The Egyptian constitutional referendum of March 2011: a new beginning?

Parliament house flag post

The Egyptian constitutional referendum of March 2011: a new beginning?

Posted 29/03/2011 by Marty Harris

Man waving the egyptian flag on top of a Lion statue
The ousting of the Egyptian Government in February 2011 was followed by a referendum on constitutional changes, held on 19 March. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the interim ruling body following the departure of President Hosni Mubarak on 11 February, suspended the 1971 constitution and dissolved parliament on 13 February. A drafting committee of jurists was appointed to write proposed constitutional amendments, the idea being that once a referendum on the changes was held, parliamentary, followed by presidential elections, could be held.

The referendum was held on 19 March 2011, with 77 per cent voting in favour of the constitutional amendments. Voter turnout was about 41 per cent—18.5 million people out of an eligible voting population of about 45 million. This paves the way for elections to be held within six months for the People’s Assembly (national parliament).

Prior to the referendum the military council announced a media blackout, to be enforced during the weekend leading up to the poll. According to the council this was intended to prevent the publishing of any opinions, suggestions or analysis that might influence public opinion (either positively or negatively) towards the referendum and constitutional amendments.

The constitutional changes can be summarised as follows:
  • New eligibility requirements for the position of President (Article 75). The President must be Egyptian without dual nationality, must be born to Egyptian parents, be at least 40 years old in Gregorian years, and not be married to a foreigner. Article 75 of the 1971 Constitution did not stipulate that the President could not be married to a foreigner.

  • Easing of restrictions for the nomination of a presidential candidate (Article 76). The existing Constitution required a presidential candidate to have the support of at least one-third of the members of the People’s Assembly. In order to qualify for nomination a candidate now needs 30 000 signatures from eligible voters in at least 15 different governorates, or the endorsement of 30 elected members of parliament, or the backing of a political party with at least one elected member of parliament. The new requirements for candidature are seen as less onerous.

  • Establishment of a two-term limit for individual Presidents (Article 77). The 1971 Constitution placed no limit on the number of terms which a President could serve.

  • Judicial supervision of the entire election process, from voter registration to announcement of results (Article 88). Supervision will be vested in an all-judge High Elections Commission. The Article in the old Constitution stated that ‘The Law shall determine the conditions which members of the Assembly must fulfil as well as the rules of election and referendum, while the ballot shall be conducted under the supervision of the members of a judiciary organ’, without explicitly stating that an independent judiciary body would supervise the whole process.

  • Giving the highest court of appeal the authority to arbitrate disputed election results (Article 93). Before the March 2011 referendum this authority was vested, under Article 93, in the People’s Assembly.

  • Revisions to Article 148 of the Constitution place restrictions on when the President can declare a state of emergency. The enforcement of a state of emergency now needs parliamentary approval, and in length of time cannot exceed six months unless approved by a plebiscite. The original article stated ‘the state of emergency in all cases, shall be for a limited period, which may not be extended unless by approval of the Assembly.’ Egypt has been under a continuous state of emergency since the assassination of President Anwar Sadat on 6 October 1981.

  • The removal of Article 179 of the Constitution which allowed civilians to be tried in military courts and legalised controversial surveillance methods.

  • The drafting of a new constitution (Article 189). Article 189 of the 1971 Constitution requires that constitutional amendments can be proposed by either the President or a parliamentary majority. While this has not changed, the new constitution supposedly requires the new parliament to appoint a constitutional assembly within six months of taking office, which would then draft a completely new constitution. Whether the new Article explicitly requires a new constitution to be written has been disputed.
Like many authoritarian countries, Egypt held many referendums in the past. Recent constitutional referendums were held in 2005 (to allow the direct election of the President in a multi-candidate race) and in 2007 (which banned religious political parties). These referendums, along with previous parliamentary and presidential elections, have been severely criticised by human rights organisations and Western governments.

On 20 March 2011 US National Security Advisor Tom Donilon praised the 2011 Egyptian constitutional referendum: 
Success in Egypt in the transition towards democracy is really a critical thing and we've always been very focused on that. And today we've had a successful referendum, a constitutional referendum in Egypt, where -- and we want to congratulate the Egyptian people and the Egyptian government on the successful running of the constitutional referendum.
The accounts that we’re seeing -- and we’ve been following this very closely and in touch with the Egyptian government and others in Egypt -- suggests that Egyptians turned out in unprecedented numbers today; that, by and large, they were able to vote freely and the vote was conducted in a peaceful, orderly fashion. It’s really an important achievement. Seeing so many Egyptians exercise their newly won freedom is a cause for optimism, and it will provide a foundation for further progress as the Egyptians continue to build a democratic future.
The United States will continue to provide whatever support and assistance we can as Egypt continues on its path towards additional free and fair elections and a government that reflects the aspirations of its people.  
In terms of opposition to the poll, a number of prominent figures, including presidential hopefuls Muhammad el-Baradei and Amr Moussa, opposed the constitutional referendum. They believe that the constitutional changes were drawn up too quickly—being drafted in 10 days and open for public discussion for three weeks—and that the constitutional amendments do not go far enough to limit the powers of the President. El-Baradei was reportedly attacked by a group of demonstrators when he tried to vote in the referendum in Cairo.

Some commentators also believe that the amendments, along with the upcoming parliamentary poll, will ensure that the two most established political movements (the Muslim Brotherhood, and the former ruling party, the National Democratic Party) do well. Both the Muslim Brotherhood and the National Democratic Party campaigned for a ‘yes’ vote. In this vein Ziad el-Elaimy, member of the ‘Alliance of the Youths’ Revolution’ has stated
They [The Muslim Brotherhood and the National Democratic Party] are able to organize themselves and prepare for quick elections. 
... 
The groups behind the revolution haven’t yet organized themselves. 
Further analysis on this argument is available in al-Masri al-Youm.

For more information on the referendum and the next steps for Egypt, see the Guide to Egypt’s elections, published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.


Thank you for your comment. If it does not require moderation, it will appear shortly.
Facebook LinkedIn Twitter Add | Email Print

FlagPost

Flagpost is a blog on current issues of interest to members of the Australian Parliament


Parliamentary Library Logo showing Information Analysis & Advice

Archive

Syndication

Tagcloud

refugees asylum immigration Australian foreign policy Parliament climate change elections women social security Indigenous Australians Australian Bureau of Statistics Employment taxation Sport illicit drugs Medicare welfare reform Australian Defence Force welfare policy Asia income management Middle East criminal law disability Australian Sports Anti-Doping Agency World Anti-Doping Agency United States higher education people trafficking school education aid statistics Australian Electoral Commission WADA United Nations federal budget health financing emissions trading gambling Australia in the Asian Century steroids detention Private health insurance OECD ASADA labour force transport Law Enforcement Australian Federal Police Industrial Relations dental health National Disability Insurance Scheme forced labour Senate election results Papua New Guinea Australian Public Service International Women's Day corruption Fair Work Act child protection people smuggling debt federal election 2013 parliamentary procedure ALP New Zealand Australian Crime Commission Newstart Parenting Payment 43rd Parliament slavery by-election political parties Census constitution High Court skilled migration voting Federal Court terrorist groups Afghanistan Higher Education Loan Program HECS youth Aviation environment foreign debt gross debt net debt defence capability customs poker machines doping health crime health risks multiculturalism aged care Gonski Review of Funding for Schooling sex slavery sea farers leadership United Kingdom UK Parliament Electoral reform politics banking firearms public policy mental health China ADRV terrorism social media pensions welfare ASIO intelligence community Australian Security Intelligence Organisation governance public service reform Carbon Pricing Mechanism carbon tax mining military history employer employee fishing paid parental leave European Union same sex relationships international relations coal seam gas planning United Nations Security Council Australian economy food vocational education and training Drugs Indonesia children codes of conduct terrorist financing election timetable citizenship Productivity asylum seekers early childhood education Canada Population Financial sector national security fuel violence against women domestic violence disability employment Tasmania integrity science research and development Australian Secret Intelligence Service sexual abuse federal state relations World Trade Organization Australia accountability housing affordability bulk billing water renewable energy children's health health policy Governor-General US economy export liquefied natural gas foreign bribery question time speaker superannuation family assistance expertise Senators and Members climate Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry food labelling Pacific Islands reserved seats new psychoactive substances synthetic drugs UNODC carbon markets health reform Indigenous constitutional recognition of local government local government consumer laws PISA royal commission US politics language education Leaders of the Opposition Parliamentary remuneration health system Australia Greens money laundering servitude Special Rapporteur Trafficking Protocol energy forced marriage rural and regional Northern Territory Emergency Response ministries social citizenship China; Economic policy; Southeast Asia; Africa housing Speaker; House of Representatives; Parliament Defence High Court; Indigenous; Indigenous Australians; Native Title ACT Indigenous education Norfolk Island External Territories emissions reduction fund; climate change child care funding refugees immigration asylum procurement Indigenous health e-voting internet voting nsw state elections 44th Parliament 2015 ABS Age Pension Death penalty capital punishment execution Bali nine Bali bombings Trade EU China soft power education Fiji India Disability Support Pension Antarctica Diplomacy by-elections state and territories workers Bills anti-corruption fraud bribery transparency corporate ownership whistleblower G20 economic reform innovation standards NATO Members of Parliament Scottish referendum Middle East; national security; terrorism social services Criminal Code Amendment (Misrepresentation of Age to a Minor) Bill 2013 online grooming sexual assault of minors ACT Assembly public health smoking plain packaging tobacco cigarettes Asia; Japan; international relations Work Health and Safety Migration; asylum seekers; regional processing China; United States; international relations fiscal policy Racial Discrimination Act; social policy; human rights; indigenous Australians Foreign policy Southeast Asia Israel Palestine regional unemployment asylum refugees immigration political finance donations foreign aid Economics efficiency human rights; Racial Discrimination Act employment law bullying Animal law; food copyright Australian Law Reform Commission industry peace keeping contracts workplace policies trade unions same-sex marriage disorderly conduct retirement Parliament House standing orders public housing prime ministers sitting days First speech defence budget submarines Somalia GDP forestry world heritage political engagement leave loading Trade; tariffs; safeguards; Anti-dumping public interest disclosure whistleblowing Productivity Commission regulation limitation period universities Ireland cancer gene patents genetic testing suspension of standing and sessional orders animal health live exports welfare systems infant mortality middle class welfare honorary citizen railways disciplinary tribunals standard of proof World Health Organisation arts international students skilled graduate visas temporary employment visas apologies roads Italy national heritage NHMRC nutrition anti-dumping Constitutional reform referendum Rent Assistance competition policy pharmaceutical benefits scheme obesity evidence law sacrament of confession US presidential election international days baby bonus DFAT UN General Assembly deregulation Regulation Impact Statements administrative law small business Breaker Morant homelessness regional engagement social determinants of health abortion Youth Allowance Members suspension citizen engagement policymaking federal election 2010 workplace health and safety Trafficking in Persons Report marine reserves hearing TAFE Victoria astronomy resources sector YMCA youth parliament alcohol Korea rebate Australian Greens presidential nomination Racial Discrimination Act entitlements political parties preselection solar hot water Financial Action Taskforce Horn of Africa peacekeeping piracy Great Barrier Reef Stronger futures political financing Hung Parliament political education social inclusion Social Inclusion Board maritime early childhood National Quality Framework for Early Childhood Education and Care Murray-Darling Basin Iran sanctions

Show all
Show less
Back to top