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Egypt: Constitutional Amendments Passed

(Mar. 25, 2011) On March 19, 2011, the Egyptian people participated in a public referendum and approved, by a majority of 77% of the votes cast, amendments to the 1971 Constitution relating to the election of the President of the Republic. The main object of the amendments is to qualify more individuals to be candidates for President. The old rules were designed to exclude almost any politician who was not a member of the ruling party from being a candidate. The new amendments relax many of those rules, but still require a candidate to be an Egyptian, of Egyptian parentage, who has obtained no other nationality and is not married to a non-Egyptian wife or under 40 years old. In addition, his nomination must be supported by at least 30 elected members of the People's Assembly or the Shura Council or at least 30,000 eligible voters in at least 15 governorates. (Army Council Issues Statement on Constitutional Amendments, Egyptian State Information Service (Feb. 27, 2011) [if link not operable, see Full Text of Egypt's Constitutional Amendments, Blogging Egypt website (Mar. 18, 2011)].)

These amendments and the referendum were proposed by the Military Council, which took power when former President Hosni Mubarak was forced out of office on February 11, 2011, as a result of the popular revolution against the political regime and its political representatives as instituted under the 1971 Constitution. The source of the legitimacy of the political power of the Military Council was the assent of the people and not the Constitution, which has no provisions allowing such a transfer of power. This transfer of power thus can be considered a repudiation of the 1971 Constitution.

This raises a valid question as to the legal value of amending a repudiated constitution. However, the Military Council will probably use these amendments as a part of an interim constitution, to be issued in the near future, that outlines the steps planned for a transition to civilian authority and a new permanent constitution. An interview with Justice Taha al-Sharif, former Vice-President of the Cassation Court in Egypt, on this issue has recently been published, advocating the issuance of an interim or temporary constitution. (The Constitutional Declaration … an Interim Constitution [in Arabic], AL-AHRAM (Mar. 22, 2011).)