Egypt Stresses the Importance of Separation of Powers

Posted: Oct 31, 2013 12:01 AM

China: On 28 October, a car crashed and caught fire near Tiananmen Square in Beijing, killing five people and injuring 40 people. Chinese authorities have determined that at least two of the occupants were Uighurs. Witnesses reported the car did not try to avoid pedestrians as it drove along the sidewalk.

Officials increased security at pivotal intersections, subway stations and tourist sites across the capital on Tuesday. Police also notified hotels to report on eight persons from Xinjiang in western China in connection with the "incident."

Comment: Chinese media have avoided calling the crash a suicide attack by Uighur militants, but it looks like a suicide car bomb attack without the bomb. This is a serious security lapse because Beijing usually is free from terrorist incidents. Reprisals will be swift and severe against the Uighurs in Xinjiang and anyone who helped the perpetrators in Beijing and en route.

Syria-Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW): Update. International inspectors overseeing the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons stockpile missed the 27 October deadline for visiting all chemical weapons sites in Syria, but have provided more details of the findings.

According to press accounts of a report by the chief of OPCW, Syria has declared 41 facilities at 23 chemical sites where it stores approximately 1,300 tons of precursors and agents, and over 1,200 unfilled munitions to deliver them. The OPCW inspectors corroborated the information provided by Syria at 37 of the 41 facilities and were able to visit 21 of the 23 sites. The remaining two sites are in contested regions where security conditions prevented an inspection visit.

The OPCW report indicates the 41 facilities include 18 chemical weapons production facilities, 12 chemical weapons storage facilities, eight mobile units to fill chemical weapons, and three chemical weapons-related facilities.

Syria also submitted information on approximately 1,000 metric tons of Category 1 chemical weapons, most of which are precursors which are rarely used for peaceful purposes; approximately 290 metric tons of Category 2 substances which are toxic chemicals that pose significant risk; and approximately 1,230 unfilled chemical munitions, which were not described.

"In addition, the Syrian authorities reported finding two cylinders not belonging to them, which are believed to contain chemical weapons," the OPCW chief said.

Comment: There are no penalties for missing the 27 October deadline. The tight inspection schedule apparently was established to ensure Syrian cooperation by a dubious US. Syrian cooperation has made that provision look pointless.

The US-Russian agreement on eliminating the chemical weapons contains no provision for their disposal, including who pays for it, where will it take place, who will move the materials and how. OPCW has declared it has no capabilities for the ultimate disposal of the materials.

Even with the unsolved problems, this inspection process has disclosed for the first time in public the size and nature of the chemical weapons threat that had been targeted against Israel. Regardless of the outcome of the fighting in Syria, the elimination of 1,300 tons of chemical weapons and 1,230 munitions would be an absolute good.

Egypt: Update on the constitution: Amr al-Shubaki, a member of the 50-member committee tasked to amend the constitution, provided an update to the media on 28 October on the status of key constitutional issues, especially the system of government.

Al-Shubaki said that there is a strong tendency toward applying a "mixed semi-presidential system." He criticized calls for implementing a strict parliamentary system. "Implementing the parliamentary system in Egypt will be a disaster because we are not qualified to this system right now (sic)."

A-Shubaki stressed the need to limit the president's authority, saying, "The condition for establishing a successful presidential system is to prevent the executive authority from expanding over the legislative and judicial authorities and to separate authorities. This will be guaranteed in the new constitution. "

"The new constitution includes a real separation between the three authorities and two thirds of the people have the right to make a no-confidence vote against the president of the republic because the people have the right to withdraw confidence from the president via referendum."

Comment: All-Shubaki is an analyst at Al Ahram Centre for Political Studies as well as a member of the committee. His commentaries indicate he is a secularist and a strong advocate of a democratic government.

The comment that Egypt is not "qualified" for a parliamentary system is a reflection of the experience under the Mursi regime which used democratic elections to enable him to implement an Islamist agenda that Mursi did not mention during the presidential election campaign last year. The constitutional committee is trying to insert safeguards against that.

Another safeguard is a stricter separation of powers among the presidency, legislature and judiciary so as to limit executive power relative to the other branches of government.

A third safeguard is a novel provision by which the president is subject to a no-confidence vote by the electorate through a referendum. This would be independent of the election cycle.

The thinking shows an earnest effort to guard against abuse of power. They provision that al Shubaki did not discuss is the amendment procedure. In some countries, the national legislature can vote constitutional amendments without a public referendum. An easy amendment process is an invitation to abuse.

A weakness in a no-confidence vote provision is that it requires a degree of political awareness and ownership of the system by most of the electorate. Even with a well-written constitution, it is far from clear that Egyptians outside the major cities have those characteristics, except when the issues are religion and taxes. In any event, even the best constitution is no safeguard against a determined military coup cabal.

End of NightWatch


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