month, to ratify the amendment.
After voting against the amendment, 26 lawmakers — including Nour — walked out of the session in protest.
The 77-year-old Mubarak has yet to announce whether he would run in September's election to seek a fifth, six-year term in office — but he is widely expected to.
For months, his government had resisted calls to hold open elections. In a surprise announcement in February, Mubarak announced he would submit to parliament the constitutional amendment allowing multiple candidates.
The announcement has plunged Egypt into political uncertainty, deepened by a flurry of unprecedented street protests and repeated U.S. calls for the introduction of reforms. Mubarak's government has cracked down on the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, arguably Egypt's largest opposition group, rounding up hundreds of its members. It also has rebuffed calls for the repeal of emergency laws in force since 1981.
"We still need Mubarak and we still need Mubarak's purity," declared lawmawker Kamal el-Shazli, a stalwart of Mubarak's party, during Tuesday's debate.
Haider Baghdadi, the only deputy from the Nasserite party, was immediately sacked from his party when he told the house that he had no objections to the draft. His dismissal was announced by the party's head, Diaa Eddin Dawoud.
The amendment to the constitution's Article 76 stipulates that independents wishing to run for president must first get recommendations from 250 elected members in the lower and upper houses of parliament and city councils, all of which are dominated by Mubarak's party.
The liberal al-Wafd and the leftist Tagammu parties also rejected the amendment.
Less than a mile away from the parliament building in downtown Cairo, the opposition Kifaya, or "enough," group called for a boycott of the presidential election, labeling it "theatrics" and a "farce."
In a statement, it accused the government of making desperate maneuvers aimed at "aborting people's hopes for freedom and democracy." Kifaya is a growing activist movement calling for an end to Mubarak's rule and far reaching political reforms.
Also Tuesday, dozens of Mubarak supporters rallied in the same downtown Cairo area, just outside the Journalists' Syndicate, raising the president's picture and chanting "We protect Mubarak with our soul and blood!" and "Long live Mubarak, long live Egypt!"