Category Archives: Egypt

Nathalie Bernard-Maugiron – Should the 2014 Egyptian Constitution be Amended to Increase Presidential Powers?

This is a guest post by Nathalie Bernard-Maugiron, Senior Researcher, Institute of Research for Development, Paris

Between 10 and 25 January 2016, the Egyptian Parliament ratified in 15 days more than 300 law-decrees adopted by President Abdelfattah al-Sisi since his election in June 2014.[1] In spite of calls by Egyptian experts[2] and NGOs[3] not to ratify abusive decrees that had, among other things, banned protests, legalized emergency police powers, and expanded military court jurisdiction over civilians, all the laws were rubber-stamped by the House of Representatives without much debate or discussion. Only the new Civil Service Law was rejected by the deputies.

These laws were endorsed on the basis of Article 156 of the 2014 Constitution according to which in case an event requires taking urgent measures which cannot be delayed while the House of Representatives is not in session, the President of the Republic may issue decrees having the force of law, provided that they are presented to, discussed and approved by the new House of Representatives within fifteen days from the commencement of its session.  When the Parliament met for the first time in January 2016 after the parliamentary elections, not only did they not challenge the urgent nature of these laws but they also decided to review only those that had been issued after January 18, 2014, meaning after the approval of the Constitution in a popular referendum, and not after July 2013, the dissolution of  the Upper House of Parliament and the appointment by the armed forces of an interim president to replace President Mohamed Morsi. The newly elected Parliament, therefore, gave a restrictive interpretation of its supervisory powers under the 2014 Constitution. In addition, many newly elected MPs declared that they wished to amend the ‎constitution to grant the president greater powers.[4]

  1. Should the President’s Term be Extended?

Newly elected members of the Parliament wish to increase the ‎president’s term in office to more than four years and to end the two-term limit. Since 2005, the president has been elected by direct universal suffrage. The 2014 Constitution (art. 140)  provides that he will be serve for four years and may be reelected only once. He must be an Egyptian, born to Egyptian parents, and neither he nor his parents nor his spouse may have held any other nationality (art. 141). He must enjoy civil and political rights, have performed military service or have been exempted therefrom by law, and shall not be less than 40 years (art. 141).

In order to be accepted as a candidate for the presidency, candidates must receive the recommendation of at least twenty elected members of the House of Representatives, or support from at least twenty five thousand citizens enjoying the right to vote, in at least fifteen governorates, with a minimum of one thousand supporter from each governorate (art. 142).

The constitution does not provide for the appointment of a vice president. In case of the temporary disability of the president, the Prime Minister shall act in his place (art. 160). In case of permanent vacancy, the Speaker of the House of Representatives shall replace him (art. 160). In case the House of Representatives has not been elected, this task falls to the president of the Supreme Constitutional Court (art. 160). The interim President may not run for the presidency or request any amendment to the Constitution or dissolve the House of Representatives or dismiss the Government.

Al-Sisi’s supporters wish to reinstate the provisions of the 1971 constitution, as amended, according to which the president was elected for renewable six-year terms.[5]

  1. Should the Powers of Parliament be Decreased?

It may seem paradoxal that members of the Parliament have called for a decrease of Parliament’s powers and an increase in those of the President.

Parliament and the Choice of the Prime Minister

Some members of the parliament wish to grant the ‎president greater powers. They have particularly criticized the provisions related to the appointment of the Prime Minister (art. 146). According to the new constitution, the President of the Republic shall assign a Prime Minister to form the government and introduce his program to the House of Representatives. If his government does not win the confidence of the majority of the members of the House of Representatives within thirty days at the most, the President shall appoint a Prime Minister who is nominated by the party or the coalition that holds the majority or the highest number of seats in the House of Representatives. If the government of such a Prime Minister fails to win the confidence of the majority of the members of the House of Representatives within thirty days, the House shall be deemed dissolved, and the President of the Republic shall call for the election of a new one within sixty days from the date on which the dissolution is announced. In the event the government is chosen from the party or the coalition that holds the majority or the highest number of seats in the House of Representatives, the President of the Republic shall, in consultation with the Prime Minister, choose the Ministers of Defense, Interior, Foreign Affairs and Justice.

Al-Sisi’s supporters consider that the President should be able to choose and dismiss members of his government without considering the opinion of Parliament, as was the case under Mubarak.

Parliament and the President’s Responsibility

Some members of the Parliament also wish to amend the conditions for impeaching the president. According to Article 159, accusing the President of the Republic of violating the provisions of the Constitution, treason or any other felony must be based on a motion signed by at least the majority of the members of the House of Representatives. The indictment shall only be issued by the majority of two-thirds of the members of the House of Representatives and after an investigation by the Prosecutor General. As soon as this indictment is issued, the President of the Republic shall be stopped from carrying out his duties; this is considered to be a temporary impediment precluding the President from performing his competences until a verdict is issued in the case. The President of the Republic shall be tried before a special court headed by the President of the Supreme Judicial Council with the membership of the most senior deputy of the President of the Supreme Constitutional Court, the most senior deputy of the President of the State Council, and the two most senior Presidents of the Courts of Appeal; prosecution is to be carried out before such a court by the Prosecutor General.

The 2014 Constitution also provided, for the first time, for a confidence removal mechanism. The House of Representatives may propose to withdraw confidence from the President of the Republic and hold early presidential elections upon the filing of a motion to be signed by at least the majority of its members and upon approval of two-thirds of the members of the House (art. 161). Upon approval of the proposal, the matter shall be put to public referendum to be called by the Prime Minister. If the majority approves the decision to withdraw confidence, the President of the Republic shall be relieved from his office and presidential elections shall be organized. If the result of the referendum is negative, the House of Representatives shall be deemed dissolved, and the President of the Republic shall call for the election of a new House of Representatives within thirty days as of the date of dissolution.

It is unlikely that such a procedure would ever reach its term or be initiated. The electoral system chosen for parliamentary elections, the fact that the president may appoint 5% of MPs, and that the assembly will be dissolved in case of failure of the referendum makes it almost impossible that there would be a two-thirds majority of members calling for the dismissal of the president.

  1. Should the President’s Powers be Increased?

The constitution of 2014 is presented by its opponents as having significantly reduced presidential powers in favour of the government and parliament. For instance, they consider that the president should be able to commit the armed forces abroad after a simple notification of Parliament instead of its approval by a two-thirds majority. The new Constitution, though, grants the president extensive executive and legislative powers.

He is the head of state and head of the executive power (Art. 139), and the supreme commander of the armed forces (art. 152). It establishes, in conjunction with the Council of Ministers, the State’s general policy (art. 150). He appoints and dismisses civil and military employees (art. 153), has the right to issue pardon after consulting the Cabinet (art. 155). He represents the State in its foreign relations (art. 151), accredits diplomatic corps (art. 153), declares war and sends armed forces outside after consulting the National Defence Council and with the approval of the House of representatives by a majority of two thirds (art. 152); makes peace and concludes and ratifies treaties (art. 151).

He has the right to propose laws (art. 122), promulgates  them (art. 123) and can use his right of veto (art. 123). As we have seen above, in the absence of parliament, he may issue decrees having the force of law in case an event requires taking urgent measures that cannot suffer any delay (art. 156). He can call for a referendum on issues relating to the supreme interests of the state (Art. 157). He may also propose constitutional amendments (Art. 226).

The President may declare a state of emergency, after consultation with the Government and with the approval of Parliament, for a maximum period of three months, which may be extended for a similar period with the approval of two-thirds of the members of the House (art. 154).

He may appoint up to 5% of the members of the House of Representatives (art. 102). He may dissolve the House, after a referendum, but is not required to resign if he does not get the support of the majority of voters (art. 137).

Conclusion

A common trait among all Egyptian constitutions of the republican era is the presence of a hybrid system, a mixture of presidential and parliamentary systems, increasingly unbalanced in favor of the executive. The 2014 Constitution has retained the same organization of powers while strengthening the concentration of power in the hands of the head of state.

A semi-presidential system is considered by supporters of the president as being incompatible with the security requirements of the current situation and there have been calls for the establishment of a presidential system. To be adopted, such amendments would require a two-thirds majority of the House of Representatives to be submitted to referendum (art. 226). The current composition of the Chamber of Representatives should not make reaching such a majority difficult for the proponents of such amendments.

In September 2015, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi declared that the 2014 Constitution had been written with good intentions, in particular the provisions giving broad powers to the parliament, but that this was not enough to govern a state.[6] This statement was considered as an implicit call to amend the constitution. A few days later, however, the president declared that amending the constitution was not on the table at the current time.[7] This was not enough, though, to ease the worries of the drafters of the 2014 Constitution who decided with public figures in February 2016 to form a committee to protect the Constitution against  those supporters of President Al-Sisi who consider that the constitution unduly limits the president’s powers.[8]

Notes

[1] The Tahir Institute for Middle East Policy, Legislation Tracker. Extraparliamentary Laws passed by President Sisi, 9 January 2016, http://timep.org/commentary/legislation-tracker-report-january/

[2] Ziad Bahaa Eldin, Egypt parliament’s first job: reviewing 340 laws, 13 January 2016,  http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContentP/4/180861/Opinion/Egypt-parliaments-first-job-reviewing–laws.aspx

[3] Human Rights Watch, Egypt: New Parliament Should Fix Abusive Laws, 12 January 2016,  https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/01/12/egypt-new-parliament-should-fix-abusive-laws

[4] Gamal Essam Eldin, Egypt’s newly elected MPs vow to amend constitution, 3 November 2015,  http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContent/1/64/162589/Egypt/Politics-/Aboutus.aspx

[5] The 1971 Constitution had been amended in 1980, to cancel the limitation to two presidential terms (Article 77) and had been amended again in 2005 to establish presidential elections by direct public ballot (Article 76).

[6] Ahram online, Egypt’s 2014 Constitution was Written with Good Intentions but is not Enough: Sisi, September 13, 2015, accessed October 24, 2015, http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContent/1/64/141421/Egypt/Politics-/Egypts–constitution-was-written-with-good-intenti.aspx. This statement raised criticisms from Nour Farahat, a prominent law scholar (http://albedaiah.com/news/2015/09/13/96697), and from the novelist Alaa al-Aswani, (http://www.egyptindependent.com/news/novelist-slams-president-over-constitution-remarks), for whom the constitution should represent an obligation on all citizens, especially the president. This statement sparked questions around possible amendments of the constitution to reduce the powers of the parliament and increase those of the president.

[7] Ziad Bahaa-Eldin, “Egypt: Reclaiming the Constitution”, Ahram online, 17 October 2015, http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContentP/4/161127/Opinion/Egypt-Reclaiming-the-Constitution.aspx

[8] Mona al-Nahhas, « Amend or Upend ? », Ahram Weekly, 26 February 2016, http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/News/15590/17/Amend-or-upend-.aspx

El-Sisi before the test of “performance legitimacy”: the new Egyptian President must deliver in order to stay in power

The triumph of Field Marshal Abdel Fatah el-Sisi in the last presidential elections in Egypt held on 26-27 May did not surprise anyone. El-Sisi’s ascent to the Presidency is the perfect finalisation of a process that started with the overthrow of former raìs Mohammed Morsi (on July 2013), and the following coup d’Etat driven by the Egyptian military. Although the public support for el-Sisi in recent months was reaching levels of national veneration, high expectations for his performance are likely to put the new raìs under a challenging test.

In fact, el-Sisi large popularity came as a mere reaction to the widespread discontentment with the awful performance of the Ikhwan al-Muslimin (Muslim Brothers), which were by and large associated with rising unemployment, high inflation rate, collapse of security and a tendentious attempt to divide the country along pro and anti Muslim Brothers. As a consequence, the Tamarrod movement that led to the ousting of Morsi paved the way to a return of the Military in power. In July 2013 the Army was in fact seen as the only force to restore public order and provide security, economic growth – the top priorities for the Egyptian people; at the same time, a general hysteria about the Brotherhood offered the perfect pretext to the post-Morsi interim government for disqualifying the Ikhwan as a terrorist group, thus blacklisting them as an illegal organization.

However, beyond the anti-Muslim Brothers identity of General el-Sisi, his capacity to re-boost economy and to neutralize low-scale terrorism that Egypt is facing now, is likely to determine the duration of his stay in power.

Even as General el-Sisi enjoyed the image of a sophisticated and intelligent man from the time in which he was the Head of the Military Mukhabarat (Intelligence services), his strategic refinement did not really emerge during his electoral campaign. On the contrary, his strategy was to stay as silent as he could, except for some public appearances and a few pre-prepared televised speeches, dressed up with populist slogans, but tremendously lacking a clear political agenda. For instance, he said that “economic success will hinge on political choices”, but he did not say a word neither about the kind of “economic success” he had in mind nor about his “political choices”.

So far, the only real growth in Egypt’s economic is the 20$ billion that the kingdom of Saudi Arabia has injected in the country in order to support and strengthen the anti-Muslim Brothers wave which started in July 2013. It is not by chance that Saudi-sponsored Salafi parties and clerics have strongly supported el-Sisi candidacy and victory. This is part of a wider regional plan the Saudi King is implementing in order to prevent any form of Islamic political rule, alternative to the Saudi Wahabi kind, to emerge in the region. In so doing, the Saudi King was ready to support any political force able to do that, including the secularist Egyptian Army.

However, if King Abdallah is eager to continue supporting el-Sisi mandate, history proves that foreign aid is not sufficient to give an impulse to a stagnating economy. In fact, during the seventies, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States injected billions of dollars into the Egyptian economy, in order to finance the anti-Nasserist wave promoted by President Anwar Sadat: not only did the economic conditions not improve, but Egypt was transformed from a regional hegemony into a “international client” – as Egyptian economist Samer Soliman put it – i.e. subject to the geopolitical interests of the conservative monarchies of the Gulf, in addition to the US.

In one of his latest TV interviews, el-Sisi praised King Abdullah as the leading Arab leader: a strange statement for a president that has been compared to Gamal Abdel Nasser (the main historical challenger of the Gulf and the main champion of Arab nationalism) more than once. Rather, el-Sisi Egypt seems more similar to Sadat’s Egypt, more inclusive towards Islamists (except for the Ikhwan, of course), and compliant with the political agenda of Saudi Arabia in exchange for financial aid.

What is not yet clear however is to what extent el-Sisi is conscious about the fact that the stability of his rule depends on the performance of his government, especially for what concerns the improvement of the socio-economic conditions. If he fails, a further thawra (revolution) is likely to follow. Incidentally, el-Sisi is the third leader after Mubarak (if we include also Hussein Tantawi, the first post-Mubarak interim president, in addition to Mohammed Morsi) to enjoy a large popular support. The first two were rejected by the Square after their performance disappointed the Egyptian population. The new “power” in the new political game of Egypt is clearly the “power of the Square”, able to oust an ill-performing president. The new kind of political legitimacy that any forthcoming raìs will need to face is the “performance legitimacy”.

 

Egypt – El-Sisi for president: chronicle of a candidacy foretold

Less than one year ago Abdel Fattah El-Sisi reassured former Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi (who in turn in 2012 appointed him as Defence Minister) that “the army had nothing to do with politics”. But, as a ‘chronicle of a candidacy foretold’, on 26 March El-Sisi resigned from his post as Army Chief and announced that he would nevertheless stand in the next presidential elections, expected to be held by June-July 2014.

His announcement did not come as a surprise though. In fact, the question for many commentators was not if, but when, he would run for the Presidency. Given the unpredictable reaction of the Square, which burned the political ambitions of former Chairman of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) Mohammed Hussein Tantawi and brought down Muslim Brothers’ president Mohammed Mursi, El-Sisi’s studied announcement shows that he is shrewd enough to avoid the fate of his predecessors, that is, becoming the least popular figure in Egypt. In fact, General El-Sisi has been able to forge popular support for his candidacy and present it as a response to the “will of the people” rather than the materialisation of his long-standing and carefully thought-through presidential ambition. Even to the casual observer, El-Sisi has now gained notoriety for his calculative mind and shrewd political moves, the very qualities that led Hosni Mubarak in 2010 to appoint him as chief of the Mukhabarat (Intelligence Service).

The role El-Sisi and the SCAF played in forcing Mursi out of office in July 2013, as well as in ostracizing the Muslim Brothers from the public space, has bought him significant legitimacy and support among the supporters of the Tamarrod movement, the traditional opponents of the Brotherhood and those who became disillusioned by their short and erratic stint in power. They have blamed the Muslim Brothers for failing to improve security, tackle rising unemployment and, worst of all, for exacerbating societal fragmentation and confessional sectarianism. It is not by chance that in his 15-minute televised speech, El-Sisi resorted to a patriotic discourse, and put a huge emphasis on “overwhelming unemployment”, “soaring state debt”, the “serious threats of terrorism and attempted foreign intervention”. Furthermore, in November 2013, the transition government, which was formed after the toppling of the democratically elected Morsi, followed suit by outlawing them Muslim Brothers as a “terror group”; in mid-March 529 people, allegedly affiliated to the Brotherhood, were sentenced to death, further fuelling anti-Brotherhood (and pro-Army) feelings.

Moreover, it should be noted that El-Sisi enjoys undisputed loyalty of the military, the police and the mukhabarat. Recently, a number of forced retirments, removals and new appointments seem to have restructured the State security apparatus, thus strengthening El-Sisi’s network of trusted people.

Whilst the 2012 Presidential elections had 13 candidates, standing for the Muslim Brothers, the Liberal Front, the Left, the Nasserists and the pro-Army, the forthcoming elections are likely to slide back to a pre-2011 political scenario. Many potential candidates have already announced that they will not run in the presidential race, whilst liberals (and former presidential candidates), such as Amr Moussa, are now supporting El-Sisi. The only official competitor is the Nasserist Hamdeen Sabahy, who is openly supported by part of the liberal youth front, which was constituted after the 2011 revolution. Meanwhile, some sources quoted by Egyptian newspaper al-Ahram have mentioned that talks between Sabahy and the Army have taken place, hinting to some kind of informal agreement for cosmetically arranging El-Sisi’s ascension to power as result of a competitive elections than a referendum on his track-record.

The Muslim Brothers have denounced El-Sisi candidature as the “final stage of the July 2013 coup d’Etat”. The main challenge that El-Sisi cannot but face is the support that the Brotherhood still enjoys among a significant portion of the society, without further dividing the Egyptian people.

Egypt – PreSisi-dential elections approaching

Some three years after sustained popular unrest led to the demise of the severely authoritarian Mubarak regime, Egypt appears to be no closer to a democratic transition. Rather, the country seems on the brink of reverting to the ways of Mubarak’s iron-fisted rule, with interim President Adly Mansour suggesting that the military regime is on the verge of resorting to even tougher measures than those employed so far against opposition figures and protesters, regardless of whether Islamist or liberals.[1]

Since the army’s ousting of Morsi from the presidency on 3 July 2013 – a move orchestrated by the then Minister of Defence General Sisi – the new regime has cracked down hard on opposition activists. Members and supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, i.e. the party of ex-President Morsi and the military’s main political rival, have been particularly hard hit, with scores of people killed, injured, and imprisoned.[2]

The suspension of the 2012 constitution, the appointment of an interim technocratic government, and the removal of Morsi from office by the military confirmed a fear long held by many that the military had been seeking to maintain its grip on power after the departure of Mubarak, and despite handing over power to democratically elected civilians following the presidential and legislative elections of 2011/12. The concerns over the suspected political aspirations of the military establishment were further strengthened in recent months as a new constitution was rushed to a popular vote on 14-15 January 2014, a move strongly criticized by domestic and foreign monitors. With the overwhelming majority in favour of the military-backed constitution – no less than 98.1 per cent of the valid votes cast – speculations were rife that the military would cease the opportunity and bring forward the date of the presidential elections (originally scheduled to follow after parliamentary elections), while also putting General Sisi forward as an official candidate.[3]

Although Sisi is yet to officially announce his candidature, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) gave the general its blessing to put his name forward in the presidential race, which is due to take within the next few months – and no later than mid-April – in line with the stipulations of the new constitution.[4] Given the currently popularity of Sisi, coupled with the military’s strong grip on power, particularly since the ousting of Morsi, most people are convinced that the next popularly elected Egyptian president will stem from the military.[5] Anything except from a landslide victory to Sisi, regardless of voter turnout, seems unimaginable.[6] Hence, in the space of three years, Egypt has gone from being a case of military-backed competitive authoritarianism to military-led competitive authoritarianism. In short, in Egypt the Arab Spring protests, which cost so many people their lives, seem to have succeeded only in replacing one brand of authoritarianism with another. That is, for now at least, as Egyptians have clearly acquired a taste for people power, although the military is doing its utmost to stifle the opposition, whether democratic or anti-systemic.


[1] http://www.reuters.com/assets/print?aid=USBREA0P0GR20140126.

[2] See http://www.newstatesman.com/2014/01/egypt-nation-voted-yes-military-rule-and-yes-moving-forwards. See also http://uk.reuters.com/article/2014/01/26/uk-egypt-protests-idUKBREA0O08T20140126

[3] See http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/egypt/10575772/Egypt-votes-overwhelmingly-for-military-backed-constitution.html

[4] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-25917452 and http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/01/16/us-egypt-referendum-idUSBREA0F0IZ20140116.

[5] http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContent/1/64/89456/Egypt/Politics-/Who-will-be-Egypts-next-president.aspx

[6] http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContent/1/64/92963/Egypt/Politics-/Political-groups-react-to-SCAFs-ElSisi-statement.aspx. See also http://edition.cnn.com/2014/01/14/world/meast/egypt-military-rule/