Developments in Egypt

Published: March 4, 2011

Since 2005, ICNL has worked with local and international partners in Egypt to promote an enabling legal and regulatory environment for civil society and prevent the imposition of new restrictions on freedom of association. In the wake of the Egyptian Revolution, ICNL and our partners continue to monitor developments related to freedom of association and freedom of assembly in that country.

As widely reported, the Constitutional Revision Committee convened by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has proposed a number of changes to the Egyptian Constitution. While the majority of these changes are related to the presidency and system of election, several proposed amendments will help to expand the enabling environment for civil society. Specifically, the Committee has proposed:

  • Restoring the requirement that a judicial warrant be issued prior to the detention of an individual or the search of his or her home and communications. Constitutional amendments passed in 2007 allowed searches and seizures of any individual accused of terrorism without a warrant. Civil society activists have long complained about the potential abuse of this provision (Article 179) by government authorities attempting to prevent human rights, democracy promotion, and other associational activities.
  • Requiring that any declared state of emergency extending beyond six months be approved by a popular referendum. Civil society leaders have consistently called for an end to the Emergency Law, in force since 1981, arguing that it has been used to interfere with civil society activities and public assemblies. While the proposed revision to Article 148 of the Constitution does not permanently do away with the Emergency Law, it will likely make it more difficult for any future government to maintain a state of emergency beyond a six month period.
  • Allowing the next elected government of Egypt to draft an entirely new constitution. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces gave the Constitutional Revision Committee authority to suggest changes only to a limited number of articles of the Constitution. Egyptian civil society and revolutionary activists criticized this limitation and called for a total overhaul of the Constitution, including Articles 54 and 55 which limit the rights to freedom of assembly and freedom of association in Egypt. The Committee appears to have responded by proposing an amendment to Article 189 of the Constitution to allow the next elected government to convene a constituent assembly and draft an entirely new constitution.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has proposed that a referendum approving the changes be held on March 19, to be followed by parliamentary elections in June and presidential elections in August. While the situation remains fluid, ICNL will continue to support our local partners in Egypt as they advocate for civil society laws that are consistent with international standards and best practices. Among other activities, ICNL will organize a series of civil society law consultations in the first week of May.

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Civic Freedom Monitor: Egypt