Elections in Egypt: Lessons from the 2011 Constitutional Referendum and the Constitutional Declaration

April 27, 2011, 2:11 p.m.

The International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) has released a briefing paper on the current political environment in Egypt.

Much has happened in Egypt since the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) issued a Briefing Paper on 5 February 2011 entitled Elections in Egypt: Key Challenges for Credible and Competitive Elections. President Hosni Mubarak stepped down on 11 February, and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) took power, suspending the Constitution, dissolving the People’s Assembly (PA) and the Shura Council, and declaring its intention to hand power back to civilians before the end of 2011. The SCAF held a referendum on 19 March to approve amendments to the 1971 Constitution ahead of the parliamentary and presidential elections in 2011. On 30 March the SCAF issued a Constitutional Declaration setting out the constitutional framework that will apply in Egypt until a new constitution can be drafted following parliamentary and presidential elections. There have been calls for parliamentary elections to be delayed to allow more time for new and emerging political forces to become established and to prepare to contest the elections. Several people have announced their intention to run for president. The U.S. Government and a number of European countries have indicated their willingness to support democratic elections in Egypt.

Previous elections in Egypt have not been free and fair. Although the March 2011 referendum showed some improvements, there are still a number of important issues that must be addressed before the next election in 2011. In this updated Briefing Paper, IFES provides a preliminary overview of these issues.

The Constitutional Framework

The Constitutional Drafting Committee’s Proposals

One of the SCAF’s first acts was to suspend the 1971 Constitution and appoint an 8-member Constitutional Drafting Committee (CDC) of legal and constitutional experts to draft amendments to the Constitution designed to prepare for parliamentary and presidential elections prior to the resumption of civilian rule. The CDC did not engage in an open or consultative process before it released its proposals on 26 February. The most significant changes proposed by the CDC were as follows:

  • Presidential candidates would have three options to get onto the ballot: (1) nomination by a political party that has at least one seat in the PA or the Shura Council; (2) the endorsement of 30 elected members of the PA or the Shura Council; or (3) being supported by 30,000 eligible voters from at least 15 governorates, including at least 1,000 from each governorate.

  • The presidential term would be reduced from six to four years, with a two-term limit.

  • The President would be required to appoint at least one vice-president.

  • The role of the judiciary in supervising the electoral process would be restored and the judiciary would serve as the final arbiter of the validity of legal challenges to election results.

  • The President or half of the MPs could call for a new Constitution to be drafted, by a 100 member constitutional committee selected by elected members of the PA and the Shura Council.

  • The President would be able to call a state of emergency, but only with PA approval and only for a period of six months. Extension of a state of emergency beyond six months would require approval by a public referendum.

  • Article 179 which sets aside human rights provisions in terrorism cases would be repealed.

There was considerable debate about the CDC’s proposals, including whether the parliamentary and presidential elections should be deferred until a completely new constitution could be drafted and approved in a referendum. Nevertheless, the SCAF decided to put the CDC’s proposals to the people in a referendum held on 19 March at which voters were asked to vote ‘yes’ or 'no' on the whole package of amendments.

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