The constitutional articles relating to the term of the President of the Republic in the Arab States are the most vulnerable to changes likewise most of totalitarian regimes.
Changing these articles according to the needs of the ruler is frequent since the executive power controls both state institutions (parliament and the judiciary) and the media, helped by intelligence services which do not hesitate to intervene in every move, and to suppress any dissent.
By Victorios Bayan Shams
February 27, 2019
These rulers’ priorities are not economics, politics, education or social issues but two issues: the fight against “terrorism” and the protection of the country from any external interference even if the people faces a sharp decline in living conditions, unprecedented poverty, illiteracy, lack of freedom of organization and expression, backwardness, no safety and the spread of bribery, waste, corruption and favoritism.
The Youth whose energies are drained by unemployment and despair, seek better opportunities outside their countries which possess vast wealth, whether oil or others.
The Arab Revolutions, when working people dared to say “no”, destroyed the walls of terror. But the price in lives was very high, surpassing what these peoples have paid in their struggle throughout their history against the foreign invasion of their countries. Then a new concept emerged: “internal occupation”.
In Syria, after former President Hafez al-Assad passed away in June 2000, the intelligence services instructed the People’s Assembly to convene and change the constitutional article No. 83 concerning the age of the President from 40 years old to 34, Bashar Assad’s age then. The presidency of the Republic was inherited from father to son. The Syrian constitution does not specify a limit for presidential terms. Hafez el Assad ruled until his death in 2000, and his son continued until today.
In violation of constitutional norms that require the election of a general constituent assembly to write a new constitution or to make fundamental amendments to it, the 1973 and 2012 amendments are the only ones in the history of Syria which were not passed by an elected parliament. Committees have been assigned to change the constitution and then submit it to popular referendum under the supervision of the intelligence services.
The worst was to happen. Russia has submitted a draft in 2017 to amend 23 articles of the 2012 Syrian Constitution, keeping the paragraph related to the President of the Republic mandate and the number of terms he may serve. Supporters of the Syrian regime did not bother with the fact that a foreign power was changing the constitution. Their concern was only about the fact that Bashar al-Assad could remain in power until 2028. Then, in 2018, Russia, Turkey and Iran in cooperation with the United Nations, formed a group to address constitutional changes.
The revolution, from the beginning, was not about changing the constitution (which is not followed particularly issues related to human rights and freedom of opinion and expression) but about changing the whole regime and its oppressive intelligence services.
The Egyptian situation is not better. The General Intelligence Department, under the supervision of Mahmoud al-Sisi, the son of the current president, Abdul-Fattah al-Sisi, prepared a draft constitution to be submitted to parliament for approval this March.
In the new draft, Article 140, which specifies the term of the President of the Republic, will be changed from two four-year terms to two six-year terms so that Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, who came to power through a military coup in 2013 and was re-elected for a second term in June 2018, may continue in office until 2034.
It is noteworthy that the volume of Egyptian public debt rose during the Sisi rule from 100.7% to 123.6% until 2018. According to United Nations 2018 statistics, the number of the Egyptians living in poverty rose to 30 million out of 100 million of the total population of Egypt, while 3.5 million are unemployed, in addition to an inflation rate of 8.3% according to the Egyptian Central Bank.
In Algeria, Article 74 of the Constitution, amended in 2008, stipulates that the term of the President of the Republic shall be five years, with the possibility of unlimited terms. That is, the president can stay in power forever. That is what happens with the current president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, 82, who came to power in 1998 with the support of the military, to rule four consecutive terms and to run for the fifth term in the elections of April 2019.
Although there is no constitutional violation to run for a 5th term, article 88 of the Algerian Constitution states that “if the President of the Republic is unable to exercise his functions due to serious and chronic illness, the Constitutional Council shall meet, and after ascertaining the truth of this impediment by all appropriate means, shall unanimously propose impeachment to the Parliament. ”
Since his stroke in 2013, Bouteflika has been using a wheelchair and is no longer in the capacity of performing his duties. That is why whenever necessary, his picture is placed in all occasions and official meetings that his presence is required. Under Article 88, he should step down. This imbroglio prompted the Algerian people to take to the streets when President Bouteflika announced his intention to run for a fifth term.
According to the World Bank, about a quarter of the Algerian population lives below the poverty line (up to US$ 1.5 per day income) while their country daily output of oil and gas are respectively 2 million barrels and 4 million cubic meters.
In 2018, the Sudanese parliament changed the constitution in order to allow Omar Hassan al-Bashir, in power since 1989, to run for the presidency indefinitely times after his term is over in 2020.
The article 57 of the 2005 Constitution, which was changed to fit then Bashir’s thirsty for power, stipulated that ” The term of the President of the Republic is five years which can be renewed once.”
Bashir’s rule was marked by many conflicts against the people. In addition to the civil war with southern factions between 1983 and 2005, which ended with the secession of the south, he fought another war in 2003 against Darfuri tribes. The International Court of Justice accused him of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
In December 2018, Bashir visited Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as part of the normalization of official Arab relations with the Syrian regime. As soon as Bashir was back to Khartoum, popular demonstrations demanded his downfall.
On February 22, 2019, Bashir was expected by the Sudanese street to announce an important change. On the opposite, likewise Bashar al-Assad in March 2011, he decided to go on the full confrontation against the people: he declared state of emergency for a full year and dissolved the government, keeping all parties apart. Furthermore, he will keep his rule over Sudan despite of the fact that he is the main hindrance to end the current impasse.
The declaration of state of emergency means trading regular courts for martial law. Suddenly, Sudan has gone through new directions which could end in another disaster facing the already bad indicators of public deficit, unemployment and inflation which reached 68.6% per year while poverty rates is around 28% according to the Central Sudanese Statistical Organization.
Sudan produces about 100,000 barrels of oil a day, more than 75 tons of gold per year and has huge agricultural, livestock and tourism resources.
The Exception: Mauritania
Against the current, Mauritanian President General Mohamed Oud Abdel Aziz, who came to power in a military coup in 2009, announced in early 2019 his opposition to changes in the constitution drafted by loyalists meant to allow him to remain in power. That has never happened before in the Arab world.
Among semi-colonial countries, particularly in the Arab world where totalitarian regimes resort to emergency laws implemented by both the army and intelligence services, constitutional amendments are carried out only to suit the needs of the ruler while fundamental principles found in the preamble of most constitutions like the ones related to human rights and freedom of opinion and expression are set aside.
While there is no improvement, the slogan of the Arab ruler remains: I or nothing.