Law and Revolution Revisited


American University in Cairo

This paper compares two key moments in Egypt’s modern constitutional law history.  First, the transitional period from the military coup of July 1952, and up to the March 1954 crisis, a period that gave birth to Egypt’s “First Republic” experience – essentially a military regime in civilian garb managing varied rentier interests.  This is compared with Egypt’s current transitional period following the January 25th Revolution, a period that is yet unfolding and hoped to culminate with an alternative legal framework guaranteeing the country some solid break into its “Second Republic.”

More specifically, I explore the role of legal elites in both transitional periods, connecting the chronological sequence of military decrees, transitional basic laws, and revolutionary legislation, both then and now, to the more legalistic debates and conflicting visions of key legal actors associated with both “historical” moments.  I particularly compare the work and scholarship of Abdel-Razzak Al-Sanhuri, the most prominent judge and jurist accredited with designing and sanctioning the military’s legal agenda between 1952 to 1954, and Tareq Al-Bishri, an equally prominent judge and jurist who took on the mantle of a latter-day Sanhuri during the constitutional crisis following Mubarak’s abdication of power to the military, but has since played the role only reluctantly, and even sometimes in open opposition to competing members of the current legal elite.

While it is still too early for a full comparison of the legal framework governing these two transitional periods, the events on the ground so far spur me to an argument of cautionary hindsight, for historically lawyers and revolutions have rarely mixed well, whether in Shakespear’s Henry VI, Paris 1848, or Cairo 2012.