The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

The legal travesty of Egypt's transition

Here's a summary of recent constitutional changes in Egypt (I use it for convenience, it's from a newsletter by HC Brokerage):

The government approved amendments to the Presidential Elections Law [on Wednesday]. The amendments were proposed by the advisory council and sent to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which in turn sent them to the cabinet for approval. Article 2 of the law was amended to stipulate that a presidential candidate must be supported by at least 30 elected members of parliament or by 30,000 citizens from 15 different governorates. Article 3 was amended to allow political parties with at least 1 seat in parliament to nominate a presidential candidate. Article 23 was amended to allow citizens to vote in any governorate, not necessarily in their governorate of residence. The amendments also penalize, with 6 months’ imprisonment or a fine of EGP5,000, citizens who vote for more than 1 candidate.

On top of that you have changes made in December to formally grant a few more powers (rather vaguely) to the prime minister.

So to recap, in March Egyptians voted for the amendment of nine articles of the 1971 constitution, which had been suspended on February 10 when SCAF issued its decree #1. At the end of March, SCAF promulgated a "constitutional declaration" that now serves as the interim constitution before a new one is drafted and approved by popular referendum later this year (probably in April or May if the SCAF and the FJP-controlled parliament want to move at breakneck speed, which seems to be the case.) But then SCAF made changes to the constitutional declaration at its whim, with token consent from people it appointed itself.

I'm not a lawyer or a constitutional expert — in fact I have very little legal training. But to me, this seems like a constitutional and legal travesty — one that Egypt's chief judges and legal scholars have either stayed silent on, or been complicit in (like the otherwise admirable Tareq al-Bishri, who presided over the referendum charade in March and said nothing). And, in a way, it is at the core of what's wrong, what has gone wrong, with the SCAF-led transition process.