A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Friday, November 30, 2012

Another Constitution, Another Demonstration

This photo is of a student demonstration protesting a constitution in Egypt. Unlike today's protests of the new, hastily written draft constitution, this took place nearly 80 years ago.
The protesters are demanding the retraction of the Constitution of 1930 and the restoration of the Constitution of 1923. The caption says that the photo dates from 1935, which would date it after the King's abrogation of the 1930 Constitution on November 30, 1934, though the 1923 Constitution as not restored until December 12, 1935, after a little over a year with neither constitution officially in force.

Constituent Assembly of 1923 (Al-Ahram)
In my earlier post on the 1923-24 Egyptian elections, I mentioned the Constitution of 1923, which followed formal Egyptian independence and the return of Sa‘ad Zaghloul. That Constitution was liberal for its era, though the franchise was limited to males. It was drawn up by a committee of 30.

The 1923 Constitution (and virtually the whole period down to the 1952 Revolution) was characterized by a power struggle between the populist Wafd Party and the King, with the British forming a third power center, despite nominal Egyptian independence. After the British Governor General of the Sudan and head of the Egyptian Army, was assassinated in 1924, the British made sharp demands of the Egyptian Government and Zaghloul resigned as Prime Minister.

Ismail Sidqi
During the rest of the 1920s the King frequently suspended Parliament and power struggles broke out within the Wafd and between the Wafd and the Palace, so the 1923 Constitution was functioning sporadically at best. The rise of Ismail Sidqi as the new political strongman in 1930 led to an attempt to replace it. Sidqi, a former Wafdist who had shared Zaghloul's exile, had split with the Wafd and created a reactionary government in 1930.

Sidqi oversaw the writing of a  new Constitution in 1930 which reduced the number of Deputies from 235 to only 150, gave more power to the already-powerful Throne, and sharply restricted the franchise both financially and in terms of professional qualifications, as well as indirect election of deputies by notables. It was a sharply less liberal Constitution than that of 1923.

Sidqi lost power in 1933 and popular demonstrations led the King to abrogate the 1930 Constitution in late 1934, as noted above. For the next year the Cabinet ruled without a Constitution; finally in December 1935 the "People's Constitution" of 1923 was restored.

The 1923 Constitution remained in effect until the Revolution of 1952 and the overthrow of the Monarchy. The struggle between King, Wafd, and the British (notably in the Abdin Incident of 1942) remained an issue for most of that period.

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