Egypt Moves to Limit Presidential Terms as Protests Reach 16th Day

Committee of top judges and legal experts vote on series of constitutional amendments, including two of anti-Mubarak protesters' key demands.

A judiciary committee formed to review Egypt's constitution has agreed to amend six articles, state media reported on Wednesday, as anti-government protests continued for the 16th straight day.

Egypt protest - AP - 8.2.2011

Articles 76 and 77 are among those to be changed, to put term limits on the presidency and expand who can run for the highest seat in the country - two of the protesters' key demands.

The 2005 revision of the Egyptian Constitution, first drafted in 1971, had made the selection of presidential candidates more challenging.

The committee was formed following talks on Sunday between Vice President Omar Suleiman and opposition groups, after which he had pledged to implement reforms, expand freedom of information and hold fresh elections for a number of disputed seats in parliament.

However, despite Suleiman's promise of reform, protesters in Egypt remained defiant earlier Wednesday, seeking to widen their uprising following a warning by the country's VP that if protesters don't enter negotiations, a coup could take place causing greater chaos, raising alarm of crackdown.

Protest organizers have called for a new protest of millions for Friday - their term for dramatically enlarged rallies - but this time they would be held in multiple parts of Cairo instead of only in central Tahrir Square, said Khaled Abdel-Hamid, one of the youth organizers. He also said protesters were calling for labor strikes, trying to draw powerful labor unions into support for their cause.

In a meeting with press editors on Tuesday, Suleiman, referring to the judiciary panel's intent to pass political reforms meant to make Egypt more democratic, said that the country would push for the wanted amendments, even without negotiations.

He said that the panel of top judges and legal experts would recommend amendments to the constitution by the end of the month, which would then be put to a referendum.

"We can't bear this for a long time," he said of the Tahrir protests. "There must be an end to this crisis as soon as possible." Speaking to the editors of state and independent newspapers Tuesday night, he said the regime wants to resolve the crisis through dialogue, adding, "We don't want to deal with Egyptian society with police tools."

He warned of chaos if the situation continued, speaking of the dark bats of the night emerging to terrorize the people.

"If dialogue is not successful, he said, the alternative is that a coup happens, which would mean uncalculated and hasty steps, including lots of irrationalities. I mean a coup of the regime against itself, or a military coup or an absence of the system. Some force, whether its the army or police or the intelligence agency or the Brotherhood or the youth themselves could carry out 'creative chaos' to end the regime and take power," he said.

In one concession made in the interview, Suleiman said Mubarak was willing to have international supervision of September elections, a longtime demand by reformers that officials have long rejected.