Five Years On: Politics, the Judiciary, and Legislation

On January 25, 2011, Egyptians launched a revolution that ousted President Hosni Mubarak from power. In the five years since, Egypt has witnessed significant political, economic, and societal turbulence. Many of the uprising’s demands remain unmet as Egypt continues to move forward.

Over the coming week, follow EgyptSource for key highlights on the most important events in the past five years.

Constitutional Referendums

Egypt has held three constitutional referendums since the the 2011 revolution. In March 2011, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which assumed power following Mubarak’s resignation, held a referendum on limited constitutional amendments. The referendum, which paved the way for parliamentary and presidential elections, was approved with 77.2 percent of the vote. Turnout was 41.9 percent. Islamists campaigned heavily for a vote in favor of the amendments, depicting it as a vote for Islam. The Egyptian Coalition for Monitoring Elections noted numerous violations.

A second referendum was held in December 2012, under former President Mohamed Morsi. The referendum for the constitution drafted by a body dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood passed with 63.8 percent of the vote amid 32.9 percent voter turnout. The referendum was rejected by Egypt’s main opposition coalition, the National Salvation Front, which also reported widespread violations during the vote.

Egypt’s latest constitutional referendum was held in January 2014, under interim President Adly Mansour. The referendum for the constitution drafted in the near absence of Islamists was overwhelmingly approved with over 98 percent of the vote. Turnout was 38.6 percent of eligible voters. At least 11 people were killed in violence connected to the voting. Prior to voting, the Ministry of Interior released a statement warning that force would be used against any attempts to disrupt the vote. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) monitoring the vote reported violations including illegal campaigning and restricting voters’ access to polling stations.

Parliamentary Elections

Egypt held its first post January-25 parliamentary elections between November 2011 and January 2012. The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party won 47 percent of seats and the Salafi Nour Party won an unexpected 25 percent of seats, resulting in an Islamist-dominated parliament. The Wafd Party won the the majority of the remaining 30 percent of seats. Turnout stood at 54 percent. A number of violations were reported, including illicit campaigning during the campaign silence period and on election day. The parliament was dissolved less than six months later, two days before the 2014 presidential election. The court cited a misapplication of rules for independent candidates.

Egypt remained without a parliament for over three years. In October 2015, the first round of parliamentary voting started. Polling took place in two rounds; the first round saw voting in West Delta and Upper Egypt, the second in Central and East Delta. Voting concluded in December. Overall, turnout was 26 percent. While violence was largely limited, reports of violations, during the campaign period and during both rounds of voting, were widespread. Out of 596 total seats, only 120 were reserved for parties. Those seats were swept by the pro-Sisi coalition For the Love of Egypt. Independent seats were largely won by pro-Sisi candidates and Mubarak era businessmen. The secular Free Egyptians Party secured the highest number of seats among parties, with 65 Members of Parliament. The pro-Sisi Mostaqbal Watan secured 51 seats, and the Wafd Party secured 45. Meanwhile only Islamist Party in the running, the Nour Party, which chose to only run the first round of elections, secured only 10 seats out of the 102 seats it contested.

Presidential Elections

Egypt’s presidential elections in 2012 saw 52 percent turnout, Morsi won 51.7 percent of the vote, defeating former general and prime minister Ahmed Shafik in a runoff. In the first round, votes were largely split between five candidates: Morsi, Shafik, Hamdeen Sabbahi, Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, and Amr Moussa. Morsi was sworn in on June 30, 2012, marking an end to SCAF rule. No major incidents of violence occurred following the runoff, however Shafik’s campaign headquarters were attacked prior to voting. Allegations of violations were leveled at both Morsi and Shafik, included reports of vote buying, illegal campaigning, and voter intimidation. One year later, Morsi was ousted from power and an interim government led by Adly Mansour was put in place.

In contrast, the 2014 presidential election saw a landslide victory for al-Sisi, who won 93.3 percent of the vote. His only opponent, Sabbahi, received only 3 percent of the vote. Voter turnout was less than it had been two years before, at 46 percent. Election officials added a third day to the originally-planned two days of voting in an effort to boost turnout. Sabbahi’s campaign said it witnessed “systematic violations” and claimed that many of its election monitors were excluded from polling stations and arrested. Violence broke out during voting in Giza, Minya, and Kerdasa, among other places. Ahead of the elections, riot police were killed trying to break up a protest by hundreds of al-Azhar University students.

The Mubarak Trials

Mubarak stepped down on February 11, 2011. In April he was detained on charges of corruption, and by May,  was ordered to stand trial for the killing of more than 800 protesters during the revolution’s mass demonstrations. He was sentenced to life in prison in June 2012. Mubarak and his sons were also acquitted of corruption charges. In January 2013, a court ordered a retrial on both charges against Mubarak. In August, Mubarak was again acquitted of corruption chargers. Although a court ordered his release, he was placed under house arrest and then transferred to a military hospital. In May 2014, Mubarak and his two sons were found guilty of embezzling presidential palace money. He was sentenced to three years in prison and his sons received four year sentences. However in November, a judge dropped the corruption charges against Mubarak and his sons as well as the charges of killing protesters. In January 2015, the Court of Cassation ordered a retrial for Mubarak and his sons on charges of corruption for embezzlement. In May, Mubarak was again sentenced to three years in jail and his sons were sentenced to four years each. The charges against Mubarak for killing protesters remain unresolved. In June, the Court of Cassation ordered a final retrial, which has been repeatedly postponed.

The Morsi Trials

Morsi faced charges in six cases following his ouster. In September 2013, Morsi and 14 Brotherhood members were referred to trial on charges of inciting violence during clashes at the presidential palace in December 2012. In February 2014, the defense asked that Mohamed ElBaradei, Hamdeen Sabbahi, and Amr Moussa be added to the case. In October 2014, the prosecution called for the death sentence for Morsi. In April 2015, Morsi was sentenced to 20 years in prison for inciting violence and torture against protesters. He and his 14 co-defendants were acquitted of murder charges.

In a second case, Morsi and 131 other defendants were charged with murder relating to a mass jailbreak in 2011. Morsi and the other defendants, among whom was Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie, were sentenced to death in May 2015. A month later, the sentence was upheld. In August, Morsi’s lawyer said an appeal was filed on behalf of all of those sentenced.  

In a third case, Morsi and 35 defendants were charged with leaking classified documents to foreign powers and aiding terrorism. The defendants included Brotherhood leaders Badie, Khairat al-Shater, Saad al-Katatni, Essam al-Erian, Mohamed al-Beltagy, Safwat Hegazy, Saad al-Hosseiny, and Hazem Mansour, and Morsi’s presidential advisors Essam al-Haddad and Mohie Hamed. The trial began in February 2014, with the defendants present in a glass cage. In January 2015, Morsi appeared in court to present his own defense, accusing Sisi of removing him in a coup. In June, a court sentenced Morsi to life in prison.

Two other cases, in which Morsi is accused of spying for Qatar and insulting the judiciary, remain ongoing. Morsi has also been referred to investigation over charges of deceiving voters.


Interim President Adly Mansour passed several important laws, chief among them the protest law, passed in November 2013. Other controversial laws passed by Mansour include an amendment allowing for indefinite pretrial detention and a decree banning all unauthorized Islamic preachers. Mansour also passed a landmark law criminalizing sexual harassment, although the effectiveness of the law is unclear.

According to the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy’s legislation tracker, Sisi issued at least 263 laws and decrees since taking office, all of which are now being reviewed by the new parliament.

Many of those laws and decrees have been criticized by rights groups and activists, including a presidential decree restoring the president’s ability to directly appoint university heads, an amendment that allows individuals who receive foreign funding with the aim of harming the national interest to be sentenced to life in prison or death, a military courts law, and a repressive counterterror law. Sisi also passed several laws aimed at contributing to the revitalization of Egypt’s ailing economy. He enacted income tax cuts and suspended capital gains tax, passed a new investment law, and issued a new civil service law.

Most of the laws passed by Sisi has been approved by the parliament, with the exception of the Civil Service Law, a law which was widely condemned by public sector workers.

Three drafts of a new NGO law have been prepared since the 2011 revolution – in 2012, 2013, and 2014 – however none have been enacted. Egypt’s civil society is still governed by law 2002-84.

Elissa Miller is a Program Assistant at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri for the Middle East.  Follow her on Twitter @ElissaFMiller

Image: Photo: Jonathan Rashad