Egypt’s Judiciary in a Postrevolutionary Era

  • Nathan J. Brown
Part of the The Sciences Po Series in International Relations and Political Economy book series (SPIRP)


Revolutions have many battlefields, and the Egyptian uprising of 2011 was no different: it took place most famously in the streets and public squares of Egyptian cities, but it also played out inside public buildings, on the airwaves, on television talk shows, and within homes.1 In this sense, for all its drama, the uprising was not unusual. But its aftermath was more atypical because of the rapidity with which post-uprising politics moved into court rooms, generated lawsuits, expressed itself in legal forms, and indeed quickly took the shape of complex legal and constitutional knots. The fate of two deposed presidents was handed to ordinary criminal courts rather than any revolutionary tribunal; major decisions about the course of political reconstruction were made by the administrative courts and the Supreme Constitutional Court. When in July 2013 the military deposed the president elected by the people a year earlier, the figure placed temporarily in his stead—acting, the military claimed, on popular demand—was the chief justice of the Constitutional Court. Throughout the tumultuous events, leading political positions—the vice presidency, the chairmanship of the Constituent Assembly—were awarded to former judges. A critical political relationship—between the presidency and the military—was managed by dueling constitutional declarations and texts (in which the presidents’ text trumped that of the generals in 2012 only to be overturned in 2013) until a freshly retired general finally assumed the presidency in June 2014.


Parliamentary Election Judicial Independence Muslim Brotherhood Legislative Authority Administrative Court 
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  1. 1.
    An earlier version of this chapter was published as a Carnegie Document. See Nathan J. Brown, “Egypt’s Judges in a Revolutionary Age,” The Carnegie Papers (Carnegie Endow ment for International Peace, February 2012).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    There is now a considerable body of scholarship on Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court. My own contributions are included in The Rule of Law in the Arab World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997) and Constitutions in a Nonconstitutional World: Arab Basic Laws and the Prospects for Accountable Government (Albany: SUNY Press, 2001). On the rise and fall of the Court’s role, see Tamir Moustafa, The Struggle for Constitutional Power: Law, Politics, and Economic Development in Egypt (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009).Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    On the ideological trends among the judiciary specifically and the legal community more generally, see Bruce Rutherford, Egypt after Mubarak (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009).Google Scholar
  4. 7.
    Lisa Hilbink Judges beyond Politics in Democracy and Dictatorship (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007) shows some illiberal and undemocratic tendencies that grew out of a similarly nonpartisan and autonomous judiciary in Chile. My own sense is that the Egyptian judiciary has stronger liberal leanings as a body than their Chilean counterparts, though their sense of professionalism can certainly express itself in less than fully democratic ways.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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© Nathan J. Brown 2016

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  • Nathan J. Brown

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