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Egypt on democratic track

Wednesday, 1 October 2014 - 10:05 AM Cairo
Home >> Politics >> Constitution >> Constitution Overview

Constitution overview

Egypt is known for having one of the earliest administrative and legislative codes in history. Throughout its history, formidable human cultures and civilizations were incepted, and brought into being, offering the most advanced form of governance and management. Pharaonic civilization laid down the groundwork in Egypt in terms of governance and management.

Egypt’s constitutions in history

Egypt’s constitutional experience started under Mohammed Ali Pasha in the 19th century. This document allowed for the establishment of some representative council known as “Dawaween”, but it was never a fully fledged constitution in the contemporary sense of the word.

In 1866 under Khedive Ismail, the first real representative council was established and its bylaws were gifted from the Khedive, so they did not impose a real obligation on the government. Still, the bylaws of 1866 were a step towards devolving governance in Egypt away from the hands of a single ruler.

In 1882 under Khedive Tawfik, a constitutional document was drafted and it paved the way for the 1923 constitution.

1923 Constitution

The first 20th century constitution for Egypt is that of 1923. After the end of World War I, the 1919 Egyptian Revolution broke out calling for liberty, independence and democracy. This revolution resulted in the February 28, 1922 declaration which recognized Egypt as an independent state and terminated Egypt as a British protectorate.

Based on this new status, a new Egyptian Constitution was promulgated in April 1923 by a 30-member legislative committee that included representatives of political parties, as well as national movement leaders.

The 1930 constitution marked the beginning of a difficult period for the enfranchisement of the Egyptian people, as it discriminated against the citizenry in electing their representatives. Article 81 stated that voters had to own a specific amount of money to vote. These and other defects fed so much discontent  that the 1930 constitution was invalidated in 1935 and Egypt revived the 1923 constitution, which remained valid until the 1952 Revolution.

It adopted the parliamentary representative system based on separation of and cooperation among authorities. The Parliament was bicameral system made up of the Senate and the House of Representatives.

1954 Constitution

The Revolution of 1952 ended the monarchy. The ensuing Nasserite period witnessed a myriad of temporary constitutions and constitutional declarations. A committee was formed to draft a constitution. The committee drafted the 1954 constitution as a progressive document by emphasizing civil liberties, labor rights and social justice.

However, the draft was rejected by the Revolutionary Council of 1952 and replaced instead by the constitution of 1956. The constitution of 1956 did not last for long. Two years later, Egypt and Syria joined a union known as the United Arab Republic (UAR) and a temporary constitution was drafted in 1958. This constitution was soon annulled and two were passed in 1962, one for Egypt and one for Syria. However, the union failed in 1961, and that’s when Egypt drafted another temporary constitution.

1971 Constitution

In 1971, when President Anwar Sadat took office, he moved towards the adoption of a new democratic constitution that would allow more freedoms; the return to a more sound parliamentary life, correct democratic practice and made Sharia "the principal source of legislation".

The Permanent Constitution of Egypt was put into force after having been approved in a referendum on September 11, 1971.

It comprised 211 articles as follows.

Part one of the Constitution was entitled "The State" and comprised Articles (1 to 6).

These articles stipulated that the Egyptian people are part of the Arab nation that the state's religion is Islam and that Arabic is its official language.

Islamic Law (Sharia) was proclaimed the principal source of legislation and the Egyptian people the source of authority. Egypt's political system was defined as a multiparty system.

Part two was entitled "Basic Constituents of The Society" and comprised Articles (7 to 39).

They underlined the following:

•      Social solidarity is the foundation of society.
•      The State shall guarantee the people's right to work and education. Education is compulsory in the primary stage and the State shall work to extend mandatory education to other stages.
•      The State safeguards the interests of the people.

Part three was entitled "Public Freedoms, Rights and Duties". It comprised Articles (40 to 63) and highlighted the following:

•      All citizens are equal before the law and have equal public rights and duties without discrimination on account of race, ethnicity, language, religion or creed.
•      Individual freedom is a natural right and shall not be compromised.
•      Freedom of belief and freedom of religious practice are guaranteed.
•      Freedom of opinion is guaranteed.
•      Extradition of political refugees is prohibited.
•      Citizens shall have the right to vote and express their opinions according to the provisions of the law.

Part four was entitled "Sovereignty of the Law" and comprised Articles (64 to 72). It underlined the following:

•      The sovereignty of law shall be the basis of rule in the State.
•      Penalty shall be personal and there shall be no crime or penalty except by virtue of law.
•      A suspect is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, in which  they are granted the right to defense.
•      The right to litigation is inalienable for all, and every citizen has the right to refer to a competent judge.
•      The right to defense in person or by mandate is guaranteed.
•      Refraining to execute sentences or obstructing them by related civil servants is considered a crime punishable by law.

Part five was entitled "System of Government" and consisted of eight chapters.

Chapter One: Comprising Articles (73 to 85), dealt with the presidential election, the term of the presidency and presidential authorities, as well as the legislative authority.

Chapter Two: Covering Articles (86 to 136), dealt with the People's Assembly, its competences and membership.

Chapter Three: Comprising Articles (137 to 164), dealt with the executive authority; the President, the Cabinet, local administration and local councils and their authorities.

Chapter Four: Covering Articles (165 to 173), dealt with the judicial system.

Chapter Five: Comprising Articles (174 to 178), delineated the competences and authorities of the Supreme Constitutional Court.

Chapter Six: Comprising Article 179, detailed the functions of the Socialist Public Prosecutor.

Chapter Seven: Covering Articles (180 to 183), dealt with the Armed Forces and the National Defense Council.

Chapter Eight: Comprising Article 184, dealt with the Police.

Part six was entitled "General and Transitional Provisions". It comprised Articles (185 to 193) and dealt with the following:

•      The capital of the Arab Republic of Egypt is Cairo.
•      The law shall describe the State's national flag and emblem.
•      All laws and regulations implemented prior to the proclamation of this Constitution shall remain valid and in force.

Part seven entitled "New Rulings", covering Articles (194 to 211) and consisted of two chapters.

Chapter One dealt with the competences, formation and membership of the Shura Council (Egypt's Upper House of Parliament).

Chapter Two dealt with The Press as follows:

•      Freedom of the press is guaranteed and press censorship is prohibited.
•      A Supreme Press Council shall deal with matters concerning the press and the law shall define its composition and competencies.

A number of laws were further enacted as complementary to the Constitution. They were:

•      Law No. 73 of 1956 on the exercise of political rights.
•      Law No. 38 of 1972 on the People's Assembly.
•      Law No. 37 of 1972 amending laws on public freedoms
•      Law No. 40 of 1977 on political parties.
•      Law No. 33 of 1978 on protecting the home front and ensuring social peace.
•      Law No. 48 of 1979 on the Supreme Constitutional Court.
•      Law No. 120 of 1980 on the Shura Council.
•      Law No. 145 of 1980 on the funds of the Arab Socialist Union.

Timeline

The constitution has had a number of amendments and phases as follows:

•      1971 – President Sadat passed a new constitution named “The Permanent Constitution of Egypt.” The country still preserved its socialist tendency in politics and economic system.
•      1980 – President Sadat passed a few amendments; most notably passing the Islamic Law (Sharia) became the principal source of legislative rules.
•      2005 – President Mubarak asked the parliament to amend Article 76 to allow multi-candidate presidential elections. However it was seen to have imposed restrictions on both partisan and independent presidential candidates.
•      2007 – President Mubarak submitted a petition to the parliament to amend a total of 34 articles as part of his party’s policies towards the democratization of the country’s politics. Other notable amendments include the move towards capitalism, the adoption of an election system combining both party list and single candidate as well as the abolishment of the country’s socialist institutions.
•      2011 – On 10 February 2011, during the 2011 Egyptian revolution, former president Hosni Mubarak stated that he requested that Articles 76, 77, 88, 93 and 189 be amended and that Article 179 be removed.

2011 provisional constitution

On 30 March 2011, the constitution was effectively voided as a new provisional constitution was passed by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. The new provisional constitution was drafted to operate as a working constitution in the transitional period following the January 25 revolution, until a new one is drafted and approved.

The new provisional constitution included the most recent amendments, provisional articles defining the powers of the executive and judicial branches and paved the way for parliamentary elections in September and presidential elections in November. Additionally it directly stipulated the formation of a new constitutional drafting committee to write a new constitution.

2012 Constitution

The constitutional amendments introduced under the rule of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces remained active until Mohamed Morsi came into power. A Constituent Assembly was formed from within the then mostly Islamist Parliament. On 10 April, Cairo's administrative court suspended the assembly, judging that it was "unrepresentative" for involving too few women, young people and minority representatives.

On December 1, 2012, the draft Constitution was delivered to then president Mohamed Morsi, who put it to referendum on December 15. The draft was opposed by Egypt's civil powers; judges even refused to supervise the referendum. The Constitution was approved by 63.8%.

The Constitution had been in effect only six months, when the June 2013 Revolution broke out. It was then suspended and a committee was formed to amend it.

2014 Constitution

After the outbreak of the June 30 Revolution in 2013, there was a need for outlining a new constitution to complete building a modern and democratic state of Egypt, maintain public freedoms and safeguard the homeland against any threats that would jeopardize its national unity.

Therefore, the 2014 constitution has been outlined by a 50-strong committee, led by former Arab League secretary general and former foreign minister Amr Moussa.

The committee has grouped almost all segments of the Egyptian society including those of special needs together with women, revolutionaries, Copts and young people.

It was tasked with amending the controversial articles of the 2012 Constitution, that was suspended in accordance with the political road map that was approved by Egypt's political and religious powers after June 30 Revolution.

The Committee submitted the final draft of the Constitution to interim President Adli Mansour on December 3, 2013.

A referendum on the new constitution was held on January 14-15 under a complete judicial supervision and it was approved by an overwhelming majority reaching about 98 percent of those who cast their ballots.

 

 Constitution of 2014

Date of publication:Monday, 20 July 2009