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Egypt has a bicameral parliament consisting of a partially elected upper house known as the Shura Council (Maglis al-Shura) and a mostly elected lower house known as the People’s Assembly (Maglis al-Sha’b):
In the Shura Council:
- There are a total of 264 seats; 176 members are elected by absolute majority vote through a two-round system to serve six-year terms, and 88 members are appointed by the president to serve six-year terms. Shura Council elections are held once every three years, with 88 members elected each time.
- The most recent Shura Council elections were held on June 1, 2010. The ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) won 80 seats, four opposition parties (the leftist Tagammu’, liberal al-Ghad, Nasserist, and Democratic Generation parties) won one seat each, and independents won four seats.
In the People’s Assembly:
- The People’s Assembly to be seated in 2010 will include 518 members, 508 of them elected and ten appointed by the president. The Assembly has grown over the years; the new size includes a 64-seat quota for women, added to the previous 454 seats. Members serve five-year terms.
- Each electoral district contains two seats and electors are given two votes. At least one seat in each district is reserved for a worker or farmer. If no candidate receives an absolute majority in the first round, a second round is held one week later. This round will contain the top four vote-getters, provided two are either workers or farmers. If the two top candidates in the first round are not workers or farmers, the top candidate is elected, while a new simple majority poll is held a week later among the top workers and farmers.
- The last People’s Assembly elections were held in three rounds (to facilitate judicial supervision of all polling and counting stations) during November-December 2005. The NDP won 311 seats, independents affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood won 88, other independents won 24 seats, the Wafd Party won six seats, the Tagammu’ Party won two seats, and the al-Ghad Party won one seat. Several seats were subject to lengthy legal contests.
Key constitutional and legal provisions for parliamentary elections include:
- Articles 86-136 of the Constitution spell out the People’s Assembly’s powers and the electoral system
- Law 173 of 2005 (Arabic text) discusses the practice of political rights
- Law 174 of 2005 lays out the electoral system for the People’s Assembly
- Law 176 of 2005 specifies regulations for the election and operation of the Shura Council
- Law 177 of 2005 regulates the establishment and operation of political parties
- The next presidential election is scheduled for fall 2011.
- The president of the Arab Republic of Egypt is elected by popular vote to serve a six-year term. There are no term limits. Before a constitutional amendment in 2005, the president was nominated by the People’s Assembly and the nomination was validated by a national, popular referendum.
- In order to qualify as an independent, a candidate must collect 250 signatures from a specified number of elected officials in the People’s Assembly, Shura Council, and municipal councils. Such officials may not endorse more than one candidate.
- The president appoints the prime minister, who in turn selects a cabinet that is subject to the approval of the parliament. The president may appoint one or more vice presidents; President Hosni Mubarak has never done so.
- In the last presidential election in 2005, Mubarak (president since 1981) won some 89 percent of the vote, Ayman Nour of the al-Ghad Party won 7 percent, and Nu’man Gum’a of the Wafd Party won 3 percent, according to official results.
- Should the president die or become permanently disabled while in office, the speaker of the People’s Assembly temporarily assumes the presidency. A new election must be held within 60 days. If the president becomes temporarily unable to carry out the functions of his office temporarily, he may deputize a vice president or the prime minister to do so.
Key constitutional and legal provisions governing presidential elections include:
- Articles 73-85 of the Constitution describe the powers of the presidency and the system for presidential elections.
- Law 174 of 2005 (Arabic text) lays out the system for presidential elections.
Changes over Time
Egyptian electoral systems have shifted significantly over the years, sometimes as a result of executive initiatives and sometimes due to court rulings:
- The Free Officers abrogated the relatively liberal 1923 constitution in 1952, effectively establishing a one-party state.
- Egypt has been governed under a state of emergency that restricts civic freedoms (such as freedoms of expression and assembly) for most of the time since 1952, and continuously since 1981.
- During the 1970s President Anwar Sadat restored a measure of political pluralism, but also lashed out against critics of his economic reforms and peace treaty with Israel. Sadat promulgated a new constitution in 1971 and amended it in 1981.
- Political life during the 1980s under Mubarak was relatively lively and elections in 1984 and 1987 produced parliaments with opposition representation of about 20 percent.
- A 1990 court-mandated switch from an electoral system based on proportional representation to one based on individual candidacies hurt the chances of political parties but also made it more possible for independents affiliated with groups that are not legal parties—such as the Muslim Brotherhood—to run for parliament.
- A Supreme Constitutional Court ruling mandated full judicial supervision (a judge in each polling and counting place) of parliamentary and presidential elections in 2000 and 2005.
- By Mubarak’s initiative, the Constitution was amended in 2005 to allow direct election of the president.
- Thirty-four articles of the Constitution affecting political life were amended in March 2007, also at Mubarak’s request. The wide-ranging changes included giving the president the ability to dismiss parliament, establishing an electoral commission to replace judges in electoral supervision, tightening restrictions on political parties with a religious base, and bypassing some human rights protections.
- Amendment of Article 76 of the Constitution to make it easier for party and independent candidates to get on the presidential ballot.
- Amendment of Article 77 to re-establish term limits for the presidency, which were removed from the Constitution in 1981.
- Amendment of Article 88 to restore full judicial supervision of elections.
- Amendment of Law 177 of 2005 in order to facilitate the formation of new political parties.
- Amendment of Article 179: The 2007 round of constitutional amendments included an “anti-terrorism” measure ensconced in Article 179. Like the Emergency Law, Article 179 allows for arbitrary arrest, searches and wiretapping without warrant, and transfer of any civilian court case of the president’s choosing to military tribunals. However, unlike Emergency Law, it is not a temporary measure requiring parliamentary approval, but a permanent extension of abuse of executive power codified in the constitution. Even if the state of emergency is lifted, the civil and human rights protected by Articles 41, 42, 44, and 45, will be abrogated indefinitely.
- End the state of emergency.
- Ensure full judicial supervision of elections.
- Provide for domestic and international monitoring of elections.
- Ensure that all candidates have sufficient access to the media, particularly during the presidential election campaign.
- Allow Egyptians abroad to vote through embassies and consulates.
- Work toward a political system built on democracy and social justice.
- Provide the right to nomination for political office without obstacles, in accordance with Egypt’s obligations under the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights; limit the president to two terms.
- Allow voting by national identification card. These measures will require amending articles 76, 77, and 88 of the Constitution as soon as possible.