- Associated Press - Saturday, February 26, 2011

CAIRO (AP) — An Egyptian panel tasked with amending the country’s constitution recommended Saturday easing restrictions on who can run for president and imposing presidential term limits — two key demands of the popular uprising that pushed longtime President Hosni Mubarak from power.

The eight-member panel also suggested limits on the use of emergency laws — in place in Egypt for 30 years— to a six-month period with the approval of an elected parliament. Extending the emergency laws beyond that period should be put to a public referendum, the panel said.

The sweeping changes must still be put to a popular referendum to take effect, but they appear to address many of the demands of protesters who led the 18-day popular uprising that forced Mr. Mubarak to step down on Feb. 11 after more than 30 years in power. The military council has been running Egypt’s affairs since then.

The legal panel was appointed last week to suggest constitutional amendments that would pave the way for democratic elections later this year. The Armed Forces Council has said the military wants to hand power over to a new government and elected president within six months.

But the protest movement has been growing impatient, and tens of thousands rallied in Cairo’s Tahrir Square throughout on Friday to keep up the pressure on the military. In particular, protest leaders are demanding the dismissal of Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq, who was appointed by Mr. Mubarak. They are also calling for a more active civilian role in the decisions made by the council.

In all, the panel suggested 10 amendments to the constitution.

They included allowing for full judicial supervision of the electoral process, starting with preparing rosters, to declaring results— which practically denies the police ministry oversight. That would address regular criticism that past elections were heavily controlled and rigged, ensuring Mr. Mubarak’s ruling party retained its grip power.

In what would mark a major change in who can run for president, the panel suggested lifting restrictions on who can run, opening the door for independents and small opposition groups to field a candidate.

It said candidates are eligible to run if they can collect 30,000 signatures from different provinces in Egypt; or if they can get recommendations from 30 members of parliament; or if their party has at least one seat in parliament.

Previously, Mr. Mubarak’s ruling party had control over who could run, ensuring Mr. Mubarak’s lock on power.

The panel’s chief, Tareq el-Bishri, who is considered one of Egypt’s top legal minds, told reporters that the panel’s recommended constitutional amendments will be put to a public referendum for approval.

The recommendations did not directly address reforms to the law governing the formation of political parties. The process was also previously controlled by Mubarak’s ruling party.

One recommendation suggested redrafting a new constitution after new parliamentary elections are held. The protest movement had demanded that the current constitution be scrapped all together, instead of amended, and a new one put in place.

Mr. el-Bishri said the suggested changes “constitute a temporary constitution, after which a new constitution for the country can be drafted.”