Egypt’s Referendum on Proposed Constitutional Amendments: Details and Implications

Yesterday the Egyptian people voted on the constitutional amendment proposals by a constitutional reform panel.  The constitutional reform panel was appointed by the provisional military government of the Egyptian Supreme Armed Forces Council.  Objections were raised to the membership of the panel; the Supreme Armed Forces Council didn’t appoint a single woman to participate in these crucial debates on their country’s future.

Nonetheless, the panel debated, and while women’s issues have not received closer consideration in this amending stage, several proposed constitutional amendments mentioned in the above-cited BBC article sound like sensible reforms:

Presidential terms would be shortened from 6 to 4 years, and the president would be term-limited to no more than 2 terms;

The president would be required by law to appoint a vice president–something Mubarak didn’t do for about 30 years until in the midst of the recent protests he tried to salvage his presidency;

The president must be at least 40 years old, and his wife must be an Egyptian citizen.

But while these measures sound like commonsense reforms, it warrants mention that only the 2 best-established parties in Egypt–deposed President-for-life Hosni Mubarak’s National Democratic Party and the Muslim Brotherhood–have explicitly-endorsed the series of proposed amendments in the recent referendum.  Absent from these measures, for example, are stronger controls on presidential power–and if the referendum passes and the constitution is amended now, this means elections will be held in September–and the pre-existing and well-organized National Democratic Party and Muslim Brotherhood will have a big organizational advantage.

Will Egypt end up with a 2-party political system and retain a unitary executive?  Such democratic systems aren’t necessarily disastrous, as our own in the United States attests.  If the referendum is voted down, it would be one of the most-powerful demonstrations yet of the resilience and independence of the Egyptian protest movement.  The Muslim Brotherhood strongly endorses quick constitutional changes and elections, and was strangely given responsibility for operating some polling stations rather than the transitional military government; the conservative military, for its part, has focused on more-obvious institutional and personnel changes and legal reforms, and then wants to have done with it.  But if the amendment package fails at the referendum, a constitutional convention will be called, allowing radical redrawing of the Egyptian constitution but unavoidably pushing elections back beyond September.

In that case both the opportunities and the inherent uncertainties surrounding Egypt’s future would be enhanced.  There will be a more in-depth update on Egypt’s constitutional amendment referendum soon.


2 thoughts on “Egypt’s Referendum on Proposed Constitutional Amendments: Details and Implications

  1. liberalironist Post author

    Thanks, Jon. Obviously a lot more insight than my initial thoughts. I suppose a big part of the reason I’ve been optimistic about what I’ve seen so far is simply the fact that “the street” has exhibited so much autonomy while political elites have had to work to mediate their divisions–at considerable cost to those closest to Mubarak. If a popular movement there now insists that government be rule-bound and subject to regular elections, and different political factions are caught in some level of tension with each other or currently facing popular censure for their attempts to restrict that process, then that is a good sign.

    As far as the blogger you’ve cited is concerned, we now seem to have our answer: With 41% turnout, 77.2% of the vote favored adopting the constitutional committee’s recommended changes to the constitution, ensuring elections in September that the remains of the National Democratic Party and the always-present but now-legalized Muslim Brotherhood have the best infrastructure to campaign for. Again, Egypt may be looking at a political system surprisingly like ours–potentially right up to a simple 2-party system. Granted, that’s still far from saying Egypt’s political system would function like ours with such superficial institutional similarities and such important economic and political differences.


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