Seminar held in Istanbul discuss impacts of proposed constitutional amendments in Egypt

The proposed constitutional amendments in Egypt and their impacts on people were discussed at a seminar held in Istanbul on Tuesday.

The Center for Islam and Global Affairs (CIGA) at Istanbul Sabahattin Zaim University (IZU) hosted the seminar titled “New Constitutional Amendments in Egypt: Causes and Consequences.”

The event held in association with Aljazeera Centre for Studies and Aljazeera Mubasher was broadcast live on Al Jazeera Mubasher. 

Ayman Nour, chairman of Egypt’s Ghad Al-Thawra Party, said that proposed amendments need to be opposed.

Referring to Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Nour said: “The man, who governs Egypt, is trying to eliminate all the possibilities wanting him to go. He wants to cling to power by eliminating all the means. He is using the constitution as a tool.”

On Feb. 14, Egypt’s parliament approved proposed constitutional changes that would increase the duration of presidential terms from four to six years.

A total of 485 out of 596 MPs voted in favor of the proposed amendments. According to the constitution in its current form, President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi cannot run for a third term in office.

Terming the proposed amendments “harming,” Nour said: “When we look at all the Egyptian people; rightists, leftists, liberals or Islamists, they do not accept what al-Sisi is doing right now.”

However, he said, nobody wants to confront al-Sisi right now. “Those, who have opposed to him recently, have been remanded or killed,” he added.

Instead of opposition, the Ghad Al-Thawra Party chairman said, there is support for al-Sisi right now “because of fear”.

“We cannot see anybody opposing him [al-Sisi] in real terms. On the contrary, we much more hear supporting voices in Cairo in such an atmosphere as they fear,” he added.

Nour said they have asked people, who do not want amendments, to film a video to express their reaction. 

“We’ve received 57,000 videos from people so far. They say ‘we never accept these amendments.’ Some of them showed the courage to clearly show their identity in the videos,” he added.

He stressed upon need of strengthening the voice of opposition outside of Egypt. 

President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi was elected president the same year that Egypt’s 2014 constitution was ratified — and one year after he led a military coup against his predecessor, Mohamed Morsi, the country’s first freely elected president. 

In June of last year, al-Sisi was re-elected to a second presidential term, which is set to expire in 2022. 

Stability, despotism

Tarek Al-Zomor, former chairman of the Building and Development Party in Egypt, said there is a need to differentiate between soldiers and generals when it comes to coup in Egypt.

“In Egypt, not soldiers but generals seized the power,” Al-Zomor said.

“They seized the control of the power. They tried to control all the community. They are very professional on this.

“Constitutional violations do not bring stability,” he said.

“Stability cannot be provided through despotism. Arrests, killings, and executions do not bring stability. 

“In order to provide stability, a real and legitimate ground should be established,” Al-Zomor added.

He called on political circles to reorganize themselves and fill the political vacuum in the country.

“They need to tell generals ‘we are smarter and stronger than you and you cannot play with us,’” he said. 

“Our people cannot accept dictatorship and pressure,” Al-Zomor said. “We are not a slave,” he added. 

Coups in Turkey 

Yasin Aktay, an advisor to Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party, spoke about the coups that took place in Turkey and their impacts on the country. 

“Turkey has suffered a lot from the coups in its history,” said Aktay, who is also an academic at Sociology Department at Istanbul-based Ibni Haldun University. 

“Whenever a coup took place, it took Turkey backwards. No coup has brought goodness to the country.

“The difference between Turkey and Egypt or other Arab countries is there has been a decent election atmosphere in Turkey,” Aktay said.

“During the coup periods, the referendums took place under military pressure but in normal times, all the elections have taken place in a decent atmosphere,” he said

“Even the worst period of Turkey has not been like the one in Egypt,” the academic noted. 

Aktay highlighted that people’s desire and decisions are important in Turkey under the leadership of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

In Turkey, the president can only serve for 2 terms, Aktay noted.

For his part, Gamal Fathy Mohamed Nassar, an academic from Islamic Science Department at Istanbul Sabahattin Zaim University, said the military was also controlling the economy in Egypt.

“Ordinary people [in Egypt] cannot buy anything. Prices of fuel or electricity are quite high,” he said.

“Egyptian foundations need to borrow money in order to do its own jobs. What kind of state is it? It cannot do anything if it does not borrow money,” Nassar said.

“Let’s all together unite and give lessons to the al-Sisi administration,” he added.

At least 20 people were killed and 43 injured when a fire tore through Cairo’s main train station

At least 20 people were killed and 43 injured when a fire tore through Cairo’s main train station Wednesday, according to the Health Ministry.

The fire was caused by a fuel tank explosion that occurred after a train collided with a safety barrier at Ramses Train Station, according media reports. Photos shared on social-media showed clouds of smoke rising from the station.

Health Minister Hala Zayed said most of the victims’ bodies had yet to be identified.

Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli has since visited the train station, where he vowed to bring responsible parties to account.

Egypt’s attorney-general, meanwhile, has also ordered an investigation into the fire. 

Later Wednesday, Madbouli accepted the resignation of Transport Minister Hisham Arafat, which he tendered in the immediate wake of the fire.

Turkey offered its condolences to victims’ families and wished the injured a speedy recovery.

“We are saddened to hear that many lost their lives and were injured in a fire that erupted at the Ramses Train Station in Cairo today,” the Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Egypt’s railway system has a relatively poor safety record due to poor management and a lack of investment in rail infrastructure. 

In 2002, more than 350 people were killed when fire ravaged a passenger train near Cairo.