Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak set up a committee yesterday to recommend constitutional amendments to relax presidential eligibility rules and impose term limits — seeking to meet longtime popular demands as a standoff with protesters seeking his ouster enters its third week.
Mubarak’s decrees were announced on state television by Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman, who also said that Mubarak would set up a separate committee to monitor the implementation of all proposed reforms. The two committees will start working immediately, he said.
The government has promised several concessions since the uprising began on Jan. 25, but has refused the protesters’ main demand that Mubarak step down immediately instead of staying on through September elections.
Yesterday’s decision was the first concrete step taken Mubarak has taken to implement promised reforms.
Mubarak also ordered a probe into last week’s clashes between the protesters and government supporters as well as mass detentions of human rights activists and journalists. The committee will refer its findings to the attorney-general, Suleiman said.
“The youth of Egypt deserve national appreciation,” he quoted Mubarak as saying. “They should not be detained, harassed or denied their freedom of expression.”
The committee considering constitutional and legislative changes will be led by the head of Egypt’s highest appellate court and composed of six senior judges and four constitutional experts, according to a statement issued later by the official news agency MENA. It will make its recommendations to Suleiman by the end of this month.
The latest government announcement came two days after Suleiman met for the first time with representatives of opposition groups, including the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood to debate a way out of the ongoing political crisis.
The Brotherhood issued a statement earlier yesterday calling the reforms proposed so far as “partial” and insisting that Mubarak must go to ease what it called the anger felt by Egyptians who face widespread poverty and government repression.
The Brotherhood also accused pro-Mubarak thugs of detaining protesters, including Brotherhood supporters, and handing them over to the army’s military police who torture them.
Meanwhile, thousands of protesters remained camped out in Tahrir Square, many hoping for an appearance by Google executive Wael Ghonim, who has emerged as a rallying point after he was released on Monday after 12 days in custody.
About 90,000 people have joined a Facebook group nominating Ghonim to be their spokesman. Many demonstrators reject a group of officially sanctioned and traditional Egyptian opposition groups that have been negotiating with the government on their behalf in recent days.
Mubarak’s regime has offered a string of concessions, but so far nothing that uproots its entrenched monopoly on power. It has shown dogged resilience in what opponents say is a campaign to break anti-government protests and preserve the regime’s authority after Mubarak leaves the stage.
Deeper reform would mean tackling the pillars of the powerful coalition that has ruled Egypt for decades — the ruling party, the military and commanders of the powerful internal security forces.