Opposition divided over Egypt's power shift plan
Opposition groups demanding the overthrow of Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak have yet to agree on a common position ahead of negotiations with vice president Omar Suleiman to pull Egypt out of its worst crisis in 30 years, opposition figures said on Saturday.world Updated: Feb 05, 2011 21:00 IST
Opposition groups demanding the overthrow of Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak have yet to agree on a common position ahead of negotiations with vice president Omar Suleiman to pull Egypt out of its worst crisis in 30 years, opposition figures said on Saturday.
Suleiman was scheduled to meet prominent independent opposition figures on Saturday to go through the options, which centre on how to ensure free and fair presidential elections while sticking to the constitution.
The proposal being promoted by a group of Egyptians calling itself the "The Council of Wise Men" involves Suleiman assuming presidential powers for an interim period pending elections.
But some opposition figures argue that would mean the next presidential election would be held under the same unfair conditions as in previous years. They want to first form a new parliament to change the constitution to pave the way for a presidential vote that is democratic.
A popular uprising has gripped Egypt since Jan. 25 with protesters camping out in central Cairo demanding the departure of Mubarak, even after the president on Tuesday announced he would not seek re-election in September.
Egypt faces the danger of a power vacuum unless some sort of agreement on a transitional government is reached.
The council of wise men
The "Wise Men" proposal is based on article 139 of the constitution that would allow Mubarak to hand his powers to his deputy while staying on as figurehead.
"Under debate now is article 139 which transfers the president's executive powers to Omar Suleiman and Mubarak remains as a figurehead until September," Diaa Rashwan, an expert at the al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies and one of the "Wise Men", said.
Handing power to Suleiman offers a potential compromise between protesters' demands for Mubarak to leave office immediately and his stated decision to stay on until the end of his term in September.
Rashwan said that all opposition factions and forces, including the influential Muslim Brotherhood, were invited to Saturday's talks. He said that some groups have expressed reservations about the president staying on even in a symbolic role.
"Consultations are continuing to find an end to this crisis," he added.
The main opposition groups comprise the Brotherhood, the National Coalition for Change led by Nobel peace laureate and former IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei, the Kefaya movement and youth represented by the April Sixth Movement, the liberal Wafd party and the leftist Tagammu party.
Even if they all agree on the proposal, article 82 of the constitution could present a legal complication. It says that while the president is able to delegate powers to a deputy, that person is not allowed to request constitutional amendments or dissolve the parliament or shura councils.
If that article holds, it would be impossible for a Suleiman-led administration to carry out the constitutional reforms promised by Mubarak in response to the protests.
Without constitutional changes, a presidential election in September would have to run under the same rules that opposition parties say stack all the cards in favour of Mubarak's ruling party and effectively rule out an effective rival bid.
The Brotherhood said that discussions were still taking place a among the factions to seek a common ground.
"Until now there is no agreement among the various parties and factions on one scenario," Mohammed Morsy, a senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood, said.
He said that his Islamist group was proposing that the head of the Supreme Constitutional Court takes over power as stipulated by the constitution since parliament has been effectively suspended since the unrest erupted in January.
"The head of the supreme court will then call for parliamentary elections and the elected parliament can amend the necessary clauses in the constitution in order to conduct fair and honest presidential elections," Morsy said.
"Most of the clauses in the constitution concern the president ... The president has to go. We are trying to find a constitutional way out if the president is no longer in his post."
Suleiman, 74, was appointed by Mubarak last week, the first time he had appointed a deputy in three decades in charge of the Arab world's most populous country. It is the post Mubarak held before he became president.
Mubarak, 82, said on Thursday he wanted to quit but that he feared his resignation would bring chaos to Egypt.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Saturday that Egypt's political transition should take place "as orderly but as expeditiously as possible" to give enough time for democratic elections to be prepared.