Egypt - Political background

Part of the Ottoman Empire from 1517, Egypt became a British protectorate in 1914 and an independent monarchy in 1922. The Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936 recognized full Egyptian sovereignty and provided for the gradual withdrawal of British troops. However, troop withdrawal was postponed when Italy invaded Egypt in 1940. After World War II, British forces did withdraw, with the exception of a military contingent in the Suez Canal Zone.

The monarchy was overthrown on 23 July 1952, in a bloodless military coup led by Colonel Abdul Nasser, and the country was declared a republic one year later. Egypt merged with Syria in 1958 to form the United Arab Republic. The former retained that name when Syria broke away from the union in 1961, finally readopting the name of Egypt in 1971. Under its present constitution, Egypt has a democratic-socialist system of government. The Islamic code is a principal source of legislation.

The president, who must be of Egyptian parentage and at least 40 years of age, is nominated by at least one-third of the members of the People's Assembly, approved by at least two-thirds, and elected by popular referendum. His term is for six years, and he may be reelected for subsequent terms. He has broad executive authority and may appoint one or more vice presidents, as well as all ministers. He also holds the power to dismiss these individuals.

The People's Assembly, elected for five years, is a legislative body that approves general policy, the budget, and the development plan. Under the state constitution, it has not less than 444 elected members, at least half of whom are workers or farmers. The president may appoint up to 10 additional members. Elections to the People's Assembly were held in November 2000. The ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) took 353 seats in the People's Assembly.

A second legislative body, the Advisory Council, functions only as an advisory body. It held elections in 1995 and the NDP took 99% of the 264 seats. This near sweep was aided by a provision allowing the president to appoint 88 members to the council. A date for the next election to the Advisory Council has not been determined.

In June 1977, the People's Assembly adopted a new law, which permitted the formation of political parties for the first time since 1953. Presently, there are four opposition parties represented in the assembly, but their representation is negligible compared to the overwhelming majority enjoyed by the NDP. All new parties must be approved by the government, and religious parties are illegal. Since the main source of opposition to the current government is the Muslim Brotherhood, an illegal religious organization, the real contest for power in Egypt takes place outside the party and legislative systems.

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