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The president and the constitution

Analysis of the draft constitution, part 4: the president

Election, term of office and eligibility

The new constitution will define President Mohamed Morsy’s powers within a semi presidential system. (AFP PHOTO / SAID KHATIB)
The new constitution will define President Mohamed Morsy’s powers within a semi presidential system. (AFP PHOTO / SAID KHATIB)

The president is elected for a four-year term, renewable once. Presidential elections are held 90 days before the end of a presidential term. The result is declared 10 days before its end. The president may not hold a position in a political party.

Candidates and their parents must be Egyptian citizens. They may not be married to a foreigner and must be at least 40 years of age. To be eligible they must gather signatures of at least 20 elected members of parliament, or 20,000 citizens with voting rights from at least 10 governorates, with a minimum limit of 1,000 signatures per governorate.

Elections are simple majority secret ballot polls. If no candidate achieves a simple majority of valid votes, a runoff between the top two candidates is held.


If the president is temporarily absent the prime minister replaces him. If he is permanently absent the lower house of parliament declares the office empty and informs the electoral commission. The speaker of the lower house assumes the presidency temporarily.

The upper house and its speaker perform these duties if the lower house has been dissolved. A new president must be elected within 90 days. The acting president may not run for office, call for constitutional amendments, dissolve the lower house or sack the government in this time.

Appointing government

Like the 1971 Constitution, the draft constitution officially establishes a semi presidential republic with the president sharing executive power with a prime minister.

Also like the previous constitution, the system is only semi presidential in name.

The preliminary draft constitution grants the president powers that exceed even those of a full presidential system, provided the president’s party has a parliamentary majority.

In semi presidential systems, the president as head of state appoints a prime minister who serves as head of government. The prime minister is either the leader of the majority party in parliament or the person most likely to successfully form a coalition government in case no party gains a majority.

Usually, constitutions of semi presidential systems stipulate that a parliamentary majority must approve the appointment of a premier for them to officially form a government.

Article 145 of the draft constitution does not stipulate such a principle. Rather, the president is to unilaterally appoint a prime minister who must form a government within 30 days of assuming office.

That government then has a further 30 days to present the lower house of parliament with its official general plan. Only if the lower house rejects the plan with a majority does the government collectively resign.

The president then selects another prime minister and the process is repeated. If parliament rejects the second government the president names a third prime minister based on the suggestion of the lower house.

If this does not happen within 30 days, the president dissolves the lower house of parliament. The entire process must not take more than 120 days.

The process of appointing a prime minister and government outlined in Article 145 makes it seem like parliament has a say in appointing the government, in that it can force it to resign if it does not approve. In reality parliament’s input is only solicited if it rejects two governments.

More importantly, the lower house faces the threat of dissolution if it does not approve the president’s choice of prime minister within 120 days, even if that prime minister does not represent the parliamentary majority.

Article 145 leads to a constitutional contradiction. A previous article (129) stipulates the lower house of parliament may only be dissolved after a majority of voting citizens do so through a referendum. This article allows the president to dissolve the lower house, rendering a referendum moot.

Legislative powers

Article 147 states that the president signs bills approved by parliament into law. The president also may propose bills to parliament as per Article 99.

The president has initial veto power over bills approved by parliament. If the president does not veto a law within 30 days of parliament passing it, it automatically becomes law.

If the president vetoes the bill before the 30 days, it is sent back to parliament which then can either amend it as per the president’s suggestion and send it back for signing or overturn the veto through a majority of both houses in which case it automatically becomes law.

Nationwide referendum

Article 148 empowers the president to put any “important matter related to the state’s supreme interests” to popular referendum with the results being “binding for all powers of state and all other entities.”

This article provides a vague definition of the matters the president may put to referendum.

It allows the president to override decisions of parliament, it allows the involvement of the entire population in decisions of elected local administration units. Most dangerously allows the president to put court verdicts and other judicial matters to a vote.

Declaring states of emergency

Article 150 stipulates that the president can declare state of emergency after getting the approval of the government, without prior parliamentary approval. Seven days after its declaration, the state of emergency must be voted on in parliament.

Sustaining the state of emergency requires majority approval of the lower house of parliament, or the upper house if the lower is dissolved. The president can only declare a state of emergency for a maximum of six months, renewable only for a further six months and through popular referendum

The president can, in effect, declare short one-week states of emergency with nothing more required than the approval of a government he appointed.

Military leadership

The draft constitution contains two versions of Article 152 which both declare the president Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces.

The first version allows him to declare war following the approval of the lower house of parliament and consulting the National Defence Council. It allows him to send troops abroad with just a majority approval of the lower house of parliament.

The second version is similar but requires the president to consult the National Defence Council on sending troops abroad in addition to declaring war thus compromising the principle of civilian control of the military.

Other powers

The president appoints and removes from office military employees, political envoys to other countries, and he receives and approves the credentials of foreign envoys as per Article 149.

He grants presidential pardons or reduces sentences as per Article 151 although only the law may grant a full pardon.

Article 153 empowers the president to represent the country in all international relations and ratify international treaties following the government’s approval. Parliamentary approval is needed for the treaty to become law.

Delegation of powers

Article 155 states that the president performs his duties through the prime minister, cabinet ministers and deputy ministers. It includes a few exceptions regarding the articles on the president’s wage and financial affairs, the power to appoint the prime minister and government, the power to sign bills into law, the power to declare a state of emergency, and the power to issue presidential pardons.

The phrase “performs his duties” does not indicate whether the presidential powers stated in the constitution are all meant to be performed by the government and prime minister with the president only keeping a few reserve powers, or if the president is the original wielder of all these powers but may choose to devolve some or all powers (except the listed exceptions) to the prime minister and government.

Article 157 complicates matters by stating that the president may devolve any of his powers to the prime minister, deputy prime ministers, cabinet ministers or local governors, without clarifying whether this includes the powers listed as exceptions in Article 155. Article 156 states that the president puts forth the general policies of the state and supervises their execution alongside the government.


The process of impeachment, a new concept for Egyptian constitutions, is outlined in Article 159. The president can be impeached following a written accusation of high treason, felony, abuse of power or violation of the constitution, signed by at least a third of the members of the lower house of parliament.

As soon as the accusation is signed the president is suspended from office and deemed temporarily incapacitated. He is then tried by a special court presided over by the chief justice of the Supreme Constitutional Court. If found guilty the president is permanently removed from office.

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