Ten Days to a New Egyptian Constitution?

Ten days is not a lot of time for constitutional reform.

Via the BBC:  Egypt crisis: Army sets constitution reform deadline

Egypt’s ruling military council has announced that work on reforming the country’s constitution is to be completed in 10 days.

A committee led by a retired judge has been tasked with proposing legal changes, said the council.


The eight-member committee is mostly made up of experts in constitutional law but it includes a senior figure from the opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood.

While a quick move to civilian control and elections is all well and good, there are a number of serious questions here.

1.  This report makes this sounds like a reform of the existing (but currently suspended) constitution.  This is problematic because said constitution is considered to be a fairly authoritarian document.  The degree to which tweaking will fix this fact is rather unclear at the moment.   If it is a total rewrite, ten days is crazy quick.

2.  An eight member panel with, at least according to this report, only one clear opposition member?  Granted, one of the great deficiencies that the protestors have is lack of a coherent leadership and, further, the emergency laws that Mubarak governed under made interest group and party formation problematic.    As such, it is difficult to even know who qualifies as opposition leadership.

It may be that the panel will be more representative than the BBC report suggests, but this is a curious way to go about this process and it is not one that lends democratic credibility to the process.

3.  If one is a known expert on Egyptian constitutional law, is it not likely that they may have been able to rise to positions of prominence because they were not threatening to the previous regime?  In other words:  how did one become a prominent legal expert in Mubarak’s Egypt?  The concern may be misplaced, but the question seems worth asking.

Some additional info is provided below. At a minimum it is worth re-iterating that 8 members hand-picked by the military is something of a red flag.

Via al Jazeera  (Ex-judge to head Egypt reform panel):

Egypt’s new army rulers have appointed Tareq al-Bishry, a retired judge, to head a committee set up to suggest constitutional changes.

Al-Bishry was a strong supporter of an independent judiciary during Hosni Mubarak’s rule and is respected in legal circles for his independent views.

“I have been chosen by the Higher Military Council to head the committee for constitutional amendments,” al-Bishry said on Tuesday.

The Higher Military Council had earlier vowed to rewrite the constitution within 10 days and put it to a referendum within two months.

More from the WSJ:

The military council named a retired judge and prominent historian, Tareq al-Bishry, 77 years old, to head the constitutional committee. Mr. Bishry has written two seminal histories of modern Egypt, including one that focuses on relations between the country’s Muslim majority and Coptic Christian minority. He was a judge on the State Council, which hears lawsuits brought by citizens against the government.


Mr. Bishry and another committee member, Cairo University law professor Atef al-Bana, are both considered followers of a modern Islamic school of thought. Though it advocates a liberal and progressive interpretation of Islam, it still makes some secularists, who want to see a strict separation of church and state, uncomfortable.

The lone member of the committee who has a clear partisan affiliation is lawyer Sobhi Saleh, a popular member of the Muslim Brotherhood who represented Alexandria for the group in parliament from 2005 to 2010. No other political parties were represented on the committee.


Still, many opposition leaders seemed comfortable with the committee’s makeup, pointing out that the committee’s mandate was limited to a handful of articles dealing with free elections and democracy.

Abdel Rahman Yousef, a senior official with opposition leader and former International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei’s National Association for Change, called the committee’s makeup “a very good sign from the military.”

“There are no bad names on the list; for me that’s enough,” said Mr. Yousef

It is noteworthy that the group received a least one opposition endorsement. Still, the rapid and non-democratic nature of the process is enough to give some pause.

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Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. ponce says:

    Well, they have quite a long history of Egyptian governance to draw on.

    Cut and Paste!

  2. David says:

    Obama will probably claim half of their “new constitution” were all his ideas from his Cairo speech.


  3. rodney dill says:

    Meet the new boss….

  4. Brummagem Joe says:

    I suspect this is a question of Egyptian time but either way it’s way too early to start sounding alarm bells. Obviously the Army is going try and keep it’s finger on the scales but equally they are likely to be pragmatic about what and what is not politically possible. If after ten or more this committee produces a mouse, with possible dissentients, and the military attempts to foist the mouse on the country it’s hardly likely to get away with it.

  5. Dave Schuler says:

    It’s plenty of time as long as it’s not much of a reform.

  6. anjin-san says:

    > ♬
    Meet the new boss….

    That certainly seems to be the the hope of the far right. Time will tell.

  7. It’s plenty of time as long as it’s not much of a reform.

    And there you go.

  8. Rick Almeida says:

    I know nothing about the Egyptian constitution, but is it possible that there exists a set of relatively modest reforms that reduce the likelihood of another strongman seizing power?

    Eliminating “state of emergency” provisions seems like one such…

  9. @Rick:

    There are likely reforms that can be done to make the document usable for a transition period if they intend to write a truly new constitution. However, it is unclear what the plan is.

    If they plan to reform the old document and then keep as the permanent constitution, this strikes me as potentially quite problematic.

  10. Ben Wolf says:

    I’ve yet to meet a quick decision that wasn’t ill-considered.