The Egyptian legal system was founded on the Napoleonic Codes, Roman law, and Islamic Shari’a. In 1874, Egypt gained independence from the Ottoman Empire in matters of legal and administrative regulation. In the following year, a national legal system was established. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, jurists and scholars such as the Grand Mufti Muhammed Abdulah, Rashid Rida, and Abdul Razzak Al Sanhouri adopted the European way of legal thinking in commercial, criminal, civil, and maritime matters, but family law remained under the supervision of Islamic courts (El Mahakem El Sharai’a) used to adjudicate family matters until 1956 when these courts were integrated into the national court system. In cases of marital disputes involving non-Muslims, Church substantive law applies.
TheEgyptian Constitution of 1971 (external link) declared the judiciary branch’s independence and autonomy from the executive branch. Furthermore, the Supreme Constitutional Court, established in 1969, is responsible for enforcing compliance of laws with the provisions of the Constitution.
System of Government
Egypt’s system of government reflects a combination of the prime ministerial and presidential systems. The President is the head of state and commander in chief of the armed forces. The Prime Minister acts as the president’s deputy and implements his policies. Both the Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers are appointed and removed by the President. The Parliament enacts laws submitted by the cabinet. In the meantime, the judiciary supervises the enforcement of these laws.
The three main branches of the government as stated in the Egyptian Constitution are (1) the executive branch, (2) the legislative branch, and (3) the judicial branch.
The Executive Branch is headed by the President, who chooses the Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers. According to the Egyptian Constitution, the President must be elected by the Parliament. Once elected, the President serves six consecutive calendar years and can be reelected indefinitely. He has the authority to appoint all the judges of the Supreme Constitutional Court, along with civilian and military judges. In addition, the President appoints ten members of the People’s Assembly (see discussion, below). He also selects eighty-eight out of 246 members of the Shura Council (the Consultative Council).
Legislative Branch (Parliament)
The legislative branch consists of two chambers: the People’s Assembly and the Shura Council (Consultative Council).
The People’s Assembly has the power to enact laws and approve bilateral and multilateral treaties as well as the national budget. It consists of 454 members and 444 of these members are directly elected. The remaining 10 are appointed by the President.
The Shura Council (Consultative Council) acts in a consulting capacity to the President, the executive branch, and the People’s Assembly. Unlike the People’s Assembly, it does not have any legislative powers. While the President appoints eighty-eight members of the Shura Council, the remaining 174 members of the Shura Council are directly elected by the people.
The judicial branch monitors and supervises the implementation and enforcement of laws. Judges are appointed for life with a mandatory retirement at the age of seventy.
According to article 2 of the Egyptian Constitution, Arabic is the official language of the country.
Official Sources of the Law
Constitution (Al Dustour)
The Egyptian Constitution is the supreme law of the land. Article 2 of the Constitution provides that Islam is the state religion and Islamic Shari’a (law) is the main source of legislation. The Constitution of 1971 confirms the principle of separation of powers between the legislative, executive, and judicial branches. The Constitution was amended in 1980 to promote the concepts of human rights, freedom of individuals, and the rule of law.
Laws (Al Tashreaat)
The People’s Assembly passes laws and the President approves those laws. All laws must adhere to constitutional provisions and Islamic Sharia’. The Supreme Constitutional Court has the right to review the constitutionality of laws.
Treaties and International Agreements (Al Atfakyat wa Al Muahadat Al Doulyah)
Treaties and agreements become laws when they are signed and ratified by the executive branch and approved by the People’s Assembly.
Presidential Decrees (Al Qrarrat Al Gomhouriah)
Presidential decrees have the force of law; however, they still need the approval of the People’s Assembly. The President has the authority to issue a presidential decree to dissolve the Parliament.
Prime Ministerial Resolutions (Qrarrat Ra’ais Al Wzaraza’a)
The office of the Prime Minister issues prime ministerial resolutions to coordinate among ministries and enforce the agenda of the President.
Ministerial Resolutions (Al Qrarrat Al Wazarih)
Ministerial Resolutions establish procedures to facilitate the execution of recently enacted laws. These resolutions usually deal with issues pertaining to the ministry’s jurisdiction.
Laws, presidential decrees. and resolutions of the Prime Minister are published in the Egyptian Official Gazette (Al Gareedah Al Rasmeyah), usually within two weeks of their issuance. They become effective one month from the date of publication. Ministerial resolutions as well as other decisions and acts of governors are published in The Egyptian Proceedings (Al Waqa’a Al Rasmeyah), a supplement of the Official Gazette.
The President, any member of the People’s Assembly, and any Minister has the right to propose a bill. Once proposed, a bill is sent to an ad hoc committee for examination and then submitted to the People’s Assembly for a vote. When a majority of the parliamentarians are present in the People’s Assembly, a quorum is established for voting and a vote on each article of the bill may proceed.
After passing a bill, the People’s Assembly sends it to the President for his formal approval and signature. If the President approves the bill, he signs it. It must be published in the Official Gazette within two weeks of its issuance date (the date of signing) and becomes law upon publication. However, the President has the right to return this bill to the People’s Assembly within thirty days if he disagrees with its contents. In the event that a bill is returned to the People’s Assembly, the Assembly may endorse it for the second time if supported by a two-thirds majority vote. If the People’s Assembly approves the bill for the second time, it automatically becomes a law without the approval of the President.
Three-Tiered Judicial Branch
The Egyptian court system includes three tiers: Courts of the First Degree (Mahkmat El Daragah El Aoulah), the Appellate Court (Mahkmat El Esti’anaf), and the Court of Cassation (Mahkmat El Naqd).
Courts of the First Degree
The Courts of the First Degree are responsible for adjudicating misdemeanors and civil disputes involving financial amounts that do not exceed EG£5000 (about US$800). The court consists of one judge. These courts have jurisdiction over commercial, contractual, insurance, intellectual, and real property disputes. The Civil Court of the First Instance does not have jurisdiction over capital crimes.
Courts of Appeal
The Courts of Appeal serve as courts of first instance for capital crimes. There are seven appeals courts located in the major cities of Egypt. Each court has jurisdiction over the region assigned. Each Court of Appeal consists of three judges: a chief justice and two assistants. Their mission is to review decisions related to misdemeanors and civil matters issued by Courts of the First Degree across the country. The court applies civil and criminal codes modeled primarily on the French Napoleonic Codes; therefore, there is no jury system. The Court of Cassation represents the final stage of criminal appeals.
Some circuits within the criminal court have jurisdiction over crimes related to state security. Individuals tried before these circuits do not have the right to appeal the court’s decision except on procedural grounds.
Court of Cassation
There is only one Court of Cassation, located in the capital. Established in 1931, it is considered the highest judicial body in the Egyptian court system. It consists of criminal and civil sections. A defendant or plaintiff may access this court only if a breach of law is claimed as the basis for the appeal. The court’s main objective is to provide a comprehensive and uniform interpretation of the law. The court issues an annual collection of its decisions, entitled Rulings and Principles of the Court of Cassation.
Courts of Special Jurisdiction
In addition to the three-tiered system described above, the Egyptian judicial branch consists of different types of courts with specialized jurisdiction, including the Supreme Constitutional Court (El Mahkmah El Dostouriah El Aolyah), Family Courts (Mahkmat El Ausrah), Military Courts (El Mahakm El Askariyah), Economic Courts (El Mahkmat El Eqtsadyah), Environmental Courts (El Mahkamt El Beaeyah), and Council of State (Administrative Judicial Court) (Mahkmah Al Qda’a El Edari).
Supreme Constitutional Court
The Supreme Constitutional Court was established in 1969. According to Law 48-1979, the court has the authority to determine the constitutionality of the laws passed by the People’s Assembly, identify the jurisdiction of courts, and interpret laws and presidential decrees. The President of Egypt appoints the judges of the court, who serve until the mandatory retirement age.
The Family Courts were established in 2004 to protect children in disputes pertaining to tutelage, divorce, alimony, and custody. These courts apply Islamic Shari’a in disputes involving Muslims, and to married Christian couples who belong to different Christian sects. The courts also apply Islamic law in matters of inheritance. The family court system is a three-tiered system, with first instance, intermediate, and final appellate courts, which reflect the administrative division of the country.
The Military Courts have jurisdiction over military personnel and civilians implicated in crimes related to terrorism and national security. Based on amendment 138-2010 amending Law 234-1959 concerning reserve officers and Law 25 of 1966 on military justice, the jurisdiction of the Military Courts expanded to cover crimes committed in border areas and crimes against facilities of military production. As opposed to the civilian courts, the Military Courts do not have due process. The verdicts of the courts can only be appealed through the High Military Appeals Court. Only the President of the Republic can overturn rulings rendered by the Military Appeal Court.
Law 120-2008 establishes Economic Courts in each Court of Appeal circuit. The Economic Court consists of courts of first instance and courts of appeal. These courts have a jurisdiction over criminal cases stemming from investment operations, laws on consumer protection, and commercial and banking transactions. The economic court system is a three-tiered system, with first instance, intermediate, and final appellate courts.
The Environmental Courts have jurisdiction over civil and criminal violations of environmental laws. They were created to adjudicate crimes causing the pollution of the Nile River. The environmental court system is a three-tiered system, with first instance, intermediate, and final appellate courts.
The Council of State (Administrative Judicial Court System)
Established in 1946, the Council of State has the right to nullify and repeal administrative decrees issued by the Council of Ministers, the Prime Minister, and the President. The Council consists of the Administrative Judicial Court and the Supreme Administrative Court.
The Administrative Judicial Court has jurisdiction over administrative matters related to government contracts, tenders, and administrative decisions. It is a first instance court.
The Supreme Administrative Court sits at the top of the administrative judicial structure. It is an appellate court that reviews the decisions issued by the Administrative Judicial Court.
- Ministry of Justice (external link)
- State Information Services (external link)
- Egyptian Cabinet of Ministers (external link)
- Egyptian Government (external link)
- Egyptian Official Gazette (external link)
For more information on Egypt see:
- Global Legal Monitor: Egypt
- Egypt: Pending Charges Against Former President Mubarak and Potential Legal Ramifications
- Guide to Law Online: Egypt
- Habeas Corpus Rights: Egypt, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Yemen
- In Custodia Legis: The Legal Ramifications of the Current Political Crisis in Egypt
- In Custodia Legis: Egypt’s Constitutional Referendum
Last Updated: 08/15/2013