Egypt: The Evolution of Judicial Supervision of elections

Updated January 2012

The issue of judicial supervision of elections was at the centre of a decade-long struggle between judges and the state. The Judiciary has historically been a highly revered state institution. Thus, Egyptians regarded it as a body that can be trusted to conduct elections in a neutral manner. The 1971 constitution stipulated that a judicial body must supervise election, but before 2000 elections were administered primarily by the Ministry of Interior, with judges playing no real supervisory role. On the heels of growing domestic calls for electoral reform in June 2000, the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) suspended the existing electoral law and imposed full judicial supervision of elections for the first time in Egyptian history. Despite some positive changes, however, oversight of the elections remained with the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Justice-responsible for administering judicial supervision-and judicial personnel selected to cover polling stations included many state prosecutors and other non-judges.

In 2005 before Egypt's presidential and parliamentary elections, judges demanded for increased autonomy in election supervision. As a result, Article 76 of the constitution was amended and two independent commissions-a High Election Commission and a Presidential Election Commission-were established. The two commissions were not particularly effective in curbing electoral fraud, but judges played an important role in ensuring a degree of integrity, at least inside polling places, and in stopping abuses in many races. The two commissions were temporary and ceased to function following the 2005 elections. Furthermore, in 2007, the language of Article 88 of the Constitution was altered to remove elections from direct judicial supervision and place them under the control of a new body, also then named the Higher Election Commission (HEC) but having little or no independence. Disciplinary action was taken against judges who continued to demand judicial supervision. The demand of judicial supervision of elections remained a key demand of the opposition from 2007 to the 2011 revolution.