Constitution of Egypt


Constitution of Egypt

The Constitution of the Arab Republic of Egypt is the supreme law of Egypt. It was adopted on September 11, 1971 through a public referendum. It was later amended in 1980, 2005 and 2007. It was proclaimed to update the democratic representative system in assertion of the rule of law, independence of Judiciary, and party plurality.

History

"Main article: History of the Egyptian Constitution"

Egypt is known for having one of the earliest administrative and legislative codes in history. Nevertheless, the first modern codified form of a national constitution was in 1923.

After the revolution that led to the overthrow of the monarch, King Farouk, and the declaration of the republic, President Nasser adopted the nation’s first written constitution as a republic in 1956. During the short spell of the United Arab Republic, (Egypt, Syria, and North Yemen), President Nasser adopted yet another constitution for the new merger. However when this merger was dissolved, Egypt returned to the 1956 constitution as its supreme law. In 1964, President Nasser once again introduced a new written constitution for the republic as the 1963 Provisional Constitution. In 1971, when President Anwar Sadat took office, he moved to the adoption of a new democratic constitution that would allow more freedoms, a return of a more sound parliamentary life and correct democratic practice with the return of political parties and a bicameral parliamentary system.

This Constitution is the fourth adopted constitution since the declaration of the republic and is known as "The Permanent Egyptian Constitution" although, since its ratification, it has been amended three times by two presidents; the first being in 1980 by President Sadat at the end of his presidency and the two other times by President Hosni Mubarak in both 2005 and early 2007. The last amendments were the most comprehensive with 34 articles of the constitution changed. These amendments were mainly proposed by the National Democratic Party to move the country’s political and economic tendencies further away from socialism and more towards capitalism. Nonetheless, these amendments represent a clear response to government opposition in light of the 2005 elections with articles 5, 88 and 179 adding constitutional permanence to the emergency law in place since 1981.

Today, various political powers in Egypt have asked for yet more reforms in hopes of a more complete constitution that would shape a better Egyptian political life, whether through more comprehensive amendments or through the adoption of a new constitution.

Overview

The Constitutional Proclamation of the constitution declares the main principles of the Egyptian Political system which are: Peace through Freedom, Arab Unity, National Development and Freedom.

The constitution establishes Egypt as a "Democratic State", deriving its sovereignty from the people, and as part of the Arab World. It proclaims the system of government as a multi-party Semi-presidential system within the framework of the basic principles and components of the Egyptian society.The Constitution upholds the concept of separation of powers; hence balances the powers of the three main authorities (Executive, Parliament, and the Judiciary). Within this scheme, the Parliament monitors the actions of Executive Authority through many mechanisms and instruments, and in order to fulfill such monitoring role, members of the People’s Assembly enjoy parliamentary immunity.

The Constitution establishes party plurality as the foundation of the political system (Article 5) and so allows the formation of different political parties, however political parties are not allowed to be established based on any discriminatory basis such as religion, race or sex.

The Constitution also sets out methods for its own amendment by the request of either the People's Assembly or the President's. Both of which have to be subjected to a public referendum, after being voted for by at least two-thirds of the Assembly.

Freedoms

An entire chapter of the constitutional document is dedicated to defining the basic rights and freedoms to its citizens that is to be provided by the state.

The Constitution upholds that "Individual freedom is a natural right" and regards all citizens as equals. It guarantees a set of freedoms including: The "right to protect the private life of citizens"(Article 45), "Freedom of belief and the freedom of practising religious rights" (Article 46), "Freedom of expression" (Article 47), Freedom of Press and other publications (Article 48), Freedom of Artistic and literary creations and scientific research (Article 49), Freedom of peaceful and unarmed private assembly, without the need for prior notice (Article 54), Universal suffrage, as well as the right to form civil societies (Article 55).

However, the practice of such freedoms is usually hindered by the Emergency laws that have been in effect for the past 2 decades.

And in order to elevate pressures from its 2-decade long usage of such laws and with the government’s plans of stopping the use of the emergency laws, a new Anti-Terrorism amendment was added to allow the provisioning of new laws that would help fight terrorism, given that these laws would not effect the basic rights of citizens especially those in Articles (41), (44), (45).This amendment in particular has been feared to be abuse in the future by passing laws firmer than the emergency laws.

Delegations and Exercise of Sovereignty

Executive

The executive branch is made up of the President, the Prime Minister, the cabinet of ministers and the local administration. The President is the most powerful office in the government. He appoints the Prime Minister from the party winning the majority of seats in parliament. However the President has the power to relieve the Prime Minister from office without the parliament’s approval and may also remove the cabinet of ministers but after the consultations of the prime minister.

Customarily, the president is concerned with foreign policy and international relations while the Prime minister is concerned with domestic politics, economy and day-to-day operation of the government.

The President may dissolve the parliament for extraordinary reasons and have to call for new elections within 60 days.

The local Administration is made up of the governors of the 27 governorates and the local councils.

Legislative

According to the constitution, the parliament is made up of two chambers: The People’s Assembly, the lower house and the Shura Council, the upper house.

The People’s Assembly may present the president for impeachment on the ground of grand treason or criminal conviction, by the agreement of one third of the People’s Assembly seats. The President is impeached by the agreement of two-thirds of the People’s Assembly. Upon the issuing of the impeachment decision, the president is relieved temporarily of his position and the prime minister takes office.

The People’s Assembly may ask the withdrawal of confidence from the Prime minister by the request of One-tenth of the total seats (46 members). The People’s Assembly may move to a vote of confidence from the government by a simply majority vote after at least 3 days from the request and a “istegwab” of the government. After the decision of withdrawing the confidence from the government has been made, the decision is moved to the president who may accept it and the government is then asked to resign or the president may re-present the case to the assembly once again, if the same decision was taken, the president is then forced to accept the decision. If the assembly reverts its decision, then this motion can not be opened to the floor in the same parliamentary session.

Judiciary

According to the constitution, the Judiciary is an independent body and is vested with powers to oversee the practices of both the executive and legislative branches. Judges are independent and can not be taken out of office.

Critique

Secular v. Islamist

The tradition of Egyptian constitutions have been secular in nature since the first modern constitution was founded in 1923. However, an amendment that differs from this tradition was passed in 1980.According to the 1980 amendment of the Constitution, Islamic Law (Sharia) became the principal source of legislative rules. Such wording simply implies that any new law that is being enacted or considered for enactment should not be in contravention of any prevailing principles of Islamic Law (Sharia). It is worth noting that laws regulating personal status issues (Marriage, Divorce, Inheritance,..etc) are derived from Islamic norms, penal law rules as codified in the Penal Code are entirely western non-religious oriented rules, whether they were ratified before or after the 1980 amendment. Egypt has also enacted a number of new statutes to respond to contemporary standards of global economic and business reform including: Investment Law, Anti-Money Laundering Law, Intellectual Property Rights Law, Competition Law, Consumer Protection Law, Electronic Signatures Law, Banking Law, Taxation Law,... etc. [http://www.nyulawglobal.org/globalex/Egypt.htm#_edn2]

With the apparent growing popularity of the Muslim Brotherhood after the 2005 parliamentary elections, the debate arose again discussing whether the state is secular or religious. The legitimacy of a religious political party is also in debate among intellectuals and politicians.

Democratic Process Integrity

One of the Egyptian long-standing traditions is the judicial monitoring of the elections. The amendments passed in 2007 would allow non-judiciary body members to perform the official monitoring and counting of the elections. This has sparked fears that the reason behind these amendments is the rigging of the elections which is something that had become popular in the last years.

Presidential Elections

After the amendment of Article 76 in 2005, and its perceived draconian restrictions imposed on both partisan and independent presidential candidates, It was announced for reconsideration by the People's Assembly's chairman in November 2006. And was once again amended in 2007 to remove many of the restrictions In addition, the amendments didn’t include a ceiling for the number of terms a president is to serve in office.

Timeline

The currently adopted constitution has passed a number of amendments and phases.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 draconian restrictions on both partisan and independent presidential candidates.
* January 2007 - President Mubarak submits another 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 List as well as the abolishment of the country’s socialist institutions.
* February 2007 - the Egyptian parliament started the discussion on amending the bulk of proposed amendments. 20% of the parliament members left the parliament hall when the amendments were about to be approved. They eventually were approved in the absence of 110 members of the 454-member parliament and so were to go to the polls in March 2007.
* March 26th, 2007 - A public referendum was held and the new amendments were passed.

Past Constitutions

Throughout its long history, Egypt has had numerous past constitutions each reflecting a time and a need in its history, passing over a long period of evolution from the Egyptian Liberalism experiment to the contemporary constitution.

* The Monarch
** The 1879 Constitution - (1879 - 1882)
** The 1882 Constitution - (1882 - 1882)
** The 1923 Constitution - (1923 - 1952)
** The 1930 Constitution - (1930 - 1935)

* As part of The UAR
** UAR Constitution - adopted on 10 February, 1958 when the Egyptian-Syrian merger was given force.

* The Republic, following the overthrew of the Monarch.
** The 1956 Constitution - adopted on 22 July, 1957 Established as the first constitution since the declaration of the Republic.
** The 1963 Provisional Constitution - (1964 - 1971)
** The 1971 Constitution - adopted in 1971 by President Anwar Sadat, reflecting a better parliamentary and political system.

External links

* [http://www.eohr.org The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights Report]
* [http://www.ndp.org.eg/modifications/THE_AMENDMENT_TO_ARTICLE_76%20.htm NDP Article on the amendment of Article 76 on the Presidential Elections]
* [http://www.nyulawglobal.org/globalex/Egypt.htm Overview of the Egyptian Legal System]
* [http://www.nilenews.tv/Files/AdminFTP/documents/1.pdf Comparison of the articles before and after the amendments] - Arabic Document
* [http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/6481909.stm Egypt: A permanent emergency?]


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