Arab West Report Middle East Published Articles

How to Amend the Egyptian Constitution

During final discussions over the constitutional text
During final discussions over the constitutional text

From my recent article at Arab West Report, continuing a series on the development of Egypt’s constitution:

Following the passage of the 2012 Egyptian constitution in a disputed and divisive referendum, Muslim Brotherhood leader Muhammad al-Biltājī praised the text and tried to assuage opponents of any flaws it might contain.

Calling it a human effort, and therefore not without errors, he said, “I hope we all seek to implement what is good for the people of this homeland. Certainly, we will amend whatever future days will prove needs amendment.”

Shortly before passage of the 2014 Egyptian constitution in a largely uncontested referendum due to opposing boycotts, supporters praised the text and tried to assuage those unconvinced due to a few controversial articles.

Lamīs al-Hadīdī, a prominent television news anchor, rallied for a yes vote and said, “This is not a divine document, and by the way, this document can be amended. If you are fine with 80 percent of the constitution, or even 60 percent, then you have to go and vote yes.”

Apart from their propagandist intent, these statements beg the question: What is the process for amending the constitution? Both documents are remarkably similar, drawing on the 1971 constitution, but with one key difference added in 2014.

The article seeks to describe the procedure, but this excerpt from the conclusion will simplify and describe the difference in question, the key difference in both 2012 and 2014 from the 1971 text, and why both might be there:

To summarize, then, with basic context, it appears the authors of the two constitutions following the January 25 revolution recognized the necessity of giving hope to popular opposition to certain articles in their proposed charters. By lowering the initiation process from one-third to one-fifth, both constitutions allowed a minority presence in the parliament to stimulate constitutional change.

It is unclear why two discussion periods of debate are necessary, but in preserving the general process of constitutional amendment, the authors of both texts maintained the overall difficulty of securing an amendment, as is reasonable.

On the other hand, without an established tradition of a balanced parliament it may be argued that passing an amendment is a relatively easy process. Given the dominant Islamist makeup of the first post-revolution parliament, perhaps they intended the ability to further Islamize the constitution beyond what was negotiated among political forces. Similarly, given the popular turn against the Muslim Brotherhood, perhaps civil forces anticipated reducing further the tinge of religion negotiated with the Islamist Nour Party. In either case, no public referendum in Egypt has ever been defeated [and requires only 50 percent approval].

Any discussion of intentions is purely speculative, but it appears the authors of the 2014 constitution were cognizant of the possibility of Nour Party or old regime electoral domination, either of which might chip away at their constitutional text. Perhaps aware of their own to-date failings to mobilize politically, these liberal authors added the clause to prevent any circumscribing of freedom and equality. It is unclear, however, the manner in which this clause will be interpreted.

Analysis aside, the process of amending the Egyptian constitution remains remarkably consistent over time. Securing the stability of the constitutional order will require the development of a diverse parliament, from which all future changes will need to find substantial cross-party agreement. This assessment, however, may be overly optimistic given that neither post-revolutionary constitution was passed with widespread societal consensus.

Please click here to read the whole article at Arab West Report.

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