First Impressions of the Constitutional Declaration

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Amid the furor and amidst much blood spilled on Egyptian soil, the anticipated constitutional declaration has arrived, five days after Egypt’s ‘great transformation’ at a historic time. Without a doubt, it is more than justified to have awaited the declaration with great anxiety. Many look forward to erasing the traces of the past two and a half years’ confusion and disorganization in the management of Egypt’s public affairs. Now it remains to be seen how the ‘third transitional period’ will be run.

The constitutional declaration is composed of just thirty three articles; much shorter than the March 2011 declaration by which the country was run for the past two and a half years. For the most part, this declaration echoes many articles of the previous constitutions and constitutional declarations. However, the most important part of this declaration—and what will ultimately influence the transitional period to come—are the following key points. To begin with, the interim president holds all executive and legislative powers, and according to the official statement released by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces on July 3rd, 2013, the power to issue constitutional declarations as well. There is no doubt that these are sweeping powers, and that they are dangerous concentrated in the hands of just one person. However, this is justified as it is temporary; lasting only a maximum of four months until the 2012 constitution is reissued.   Moreover, the interim president is a judge and has no leanings towards any particular political movement.

The constitutional declaration determined that ‘constitutional amendments’ will be made to the 2012 constitution, which has been suspended. This means that a new constitution will not be written for Egypt; instead, some amendments will be made and the 2012 constitution will then be revived. It seems that this solution is a result of a compromise made to appease the Islamists participating in the transitional roadmap, namely the Nour Party. The Islamists regard the 2012 constitution as a product of their labor, and that it would not be right to abandon it altogether, regardless of the flaws and contradictions it contains. In light of these contradictions, as well as the numerous, complicated problems that accompanied the process of writing the 2012 constitution, I believe writing a completely new constitution is a priority and it would symbolize a new stage for Egypt. What happened on June 30 and in the events that followed has completely changed Egypt’s political map, and so it is only fitting to issue a new constitution.

Writing the constitutional amendments is a highly sensitive issue, related to the representation of diverse political and social powers. The declaration offers a new path forward, represented in the formation of two separate committees, each operating in succession. The first committee is composed of only ten judges and professors of constitutional law; they prepare the amendments and present them to the second committee, which is composed of fifty members representing all sectors of society. In this context, the most important thing is that the two committees be formed through ‘selection and appointment,’ wherein each political front or organization chooses who will represent them in the committee, and then the interim President makes the final decision as to their appointment to the committees. Therefore, no public elections will be held to choose the members of the committees. Given Egypt’s current political conditions and that Egyptian society is  highly polarized,  elections would only complicate the process of selecting the committee members. Historically, with the exception of the 2012 constitution, all Egyptian constitutions since the 1923 constitution were written by appointed committees. This indicates that the greatest challenge is not electing an assembly to write the constitution; instead, the challenge is to write a solid constitution and for  the political authority  to implement the constitution and commit to upholding it.

The constitutional declaration has laid out a roadmap in Articles 28, 29 and 30. Without a doubt, this is by far the most important issue in the constitutional declaration, which sets time limits to the four main steps it outlines: amendments to the constitution, a popular referendum on the amendments, parliamentary elections, and finally, presidential elections. It is this last round of elections that represents the pinnacle of popular demands for the millions who took to the streets to protest on June 30. According to the timeframe set out in the constitutional declaration, if it takes three  and a half months to form the two constitutional amendment committees and for them to carry out their work, they will finish by October 23, 2013 at the latest. A referendum on the constitutional amendments and "rework"  of the 2012 constitution will be on November 25, 2013, or a few days earlier. The new parliament will meet for the first time on February 15, 2014 at the latest. Immediately afterwards, within a period of a week, the presidential elections will start, which will take nearly three months in total.

Most importantly, this timetable is extremely detailed in the first three stages. The fourth stage, that of presidential elections, ends with handing over power to the new president no later than May 2014, meaning the transitional period will last no more than ten months. Despite this, there is a general desire—and a logical one, at that—to reduce the length of the transitional period. In this context, the transitional period is an exceptional situation that should not be prolonged, and it is even possible to shorten its length through several steps. First, it would be possible to reduce the constitutional amendment procedures to three months or less, in contrast to the current timetable, which dedicates  four and a half months to amending or rewriting the 2012 constitution entirely.

Another way to shorten the entire transitional period would be to hold parliamentary and presidential elections simultaneously. At the very least, presidential elections could be held two weeks later, immediately following the parliamentary elections. This would assume and require that the presidential elections—including nominations and electoral campaigns—would begin during parliamentary elections, and only the voting would take place after parliamentary elections. This solution would ensure that the transitional period is shortened by more than three months, ensuring power is transferred to the new president, and the transitional period would end completely by the beginning of 2014 instead of by mid-2014. This would lead the way to reducing the political tension prevailing in Egypt at the moment for  the proximity of elections through the launch of a new political process and the need to prepare for it.

Yussef Auf is an Egyptian judge and 2012 Humphrey Fellow at American University’s Washington College of Law. He is currently pursuing a PhD in Constitutional Law and Political Systems at Cairo University. He can be reached at 

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