By framing the supreme legal principles, allocating power among branches of government,
and enumerating the rights and duties of individuals vis a vis the state,
constitutions define the rule of law and contribute to transparency
and accountability in governance.
In the Arab world, constitutions may describe a variety of political structures:
federal, as in the United Arab Emirates and the Sudan; unitary, as in Tunisia; a
constitutional monarchy, as in Jordan; a republic as in Egypt; or a traditional
hereditary monarchy as in Saudi Arabia.
Arab constitutions also allocate power among the executive, legislative and judicial
branches of government. They may contain certain checks and balances in the form
of provisions empowering judicial review of legislative and/or executive acts. They
do not generally contain provisions protecting parliaments from executive domination,
In addition, Arab constitutions may enumerate civil rights and civil liberties.
These usually include provisions for freedoms of speech and worship, presumption
of innocence, the right to trial and to counsel, the protection of private property
(generally subordinate to the public interest), the sanctity of family and its protection
by the state, and the privacy of the home and personal communications. Some Arab
constitutions have specific provisions against arbitrary arrest and torture. Many
Arab states have also signed and ratified the International Covenant on Civil and
Political Rights (1966) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and
Cultural Rights (1966).
While most Arab constitutions are documents with roughly similar provisions, some
constitutions are noteworthy products of historical and political circumstances.
In Saudi Arabia, for example, the Quran itself is considered the constitution, accompanied
by a series of royal decrees compiled to function as a manual for the application
of its principles. In Libya, the Constitutional Proclamation, the Green Book written
by Muammar Ghaddafi, and the People’s Declaration together constitute the basic
law of the land.
Constitutional amendment procedures vary, sometimes requiring direct referenda or
legislative action. In some countries, the head of the state may issue amendments