A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Egypt's 1923 Constitution

As Egypt votes on yet another new Constitution, the second in less than two years, it may be worth remembering Egypt's experience in the "liberal age," the period between the World Wars.

Egypt has had multiple constitutions in its history, and during the Nasser-Sadat-Mubarak eras the ruling party always assured itself of enough seats in Parliament to amend the Constitution at will; though Sadat's 1971 Constitution theoretically remained in effect until 2011, it had been tinkered with so often as to be much altered.

After the Egyptian Revolution of 1919 and the (limited) British recognition of independence in 1922, the 1923 Constitution was written in a moment of nationalist enthusiasm. The 30-man committee that drafted it is shown above. It called for universal male suffrage and elections were held in January 1924, which the Wafd under Saad Zaghloul won. It created a representative system with a division of powers between the legislative and the executive: but not an  equal balance. Though Egypt was a constitutional monarchy, the King retained much power, and would show a readiness to dissolve recalcitrant Parliaments.

Though imperfect, the 1923 Constitution worked for a while, but as the 1920s wore on there was increasing deadlock. In 1930 Prime Minister Ismail Sidqi pushed through a much less liberal constitution with a sharply restricted and property-based franchise, indirect election of deputies, and more power to the King. The 1930 Constitution proved unpopular and there were widespread demonstrations demanding a return to the 1923 charter.

Demonstration against 1930 Constitution
At the end of 1934, the King suspended the 1930 Constitution, though it was a year later, in December 1935, before the 1923 document was restored.

The 1923 Constitution remained in effect until the Free Officers' coup of 1952.

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