Country Governance

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POGAR > Countries > Country Theme: Constitution: Egypt
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Historical Background

The Constitution of 1971 vests sovereignty in the Egyptian people and bestows substantial power on the president of the republic. The president is the head of state and, together with the cabinet, constitutes the executive authority. The People's Assembly (Majlis al-Chaab), nominates the presidential candidate by a two-thirds majority. An amendment passed by parliament in May 2005 provides that the president is to be elected in direct public elections contested by more than one candidate. The presidential term is six years and may be extended to an unlimited number of additional consecutive terms.

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Separation of Executive, Legislative, and Judicial Powers

The president has the power to appoint and dismiss one or more vice presidents, the prime minister, ministers, deputy ministers, civil and military officials and diplomatic representatives. The president is the supreme commander of the armed forces and has the right to grant amnesty and reduce sentences, as well as the authority to call a referendum. However, the president needs legislative approval for declaring war. He can, in exceptional cases and with the approval of the People's Assembly, issue decrees having the force of law. Article 148 stipulates that the president can proclaim a state of emergency for a limited period, which may not be extended without the approval of the Assembly. Egypt has been under emergency law since 1981. The Egyptian parliament approved on April 30, 2006 President Mubarak’s decision to extend the effectiveness of the state of emergency law for 2 more years starting on June 1, 2006. Egypt's prime minister, Dr. Ahmad Nazeef, said that the government usually extended the state of emergency for three – year periods but that two years would suffice to issue an anti-terrorism law and to implement its accompanying constitutional and legislative amendments. The extension met strong protest by 111 parliament members, who formed a group called "Parliamentarians against State of Emergency". They justified their rejection of the emergency law by the fact that Egypt is not in a state of war or threatened by war. Amendments to the constitution ratified by popular referendum on March 26, 2007 included a new article that allocates vast powers to security agencies "to protect security and the public order against the dangers of terrorism" and enables the president to "refer any terrorist crime to any judicial body mentioned by the constitution or the law, including military tribunals.”

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Main Provisions

The legislature may withdraw its confidence from the cabinet or any of its members, leading to their resignation. It may create fact-finding and investigative committees to inspect the activities of administrative departments. If proposed by at least one-third of its members, the People’s Assembly may bring criminal charges against the president. Impeachment requires the approval of at least a two-thirds majority.

The Constitution declares Egypt’s economic foundation to be a socialist democratic system based on self-sufficiency, justice, prevention of exploitation, elimination of income inequality, protection of legitimate earnings, and equity of the distribution of public duties and responsibilities. Three types of ownership are recognized: public, cooperative, and private. Private ownership is safeguarded and may not be expropriated except for the general good. The law fixes the maximum limit of land ownership. Work is a right, a duty and an honor ensured by the state. The state guarantees services, work, health insurance, and pensions and ensures them for the villages in particular.

The constitution declares that people control all the means of production. Every citizen shall have a share in the national revenue in accordance with his work and ownership that is non-exploitative. The workers have a share in the management and profits of the projects and are represented on the boards of directors of the public sector units by at least 50 percent of the number of members of these boards. The law guarantees for the small farmers and small craftsmen 80 percent of the membership on the boards of directors of the agricultural cooperatives and industrial co-operatives.

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Civil Rights

The Egyptian constitution stresses social solidarity, equal opportunity, and popular control over production. It states that Arab unity is “a call of history and of the future” and “a demand of destiny.” It also affirms the rights to peaceful assembly, education, and health and social security and the right to organize into associations or unions and to vote.

The constitution guarantees the equality of all Egyptians before the law, without discrimination due to race, ethnic origin, language, and religion. Except in cases of a flagrant crime, no person may be arrested, inspected, detained or restricted in any way “except by an order [of the competent judge or Public Prosecution] necessitated by investigations and the preservation of public security" (Article 41). No physical or moral harm may be inflicted upon citizens by the state. A confession is considered invalid if proven to have been made under any coercion. The rights to defense, council, and presumption of innocence are included in the constitution.

The state guarantees the freedoms of worship, opinion, and the press and has the duty to preserve traditional social norms and order. Citizens have the right to peaceable and unarmed private assembly, without the need for prior notice. Public meetings, processions and gatherings are allowed within the limits of the law. The establishment of societies whose activities are hostile to the social system, clandestine or have a military character is prohibited. The creation of syndicates and unions on a democratic basis is a right guaranteed by law.

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Constitutional Court

The Supreme Constitutional Court undertakes the judicial control in respect of the constitutionality of the laws and regulations and the explanation of the legislative texts. An amendment to the Constitutional Court Law permits the president of the republic to appoint the president of the Court without consulting the parliament.

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Constitutional Amendments and Procedures

The president and the People’s Assembly, by one-third of its members, may propose amendments to the articles of the constitution. The Assembly discusses and approves amendments by a two-thirds majority. The amendments must be referred to the people in a public referendum.

The 1971 constitution, approved by a referendum, was amended in 1977, and in 1980, 2005, and 2007. The 1980 amendments declared that the Egyptian political system is socialist-democratic, that it depends on multiple political parties, and that it adheres to Islamic jurisprudence. Other amendments called for the president to be elected for six years with renewable terms and instituted a Shoura Assembly (Majlis al-Shoura) and a Supreme Press Council. Article 76 of the constitution, which stipulated that the president of Egypt be chosen by referendum over one person nominated by two thirds majority of the People's Assembly, was amended in May 2005 to require direct popular presidential elections with more than one candidate. Among the 34 articles of the 1971 constitution amended in March 2007 was a further amendment to Article 76 that lowered the ratio of parliamentary representation of political parties who are entitled to field a presidential candidate from 5% to 3% and even eliminated this requirement in any election held during the ten years following May 1, 2007, for political parties currently occupying at least one seat in any of the two chambers of parliament. Other amendments, however, seriously restricted civil liberties (Article 179), judicial supervision of elections (Article 88), political parties (article 5), and socialist laws (article 73). The new amendments to Article 179 not only replaced the Socialist Prosecutor with state security services but also suspends constitutional guarantees of personal freedoms against detention, inspection, imprisonment, and the right of movement. It also allows security authorities to enter private homes and search them without a judicial order, to read postal and telegraphic correspondence, to monitor telephone conversations and to refer civilians to military courts. The amendment to Article 88 eliminates direct judicial supervision of elections over Egypt’s 34,000 local polling station committees, based on the formula "a judge for every ballot box," and transfers this task to "A Higher Committee characterized by independent and impartiality," some of whose members are previous or current members of judicial bodies, to supervise 333 intermediary electoral authorities while government officials supervise the local committees. Article (5) regulating the actions of political parties was reinforced with an explicit prohibition “of political activities or establishment of political parties on any religious ideology or foundation." Article (73) replaced "protecting socialist gains" by "social care". The provision that "Egypt's economy is based on a socialist democratic system founded on efficiency and justice" was replaced by "the national economy is based on free economic activity and social justice."

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International Conventions

Egypt is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).

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