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Towards a Constitutional Crisis in Egypt

Towards a Constitutional Crisis in Egypt

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Col. (ret.) Dr. Jacques Neriah on how these developments will have consequences for the already frosty relations between the U.S. and Egypt, and how it will certainly weigh in when the American Congress discusses U.S. aid to Egypt.
Col. (ret.) Dr. Jacques Neriah on how these developments will have consequences for the already frosty relations between the U.S. and Egypt, and how it will certainly weigh in when the American Congress discusses U.S. aid to Egypt.

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Published by: Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs on Jun 11, 2013
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09/05/2013

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TowardsaConstitutionalCrisisinEgypt?
Col.(ret.)Dr.JacquesNeriah
June5,2013Egypt’sSupremeConstitutionalCourtruledonJune2,2013,thatthelawsgoverningtheelectionofmembersoftheIslamist-dominatedShuraCouncil(Egypt’supperhouse)wereillegalandinvalid.
1
PresidentMorsi’sFreedomandJusticeParty(FJP),theMuslimBrotherhood’spoliticalarm,holds42percentoftheShuraCouncilseats.However,thecourtsaidtheShuraCouncilwouldonlybedissolvedafternewelectionsareheldforthePeople’sAssembly(thelowerhouse).TheSupremeConstitutionalCourthadruledinJune2012thattheelectorallawunderwhichthelowerhousewaselectedwasinvalid,promptingitsdissolution.TheShuraCouncilwasthengivenlegislativepowersbytheconstitutionalpanel.Thecourtalsoruledthatthe100-memberconstitutionalpanelestablishedbyPresidentMorsitodrawupthenewconstitution,whichwasadoptedinanationwidereferenduminDecember2012,wasalsoillegalandinvalid.ThelatestrulingraisesthepossibilitythatShuraCouncillegislationmayalsobeconsideredunconstitutional,whichcouldbecriticalsincethechamberisdebatinganumberofcontroversialbillsthismonth,includingadraftlawthatwouldheavilyrestrictthefundingavailabletodevelopafreecivilsociety.
2
ThenewconstitutionhadbeencriticizedafteritemergedfromarushedsessionoftheIslamist-dominateddraftingassembly.Criticsarguedthatitfailedtoprotectfreedomofexpressionorreligiousbeliefandinstitutionalizedmilitarytrialsforcivilians.TheSupremeConstitutionalCourtalsoappearstohaveruledagainstthegovernment’sarrestpowersunderEgypt’semergencylaws,whichhavebeenusedbysuccessiveEgyptianpresidentstocrackdownonopponents.Itisunclearwhateffecttherulingwillhaveonthelegitimacyoftheconstitution,especiallysincetheEgyptianpresidencyissuedastatementstressingthatPresidentMorsiwastheultimatesourceoflegitimacybyvirtueofbeingelectedbythepeopleofEgypt.Moreover,theMuslimBrotherhood’sFreedomandJusticePartystatedthatthecourtrulingontheShuraCouncilhas“nopracticaleffect.”
3
TheShuraCouncilwillcontinueitsroleasalegislativepowerasstipulatedbyArticle230oftheconstitution,whichgrantsfulllegislativepowerstotheShuraCounciluntilalowerhouseiselected.Regardlessofthecourtruling’simmediateconsequences,itislikelytoemboldenliberalcriticsoftheShuraCouncilandtheconstitution,andwidentheriftbetweenEgypt’sjudiciaryanditsIslamist-dominatedlegislatureandexecutive.TheShuraCouncilhasbeenconsideringlegislationthatwouldforcemorethan3,000judgesoutofofficebyloweringthemandatoryretirementage.MembersoftheupperchambersaymanyjudgesareHosniMubarak-eraloyalistswhoarehostiletothecountry’sIslamistrulers.TheselatestdevelopmentsillustratethedepthofthestructuralcrisisandthealmostchaoticsituationinwhichEgyptisdriftingnowadays.ItisonemoresignoftheinabilityofPresidentMorsitostabilizethedomesticsituationinEgypt,andofacontinuoustrendtolimittheboundariesofdemocracy.TherulingoftheConstitutionalCourtmayendupacceleratingtheclashbetweentheIslamistregimeandthesecularforcesinsideEgypt.Inthesameweek,anEgyptiancourtpronounceditselfontheNGOissue,whichwaswidelypublicizedayearago.
4
ThecourtorderedtheclosureoftheofficesoffiveNGOsthatwereaccusedofreceivingforeignfunds(mainlyAmerican),supposedlydirectedtoenhancedemocracyinEgypt,withouttheauthorizationoftheEgyptianauthorities.Thecourtsentenced43peopletojailtermsstretchingfrom1to5years.NineteenoftheaccusedareAmericancitizens,16areEgyptians,andtherestareNorwegians,Palestinians,Jordanians,SerbsandGermans.NodoubtthesedevelopmentswillhaveconsequencesforthealreadyfrostyrelationsbetweentheU.S.andEgypt,andwillcertainlyweighinwhentheAmericanCongressdiscussesU.S.aidtoEgypt.

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