Egypt Government and Politics
State and politics
According to AllCityCodes.com, Egypt lacks democratic tradition. After the military took power in 1952, an authoritarian state was built based on a strong presidential power legitimized by the military whose influence permeated all parts of society. Presidents Gamal Abdel Nasser (1956–70), Anwar as-Sadat (1970–81) and Hosni Mubarak (1981–2011) were all originally military and, as presidents, had control over the entire state apparatus. Even Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi, who in practice has been Egypt’s most powerful man since the election of the elected President Muhammad Mursi in July 2013, and who won in the 2014 and 2018 presidential elections, is basically military.
The many transformations of the Egyptian Republic are reflected in its constitutions of 1953, 1956, 1958, 1964 and 1971 and additions 1980, 2005 and 2007. Also see AbbreviationFinder for abbreviation of EG and its meanings of Egypt. Following Mubarak’s fall, a new constitution was adopted, which was approved in a referendum in 2012. Since the resignation of President Mursi in the summer of 2013, a new constitution in a referendum in January 2014.
According to the constitution, which is basically based on the 1971 constitution, the Arab Republic of Egypt is a democratic, Islamic state where Sharia (Islamic law) forms the basis of the legislation. The executive power is held by the President, who is the country’s commander-in-chief and appoints the Prime Minister, who in turn leads the government, which must be approved by Parliament. By constitutional amendments approved in 2019, the president’s term of office was extended from four to six years, which also meant that al-Sisi’s current term expires in 2024 instead of 2022. The president can be re-elected once, but al-Sisi will be allowed to stand also in 2024, which makes it possible for him to remain in power until 2030.
In 2019, the rules that were introduced in 2014 and which gives the defense management the right to approve who should be permanent defense minister. In addition to protecting the country, the military has been given the task of guaranteeing that the constitution is upheld.
The MPs are elected for five years in general elections. Since the 2015 election, the House of Representatives has 596 members. Of these, 448 were elected by majority vote in one-man constituencies while 120 seats were weighted for candidates on party lists; half of the candidates on these lists must be women. The party that receives a majority in a constituency is assigned all seats. The remaining 28 members are appointed directly by the president, who is allowed to appoint up to 5 percent of parliamentarians. Of the total number of MPs, 89 (15 percent) were women after the 2015 election, which is the highest proportion in the country’s history; 14 of these were appointed by the President.
The constitutional changes in 2019 mean that in the future the House of Representatives will have 450 members, of which at least a quarter will be women. The upper house, the Senate, which was abolished in 2014 must be re-established. Of the 180 members, two-thirds shall be appointed by election and the other shall be appointed by the President.
Since Egypt formally became an independent kingdom in 1922, until 1952 its policy was primarily a triangular struggle between the King, the British Embassy and the Wafd Party (al-Wafd al-Misri ‘the Egyptian delegation’). This had been formed in 1918 with the requirement that Egypt should send a delegation to Europe’s peace conferences after the World War. The Wafd demanded Egypt’s total independence from the British, which would, however, be achieved by peaceful means. Violence as a political weapon, however, came to be advocated by the Muslim Brotherhood (al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun), formed in 1928, which was fiercely anti-British and anti-imperialist.
When the Free Officers took power in 1952, the monarchy was abolished in 1953; the political parties were banned in the same year and the Muslim Brotherhood in 1954. The political system was now reshaped according to the Soviet model: power passed in 1956 to Gamal Abdel Nasser and to a single permissible mass organization. This was called the 1962 Arab Socialist Union (ASU) and was a strong central government organization, closely linked to the government apparatus. Ultimately, however, the Nasser regime rested on the power of the army and the security service.
In 1976, President Sadat allowed three “platforms” to be formed by the party’s right, center and left within ASU. In 1978, ASU was abolished and its center transformed into a new government party, the National Democratic Party (NDP; al-Hizb al-Watani ad-Dimuqrati). The NDP was ultimately controlled by the president and had many senior civil servants among its members. Its strength was otherwise in the countryside. The party controlled the country’s state apparatus and the state-controlled radio and television, and had better finances than the other parties. It supported Egypt’s opening to the west and peace with Israel.
The left within ASU developed into the National Progressive Unionist Party (NPUP; at-Tajammu), which mainly recruited former Nasser supporters, communists and left-wing intellectuals. NPUP was opposed to Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel. ASU’s right became the Socialist Liberal Party in 1978 (Hizb al-Ahrar al-Ishtirakiyyin). The Liberals advocated a free trade and supported peace with Israel. The Muslim Brotherhood was allowed, under Sadat, to act openly as a counterbalance to the left, and then grew in strength and influence. The Brotherhood rejected the peace with Israel and demanded that Islamic law, Sharia, be introduced in Egypt. The old Wafd was reorganized in 1978 as the New Wafd Party (Hizb al-Wafd al-Jadid). The new Wafd members were recruited mainly from the middle class.
During the 1990s, the Islamist opposition, now active also in underground groups, resorted to increasingly violent methods. A series of murders and terrorist operations were answered by the regime with open violence, mass arrests and executions. A small scale civil war raged, mainly in the southern parts of the country. Against this violent background, the Mubarak regime’s democratization process went into reverse. Thus, the 1990 parliamentary elections were boycotted by all important opposition parties, which demanded, among other things, that the state of emergency in the country should be lifted.
All opposition parties took part in the 1995, 2000 and 2005 elections but labeled them as cheating. The days before the elections, for example, hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood representatives were arrested. In 2005, 88 mandates for the Muslim Brotherhood came through independent candidates. In these elections, the NDP government never got less than 69 percent of seats in the parliament. The 2010 election was even more manipulated and now only 15 representatives of the opposition and not a single Islamist joined parliament.
The 2005 presidential election took place after a long period of popular protests against the current political system, protests which later also included Mubarak’s long hold of power. Mubarak’s counterpart was to enforce a constitutional change that allowed the Egyptian people to directly elect the head of state for the first time in 5,000 years, and this among more than one candidate. Ten candidates participated in the 2005 presidential election. However, the election was boycotted by the left parties, and the main opposition, the Muslim Brotherhood, was not allowed to stand with any candidate. The election was easily won by Mubarak, who captured 88.5 percent of the vote. Turnout was a modest 23 percent.
In 2007, the Mubarak regime replaced the 1981 exception legislation with major constitutional changes that gave the president expanded powers in the “fight against terrorism”. The changes were pushed through despite opposition from the opposition.
Popular protests against the political system and eventually also against Mubarak’s long hold of power took place throughout the 00s. The fiery dissatisfaction of the Egyptian people in January 2011 boiled over to massive demonstrations against the regime (see further Arab Spring). Mubarak was forced to resign on February 11, 2011. He was tried and sentenced in June 2012 to life imprisonment for failing to prevent the killing of protesters during the 2011 uprising (when 846 people were killed according to official figures); however, he appealed and was released in 2017. Many ministers and aides to Mubarak were also sentenced to many years in prison. The NDP dissolved in April 2011.
However, Mubarak was not overthrown by the Egyptian people. It was the leading military forces that forced him to retire. It was also those who, through the “Supreme Council of the Armed Forces” (SCAF), assumed power after the fall of Mubarak. Since February 2011, tens of thousands of civilian Egyptians have been brought before military courts. Following the storming of the Israeli embassy in Cairo in 2011, SCAF reintroduced the exception laws. A wave of abuse, mainly against Coptic targets, hit the country without any culprits being brought to justice.
In this unstable situation, parliamentary elections were held in November 2011 – February 2012. The new parliament’s most important task would be to draft a new constitution before a new presidential election could take place. 50 parties announced their interest in participating in the election. Winning became the Muslim Brotherhood’s newly formed Freedom and Justice Party (Hizb al-Hurriya wa al-Adala), which together with a number of small parties in the electoral co-operation Democratic Alliance conquered 235 out of 508 seats. But the election’s big surprise was the newly formed extreme Salafist party al-Nur (‘the Light’) with its 123 mandates. The Islamist parties occupied a total of more than 70 percent of parliamentary seats. The new Wafd Party and the liberal Egyptian bloc received only 38 and 34 seats, respectively.
Parliament was thus dominated by Islamists, which caused the opposition – the Christians, the left and the liberals – to step down from work to draft a new constitution. Finally, Egypt’s highest constitutional court intervened. This, whose composition remained from the Mubaract era, declared in June 2012 the 2011 parliamentary election for invalid and dissolved the People’s Assembly. The decision was seen by many as a soft coup by SCAF and the military. Nevertheless, presidential elections could be held in May-June 2012. Ten candidates participated in the first round. One and two became Muhammad Mursi, who represented the Freedom and Justice Party, and the military council’s candidate Ahmad Shafiq, general and former prime minister. In the second round, Mursi won a tight victory with 52 percent of the vote.
Although Mursi officially broke with the Muslim Brotherhood, his connections there quickly became a burden. The president’s staff of advisers were dominated by conservative Islamists. He also took several initiatives to expand the powers of the presidential office, resulting in a power struggle with the military and other high officials in the state administration. This, in combination with Mursi’s inability to reverse the dismal economic development in Egypt, quickly thwarted his legitimacy.
On June 30, 2013, large crowds went out into the streets of Egypt, this time to demand Mursi’s departure. After four days of mounting protests, the military led a coup d’etat and on July 3, Mursi was dismissed from the presidential post. As acting President, the President of Egypt’s Constitutional Court, Adli Mansour, was appointed. However, who in reality became the country’s most powerful was the army chief and also Defense Minister Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi.
The protests among the Muslim Brotherhood’s supporters became fierce, and two major protest camps were formed in Cairo. The new regime responded with violent countermeasures that cost thousands of people their lives only during the second half of 2013. The Muslim Brotherhood was stamped and banned from terrorism and basically all the leaders of the organization were arrested. Muhammad Mursi was also imprisoned, as were thousands of other opposites.
However, support for the transitional government and al-Sisi was strong among many Egyptians who saw the military as a guarantor of stability and against excessive Islamist influence. The draft constitutional amendments that were drafted during the autumn were approved in a referendum in January 2014; 98 percent of voters supported the proposal, but as the Muslim Brotherhood called for a boycott, voter turnout was below 40 percent.
In early 2014, al-Sisi resigned as army chief with the intention of running for office in the presidential elections held in May that year. With strong popular support and without serious challengers, al-Sisi’s victory was almost given in advance and he was elected with 97 percent of the vote; however, turnout was only 47 percent. The situation was roughly the same in the 2018 elections, that is, al-Sisi lacked real opposition after the regime in various ways assured that only one other, friendly-minded, candidate is running. In an election that attracted 41 percent of voters, the incumbent president received 97 percent of the vote.
After the 2015 general elections, a majority of the members was either a party to support al-Sisi, mainly within the Alliance For Egypt’s sake (Fi Hob Misr), or independent presidential members.
Since al-Sisi came to power, both human rights organizations and the UN Human Rights Council have criticized Egypt for the lack of democracy and the rule of law. Hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood supporters have been sentenced to death following mass trials. Mursi and other leaders of the Brotherhood have been sentenced to death and life imprisonment in several different legal cases, including for spying for foreign powers and for involvement in a prison riot in 2011.
For a more detailed account of the events in Egypt since 1996, see Annual overviews. Compare the History section .
The current constitution was approved by referendum on September 11, 1971. Private ownership must be protected, all citizens must be equal before the law and penalties must presuppose that crimes and sentences are established. The judicial system is basically based on two parallel systems with public and administrative courts respectively. However, the Supreme Constitutional Court has jurisdiction to decide, inter alia, cases where a general and an administrative court has reached results that are contrary to each other.
The highest court in a four-court system for the general courts is the Cassation Court in Cairo. In 1980, through an addition to the constitution, it was established that Islamic law, sharia, is the basis of the country’s law. The death penalty is punished for some serious crimes.
Egypt, like many other Arab countries, experienced massive popular uprisings and demonstrations in the early 2010s. Decades of frustration during a dictatorship resulted in protests against poverty, corruption and political repression.
Political and civil rights have been heavily employed for much of the 2010s, and violent clashes between police and protesters have been commonplace. Excessive violence by police and security forces has led to a large number of civilian deaths. Extrajudicial executions and torture have also occurred.
The most obvious human rights problems in the country are the suppression of civil rights, state restrictions on freedom of expression, press and assembly, and the existence of military trials against civilians. The right to freedom of speech, association and assembly was severely restricted during the 2010s, and especially for persons designated as followers of the Muslim Brotherhood. In 2010–15, the country rallied from place 127 to place 158 out of 180 countries surveyed in Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index.
Torture, police brutality and imprisonment are considered by domestic and international human rights organizations to be the most common human rights violations in Egypt. Mass arrests of protesters, including children, have occurred. Deaths in custody and detention have been reported.
Other serious problems include disappearances, arbitrary arrests and impunity for the security forces. Harassment and discrimination against women and girls is widespread and the situation is the same for the LGBTQ group.
State condition and leader since 1805
|Viceroy under the Sultan of Istanbul|
|1863-79||Ismail (from 1867 titled kediv)|
|1953-54||Mohammed Naguib (President)|
|1954-56||Old Abdel Nasser (Prime Minister)|
|1956-70||Old Abdel Nasser (President)|
|1970-81||Anwar as-Sadat (President)|
|1981-2011||Hosni Mubarak (President)|
|2011-12||Hussein Tantawi (President of Egypt’s Governing Military Council, de facto head of state)|
|2012-13||Muhammad Mursi (President)|
|2013-14||Adli Mansour (acting president)|
|2014-||Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi|
For a more detailed account of the events in Egypt since 1996, see Annual overviews. See also State of affairs and politics.