Egypt's Moussa rejects calls to extend presidential terms

FILE - In this Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013, file photo, Amr Moussa, the chairman of Egypt's 50-member panel tasked with amending its Islamist-drafted constitution, listens during an interview with The Associated Press at the Shoura Council in Cairo. The head of the panel that drafted Egypt’s 2014 constitution, possibly the most progressive in the country’s history, has denounced calls to amend the charter, saying parliament should focus instead on implementing it. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil, File)

CAIRO — The head of the panel that drafted Egypt's 2014 constitution, possibly the most progressive in the country's history, denounced calls to amend the charter on Saturday, saying in a carefully-worded statement that parliament should focus instead on implementing it.

Amr Moussa, a respected statesman and a former foreign minister and Arab league chief, was apparently responding to calls by some lawmakers to extend by two years the four-year term the president serves in office.

President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi has less than one year left in his first term. He has yet to say whether he is running for a second term, but he is widely expected to do so in June 2018. The constitution stipulates the president can only serve two terms. The relevant clause cannot be amended unless the change "brings more guarantees," according to the constitution. Moreover, any amendment must be approved in a nationwide referendum before it comes into force.

"Renewed talk about amending the constitution in a presidential election year raises questions about the maturity of the political thought behind it," said Moussa, who unsuccessfully ran in a 2012 presidential election won by the Islamist Mohammed Morsi. El-Sissi led the military's 2013 ouster of Morsi, whose one-year rule proved divisive.

Calls for extending the presidential term are led by lawmakers from a pro-government bloc. As the rationale behind their calls, they say four years is not long enough to allow el-Sissi to implement his plans to revive the economy and crush an increasingly emboldened insurgency by militants led by a local affiliate of the Islamic State.

"The only thing that does not change is the Quran, but anything else that is man-made, like the constitution, can be changed to suit the conditions and circumstances of nations and people," Gamal Abdel-Al, a senior bloc member, said in an interview published Saturday in local daily al-Shorouk.

Parliament's speaker, the fiercely pro-el-Sissi Ali Abdel-Al, has sought to prepare the nation for the process of constitutional amendments. He said in recent comments that the 2014 constitution was drafted at a time of "instability" — a reference to the unrest that followed Morsi's ouster — and some of its clauses should be amended now that the country is stable. He did not mention the extension of presidential terms.

"Egypt needs to deepen stability and not create tension. It needs to reassert respect for the constitution, not cast doubt on it," said Moussa, whose statement appeared to go to great lengths to avoid being seen as opposing el-Sissi.

"The protection of the constitution is trusted to all Egyptians, particularly the House of Representatives, which I am confident will rise to the level of responsibility and give precedence to implementing, rather than amending, the constitution."

Government critics contend that the government, especially its security agencies, is paying little heed to the constitution, violating its guarantees for freedoms and civil, legal and human rights on a virtually daily basis. El-Sissi has given priority to combating terror and reforming the ailing economy. And argues that the right of Egyptians to good education, decent housing and medical care is just as important as their human rights.

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