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History of the Egyptian Constitution

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This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
Constitution (history)
Political parties (former)
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The Constitution of Egypt has passed over a long period of evolution from the liberal constitution of 1923 to the contemporary constitution.

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  • ✪ The Constitution of the Spartans
  • ✪ Freedom of Religion: Crash Course Government and Politics #24
  • ✪ √ Ancient Greek Writers Herodotus Thucydides Xenophon Aristotle | iitutor


"It occurred to me one day that Sparta, though among the most thinly populated of the states, was evidently the most powerful and most celebrated city in Greece; and I fell to wondering how this could have happened. But when I considered the institutions of the Spartans, I wondered no longer." So begins a seminal text called "The Constitution of the Spartans," written by a guy called Xenophon in the early 4th century B.C.E. Xenophon was a native Athenian who was allowed to live with the Spartans for several years, leaving us the best surviving account of the Spartan way of life. If not for Xenophon, we would know very little of their strange customs. What were these strange customs? Basically, ancient Sparta configured their entire society to maximize military proficiency at all costs. Their incredible discipline and their ability to mobilize their entire male population allowed this tiny city to become the dominant land power in Greece. Their Greek contemporaries spoke the same language and worshipped the same gods, and yet they all looked at Sparta like they were from another planet. So, what do we know about Spartan institutions, and why did Xenophon consider them the source of Spartan strength? Sparta was a diarchy. That means that they had two kings, from two royal dynasties, who were equal in power, operating in parallel. According to Sparta's founding myth, Heracles himself came from across the sea with his supporters, conquering the land that would later become Sparta, and enslaving the local Greek population. He then gifted this land to two of his descendents, the twins Eurysthenes and Procles. Their descendents would go on to found the Agiad and Eurypontid royal dynasties, who, together, would rule the city for the next 700+ years. So, according to the story that they told themselves, the Spartans were foreign occupiers. This was central to the Spartan identity. So central that they viewed every non-Spartan as a potential threat. This even applied to their own slaves. The descendants of the original enslaved Greeks were known as the Helots. The Helots outnumbered the Spartans at, well, we don't know, I've seen 3 to 1, I've seen 7 to 1, either way by a lot. Because of this, the Spartans lived in a state of constant anxiety that the enslaved Greeks would one day get their act together and rise up against their foreign overlords. The Spartans held it as almost an article of faith that that if their city ever fell, the killing blow would be delivered by a Helot rebellion. So why did they tolerate the constant stress that came with the domination of the Helots? Well, this large scale enslavement produced a massive amount of wealth. When each Spartan male reached adulthood, the city of Sparta awarded him an allotment of public farmland, and a contingent of Helot slaves to work on it. The wealth that each farm generated was enough to basically turned every Spartan citizen into a landed aristocrat. In other words, they were so rich that nobody had to work for a living. And yet, even with all of this free public farmland subsidizing the Spartan lifestyle, private property still existed. Why does this matter? Because Spartan inheritance law was so radical that it terrified everybody else in Greece. Stick with me. When a Spartan man died, his public alotment of farmland went back to the state, but his private property went to his wife. Not his son. His wife. This may seem like a small difference at first, but consider this: husbands dying young was an extremely common occurrence in such a militarized society. Many of these women who had inherited their husband's wealth would devote the rest of their lives to taking their small fortunes and turn them into large ones. Eventually, when these wealthy women died, their land would pass equally to their male and female children. This is the radical bit. Now, imagine a rich young woman with inherrited wealth marrying an equally rich young man. If that young man died in battle, which happened a lot, his wife would inherit his entire estate, and go from rich to ultra-rich. Then, she had her whole life ahead of her to expand her wealth even further, and pass it on to her sons and daughters. In other words, rich women tended to produce more rich women. These rich women married rich men, and during periods when lots of husbands died young, this created a snowball effect. These ultra-rich women are sometimes referred to as the Spartan Heiresses. Aristotle wrote that in his time, nearly 40% of all Spartan territory was owned and administered by a small group of extremely wealthy women. Their wealth dwarfed every other Spartan's by orders of magnitude, including the two Spartan kings. They were a political constituency unto themselves. I want to drive this point home. A times, some of the most powerful men in Sparta, even the kings, were completely dependent on loans from the Spartan Heiresses. Their influence was immense. Periodically, politicians in Sparta would start talking about land reform, and every time, the Spartan Heiresses would block it by flooding the system with money and buying off politicians. The rest of Greece was horrified that such a small group of women had such a tight grip on Spartan politics. Aristotle complains at length about how wealthy Spartan wives tended to dominate their less wealthy husbands, and that the entire population of women have been ruined by their "intemperance and luxury." To me, "intemperance and luxury" just sounds like they were havin' a good time. So the Spartans were ridiculously wealthy, but even after hundreds of years, they still obsessively thought of themselves as foreign occupiers. In their minds, they were always just one misstep away from the total destruction of their civilization. For this reason, the Spartans placed an extremely high importance on prophecy, and omens. Managing a bunch of sometimes contradictory prophecies can be a full time job, so each king had two attendants to keep track of all of this. If one of the kings had a question for one of the oracles in the region, such as the Oracle of Delphi or Delphi, they would send one of these attendants to go and ask it for them. So in a sense, the kings were the chief religious officials in the city. Their presence served as a religious justification for the city's continued existence, which was central to Spartan religious life. But in a practical sense, the city continued to exist because of Sparta's incredible military prowess. Strictly speaking, the kings were the only two people allowed to lead Sparta's armies. While one of the kings was on campaign, he basically transformed into an absolute monarch. His word was law. He held life and death power over every Spartan citizen, and could even confiscate property if he deemed it necessary for the war effort. The Spartan kings were entitled to a portion of everything that was captured in battle, but this didn't necessarily make them super wealthy. Being king was an expensive job. As I said before, the kings regularly, you might even say compulsively, consulted with oracles. When doing this, the kings were expected to make a king-sized donation to the host temple. To short-change the temple would be to directly insult that temple's god. This was unthinkable to the superstitious Spartans. The kings had another massive expense, often overlooked. When on campaign, they had to bring some of their personal livestock with them, and make animal sacrifices before virtually every important decision. If, after the sacrifice, the omens were still bad, the king had to continue making sacrifices until the omens changed. Slaughtering this many animals meant that while on campaign, the kings would just be hemorrhaging money. Animal sacrifices became so frequent that at some point, to ensure that the kings never ran out, there was a law passed that said that one piglet from every litter had to be taken and added to the king's personal livestock. That's an insane number of pigs. I mentioned a law being passed. The kings had nothing to do with that. Their jobs were religious and military, and that's it. Governence was left to others. The people in Sparta who actually wrote legislation were called the Ephors. Their name translates as something like the overseers, and why the Spartans called them that will become clear in a minute. Sparta had 5 Ephors, each at least 45 years old, and each elected for a 1-year term. Once an Ephor had served his term, he was barred from ever serving again. I say elected, but it was more complicated than that. We don't have a complete picture of exactly how this worked, but from what we can tell the Spartans popularly elected an unknown number of candidates, and then five of those elected were chosen at random to serve as Ephors for that year. In other words, we know that the selection process was randomized to a degree, but we don't know to what degree. Were there 10 candidates to chose from, or 100? We have no idea. Aristotle says that this office usually went to relatively poor Spartans, and if that's true, there may have been a lot of randomness at play. At the beginning of the Spartan new year, when the Ephors assumed office, they immediately renewed Sparta's war against the Helots in an elaborate ceremony. The whole thing served as a reminder to all Spartans that they were not native to this land, and that in theory, they were in a state of perpetual warfare against their own slaves. In practice, the Spartans used this state of war to justify all sorts of autrocities toward the Helot population, who, from what we can tell, did nothing to deserve any of it. I would encourage you to go and look some of this stuff up. It's chilling. So on their first day, the Ephors singled out the Helots. What did they do for the rest of the year? What did they oversee? They oversaw the kings. At the beginning of each new month, the 2 kings and the 5 Ephors would get together, and exchange the following oaths. The kings would say to the Ephors, "I will reign according to the established laws of the state," and the Ephors would answer, "while you abide by your oath, we will keep the kingship unshaken." "Kingship unshaken?" What does that mean? The Ephors had an incredible amount of power to exercise oversight. If the king was acting in a way they didn't like, they could hold a vote, and with a straight majority of 3 to 2, they could formally charge a king with a crime. If a king was charged, there would be a trial. The Ephors were responsiblie for collecting and presenting the evidence, and then they would join forces with another body called the Gerousia to serve together as a jury. I'll talk about them later. If a king was found guilty, a bunch of things could happen. On one end of the spectrum he could be fined, and on the other, he could be stripped of the crown and banished from Sparta. In the case of banishment, the crown simply passed to the next in line to the throne. Remember, according to the Spartans, Heracles himself had given their kings the right to rule this land. Removing a king was bad enough, but they would never upset the line of succession. But the removal of a king was a rare occurrence. Even if a king was stuck with a group of hostile Ephors, they were going to be gone in a year. The kings would have been savvy enough to know when to keep a low profile and wait for their enemies to leave office. But during wartime, the kings couldn't hide. They needed to be out leading Sparta's armies, and when they went on campaign, two Ephors went with them. Two is an important number here. Two Ephors couldn't do anything on their own, they couldn't charge the king with a crime, or interfere in any way with the conduct of the war, but they could take notes, and report to the Ephors back home what they saw. Once hostilities had ceased, together they could decide if the king had overstepped his bounds. But during normal streches of time, when Sparta was not at war, the Ephors spent most of their time writing policy. Simple votes were taken between the 5 Ephors, and with a simple majority of 3, a proposal was approved. There were virtually no constraints on what they could dream up, but just because something got the approval of the Ephors didn't meant that it became law. There was a mechanism for that, and we'll cover it later. Debates about taxes and spending obviously took up a lot of their time, but so did basic rules about morality, and Spartan lifestyle. Once the Ephors agreed on a piece of legislation, they would present it before an assembly of all adult male Spartan citizens. Once they heard the proposal, the Spartans would verbally vote yea or nay. No ammendments, no discussion, just yea or nay. So if you want to summarize what we have so far, the two kings served as Sparta's religious figureheads and military leaders, while the 5 Ephors provided oversight, and passed legislation with the consent of the people. There were also a bunch of smaller things that the Ephors had control over. They got to decide who was allowed into and out of Spartan territory. This included merchants, diplomats, and curious writers, like Xenophon, whose work was crutial in the research for this video. Xenophon was able to live in Sparta for several years, striking up a close friendship with one of the kings. But even for Xenophon, his future in Sparta was always uncertain. Every year new Ephors came to power, and every year they reevaluated whether or not they would allow this foreigner to live in their midst. The Ephors were always reluctant to send Spartans abroad, even if there was a good reason for it. This is because Spartans had a reputation for going hog wild once they were away from home. We're talkin' out of control drinking, gambling, whoring, fighting, it was like a Spartan rumpspringa. Spartans were very good at living under their strict code of conduct in their own communities, but once they were out on their own, anything was up for grabs. What else did the Ephors do? Well, they took an active role the education of children. When a group of boys graduated into adulthood, the Ephors picked three from the "graduating class," who, in their opinion, had outperformed their peers, and best exemplified Spartan values. These three boys were then each allowed to pick 100 of their peers, with the Ephors scrutinizing and questioning each selection along the way. When it was all done, the three boys selected by the Ephors became officers, each boy's 100 selections became their subordinates. Together, they became the royal guard to one of the kings. As soon as the Ephors completed their 1-year term, they were hauled in before their successors, to account for everything that they had done during their year in power. Basically, they had to undergo a formal review. If any of them were found to be abusing their power, their successors had the authority to punish them in any way they saw fit. The randomized selection process and the 1-year terms of the Ephors could have introduced a lot of instability into the Spartan system, but this review mechanism discouraged the Ephors from trying anything too radical. Maybe to a fault. Every surviving account we have of the Ephors is missing something important. There are no stories of any significant legislative accomplishments. None. That's weird, right? There could be a few reasons for this. Maybe everybody was scared of this formal review process at the end of the year. Or, maybe it happened, but nobody there to write it down. As it is, our sources are super patchy, and the only reason we know half of this stuff was because Xenophon happened to be pals with one of the kings. Or, maybe the Ephors were constrained by an external group. That brings us to the Gerousia. The Gerousia provided a check on the power of the Ephors, which we'll get into in a minute. Gerousia means something like the Council of Elders, and it was made up of 28 members. The two kings were also honourary members, bringing its official number up to 30. Apart from the two kings, members of the Gerousia had to be men over the age of 60, and were expected to be men of merit and accomplishment. That was the expectation, anyway. In practice, they all seemed to come from the same small circle of wealthy, well connected families. This was an elected position, but unlike the Ephors, these ones were held for life. When a member died, there seems to have been intense competition for the open spot. It's hard to be certain, but some scholars believe that political factions rose up around the two royal houses, and that each faction jockeyed to get their candidate elected. So what did the Gerousia do? This body was allowed to set aside any decision that was approved by the assembly of Spartan citizens. In other words, they had veto power. The Ephors could write the legislation, Spartan citizens could approve it, and at the last minute the Gerousia could step and be like "nah, we're good." They could even take it one step further. The Gerousia set the agenda for every meeting of the Assembly, which meant that the Ephors could have all of this lovely legislation written, and all the Gerousia had to do was say "no, that's not going on the schedule." Since the Ephors only served for one year, the Gerousia could easily block them until a new batch was elected. As you can imagine, the Gerousia had a significant conservative influence on Spartan political culture. Reforms were not going to happen unless the Gerousia was on board. When an assembly of Spartan citizens were voting, the Gerousia had a super weird job. Members of the Gerousia would sit in another building, not far from the proceedings. The Ephors would preside over the meeting and present their legislation, and the people would vote on it. Again, voting was done verbally. The Gerousia, sitting a short distance away, could not see what was going on, but could hear the voting. After the vote, the Gerousia would come forward, and announce which side was louder. The louder side won the vote. The idea was that this would keep the Gerousia impartial, but I mean... they were still allowed to veto the results if they didn't like them. As I mentioned before, if a king was on trial, or a citizen was on trial for a serious crime like murder, the Ephors and the Gerousia joined forces to form a 35 person jury. Presumably, since the kings were honourary members of the Gerousia, they got to be on the jury at their own trial. Weird. A simple majority decided the result, and since the elected members of the Gerousia held 28 of the 35 seats on the jury, they always held the balance of power. Just in case anything they did ever went to trial, the kings liked to informally consult with the Gerousia before any major decision. It made the old men feel important, and if the Ephors decided to come after the king, it was always nice to know that he had acted with the Gerousia's consent. Sparta was a notoriously cautious and conservative state, and it's clear to me that the Gerousia was the primary institutional source of that caution. Writing centuries after Sparta's decline, the Roman politician Cicero, you know, that guy, heaped praise upon the Spartan system. He liked how the kings were always hyper-aware that they could be removed from office at a moment's notice. He liked how the Ephors had to justify all of their actions to their successors at the end of their term. He liked how powerful the Gerousia was, and how these wise old men could balance competing interests, or shut down legislation if things were getting out of hand. He thought that this was an incredibly stable way to build institutions, and as a conservative, Cicero loved stability. Xenophon agreed, calling Spartan institutions and the stability they provided the source of its strength. But in the end, maybe it was too stable. At the height of its power, Sparta was able to mobilize its entire male citizenry into an army of at least 20,000 men, maybe more. 150 years later, in Alexander the Great's time, this number had shrunk to 1,000 men, for unknown reasons. This is why Alexander's father Philip felt comfortable shrugging off Spartan threats. 150 years after that, when the Romans started getting their hands dirty in Greece, Sparta was nothing more than an insignificant village, a curiosity, still living under kings, and Ephors, and the Gerousia, and still observing their strict ancient customs. The causes of this precipitous decline are not known to us, but maybe, over the couse of those 300 years, a key reform or two could triggered a recovery. Maybe increasing in immigration rate from zero would have helped. Maybe they could have offered citizenship to certain number of Helot slaves. Maybe they could have relaxed their strict marriage laws. You know. Reforms. Ideas. Solve the problem. This is what governments are for. Despite their worst fears, the Spartans invaders were never overthrown by a Helot uprising, or by a coalition of angry Greeks. Instead, they allowed themselves to wither, and atrophy, only to be conqured by another set of invaders, who saw them as nothing more than a bunch of archaic freaks, left over from a more illustrious time.


Ancient Egypt

Egypt is known for having one of the earliest administrative and legislative codes in history. Pharaonic civilization laid the groundwork in Egypt in terms of governance and management. The king, or Pharaoh, at the top of the state hierarchy, appointed high-ranking government officials.

Early Islamic era

During the Islamic era, governance and legislation were principally drawn from the Qur'an and the Sunna (Traditions of the Prophet) based on the formula of consultation as one of the fundamental principles of Islamic law.

When Egypt became the capital of the Shi'ite Fatimid Caliphate (969-1171) governance and legislation developed. Furthermore, the city of Cairo became the capital of Egypt.

Throughout the era of the Ayubi state (1171–1250), the Citadel became the headquarters and the center of power. Legislative and judicial councils diversified, and there was a justice council and another to attend to complaints lodged. Their duties involved laws as well as treaties with foreign countries

In the Mamluk era (1250–1517) Sultan El-Zaher Bebars built the Court of Justice at Salah El-Deen El-Ayoubi Citadel to be the government premises. Its competence covered enforcement of laws, settling of disputes, and negotiations with nearby countries.

Ottoman Empire

During the Ottoman era, (1517–1805) Islamic courts constituted the judicial system. Judges had their verdicts directly based on Islamic jurisprudence (Sharia) as far as civil and criminal disputes were concerned. This continued in effect until the end of the 18th Century. Thus, Egypt had been the scene of crucial political and social developments.

In 1795, almost six years after the French revolution, a major political uprising demanding rights, freedoms and justice fueled. It brought together national forces and popular leaderships in support of national demands for justice, equality, and freedom.

As a result of the mounting resistance against the Ottoman ruler, the Wali, and Mamluks, Egypt was on the verge of a massive revolt. This led to the Ulama laying their hands on a written document which outlined the relationship between the ruler and subject which averted a raise in taxes without the consent of the people's representatives.

20th century

The first 20th century constitution for Egypt is that of 1923.

10th of February 1953 second constitutional declaration

In December 1952 there was the first constitutional declaration then in 10th of February 1953 there was a second constitutional declaration.

In 1956, a new Constitution was proclaimed stipulating the formation of the National Assembly on 22 July 1957. It was made up of 350 elected members and remained effective until 10 February 1958, when the Egyptian-Syrian merger was given force and the 1956 Constitution revoked. The Provisional Constitution of the Arab Republic of Egypt was formulated in March 1958, and a joint National Assembly was established. It first met on 21 July 1960 and lasted to 22 June 1961.

On 27 September 1962, after the secession of the Syrian Arab Republic from the United Arab Republic, a Constitutional Proclamation was made, which stipulated that the Provisional Constitution of 1958 should remain in force insofar as it did not contradict the Proclamation. In March 1964, a further provisional Constitution was declared, leading to a 350-elected member National Assembly. This Assembly lasted from 26 March 1964 to 12 November 1968. New elections were held on 20 January 1969, and the Assembly was valid until 30 August 1971.

In 1971, when President Anwar Sadat took office, he moved towards the adoption of a new democratic constitution that would allow more freedoms; the return to a more sound parliamentary life, correct democratic practice[citation needed] and made Sharia "a source of legislation" (article II), amended in 1980 to read "the principal source of legislation."

21st century

In 2005, President Hosni Mubarak asked the parliament to amend Article 76 of the constitution that defines how the President of Egypt is elected.

2011 Egyptian revolution

During the 2011 Egyptian revolution, opponents to President Mubarak demanded modifications to the constitution or rewriting it.[citation needed] On 10 February 2011, Mubarak stated that he had requested that Articles 76, 77, 88, 93 and 181 be amended and that Article 179 be removed.[1] Following Mubarak's resignation, the military government of Egypt appointed the Egyptian constitutional review committee of 2011 and proposed that Articles 76, 77, 88, 93, 139, 148 and 189 be amended and Article 179 removed.[2] On March 30, a new provisional constitution was adopted based on the amended articles in addition to other aimed at steering through the transition period of constitutional reform. A new constitution was approved in 2012.[3]

2013 Egyptian coup d'état

President Mohamed Morsi was overthrown on 3 July 2013 in a coup d'état, necessitating the revision of the constitution.[4] A constitutional referendum took place from 14–15 January 2014.[5]

List of written constitutions


  1. ^ Adams, Richard (10 February 2011). "Mubarak refuses to resign - Thursday 10 February". The Guardian. London.
  2. ^ Saleh, Yasmine (27 February 2011). "Factbox: Proposed changes to Egypt's constitution". Thomson Reuters. Archived from the original on 27 February 2011. Retrieved 27 February 2011.
  3. ^ "Egyptian constitution 'approved' in referendum". BBC News. 23 December 2012. Retrieved 23 September 2013.
  4. ^ "Egypt's timetable for transition to elections". Associated Press. 9 July 2013. Retrieved 23 September 2013.
  5. ^ Gregg Carlstrom (14 December 2013). "Egypt president sets date for referendum". Al Jazeera English. Retrieved 27 December 2013.

This page was last edited on 22 September 2019, at 05:58
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