By: Mokhtar Awad
After ousting President Mohamed Morsi and suspending the 2012 Egyptian constitution on July 3, 2013, the General Command of the Egyptian Armed Forces issued a statement laying out a road map for moving the country toward national reconciliation. According to this statement, the foundations for this road map include:
- Temporarily suspending the 2012 constitution.
- Swearing in Chief Justice of the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) Adli Mansour as interim president, granting him the right to issue constitutional declarations and take charge of a caretaker technocratic government until a new president is elected.
- Urging the expedited approval of an elections law by the SCC to prepare for upcoming House of Representatives elections.
- Forming a committee to amend the 2012 constitution.
- Drawing up a media code of ethics “that provides for the freedom of the media and ensures professional rules, credibility, impartiality and elevation of the higher interests of the State.”
- Forming a higher commission for national reconciliation and empowering youth in government.
This statement tasked Mansour with drawing up a transition plan that would find consensus among the country’s many political factions. Mansour revealed the first legal step of this transition five days later in the form of a 33-article constitutional declaration. This document attempts to set the groundwork for what the current leadership hopes will be the next phase in Egypt’s transition to democracy.
The constitutional declaration drew criticism from a number of political factions, many of which complained about not being consulted during the document’s creation and alleged that it was drafted in secret by anonymous writers. Although non-Islamist factions, such as the Free Egyptians Party and the Tamarrud (or “Rebel”) Movement, said they were taken by surprise and felt disappointed in what they called shortcomings in the text, they remain supportive of the transition process in principle and have submitted their recommendations for amending the new declaration. The Salafi al-Nour Party expressed its reservations but did not completely reject the text. The other Islamist factions, including the Muslim Brotherhood, flatly rejected the document, decrying what they described as a “constitutional coup.” These groups do not recognize the authority of Egypt’s new rulers as legitimate.
There have been criticisms of the new declaration’s articles on rights and labor as well as claims that it fails to directly address various other issues. One of the most controversial points in the text is Article 1, which states that “The Arab Republic of Egypt is a democratic system based on citizenship, Islam is the religion of the state, Arabic is its official language and the principles of sharia law derived from established Sunni canons are its main source of legislation.” This effectively combines several articles from the now-suspended 2012 constitution, including Article 219, which expanded on the definition of sharia and was the source of much controversy and polarization. When it was drafted, many non-Islamists saw Article 219 as a daring measure to further Islamize Egypt’s constitution and state. The new leadership, which came to power on the basis of a rebellion launched by non-Islamists, seems to have intentionally drafted Article 1 to help maintain its fragile alliance with the Islamist al-Nour Party, which abandoned Morsi in his final hours and supported the military intervention to depose him.
The recent declaration also ensures that the military will retain its privileged position. Article 22 affords the National Defense Council, which is comprised mostly of the armed forces and presided over by the president, the power to oversee the military budget and discuss draft legislation pertaining to the military.
Article 24 outlines the powers of the interim president, including the right to issue legislation after consulting with the cabinet in the absence of a legislative body. This article is particularly relevant because Mansour dissolved the Shura Council, the upper house of the Egyptian parliament, one day after being sworn in as president. The recent declaration makes no reference to the Shura Council, indicating that it may not be reconstituted.
Article 28 of Mansour’s constitutional declaration states that the president must form a legal committee comprised of judges and legal experts within twenty-five days to amend the suspended 2012 constitution. The committee will have thirty days to finish its work from the day it is formed, meaning it should be finished by the beginning of September, at the latest.
According to Article 29, the committee responsible for amending the constitution will present its suggestions to a second committee, this one comprised of 50 members representing various segments of Egyptian society, including the military, labor unions, premier religious institution al-Azhar, and the Coptic Church. This second committee, which is also responsible for engaging the public, will then have another sixty days to discuss the amendments. Its work should be completed by the end of October 2013.
Article 30 states that the president will put the amendments to a referendum within thirty days after the work of this second committee is finished. Provided the new administration sticks to this transition plan, the referendum should occur around the end of November 2013.
Article 30 also stipulates that the president will open the door for parliamentary elections within fifteen days of passing the newly amended constitution and complete these elections no more than two months later. According to the declaration, this should happen sometime in late January or early February. However, this timeline does not account for the possibility of the amendments being voted down or for potential logistical issues related to the time it takes to actually hold the referendum. The 2011–2012 elections for the lower house of parliament, for example, started about sixty days after the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces issued a decree announcing their formal beginning, and there were fears that logistical problems might push the actual start date back even further. Even if parliamentary elections do commence on or around the time anticipated by the constitutional decree, they could be held over several stages lasting several months. Ultimately, the new cabinet must issue an elections law before any elections can take place.
This article further mandates that presidential elections will begin no more than one week after the first session of the new parliament is sworn in. Since parliamentary elections may involve run-offs or other procedural problems, there does not seem to be a clear guideline for when presidential elections will take place. They may start in late February or early March 2014 and the actual election may be pushed back even further and a new president sworn in by May 2014.
The full Arabic text of the constitutional declaration can be found here.
An English summary of the decree provided by the Egyptian State Information Service can be found here.