Political Developments, 1971-78

Egypt Table of Contents

On September 11, 1971, a new constitution was presented by Sadat and approved by the electorate. The previous constitution had been issued as "provisional" in 1964. The Constitution of 1971 provides additional guarantees against arbitrary arrest, seizure of property, and other Nasser-era abuses. The responsibility of the People's Assembly, which replaced the National Assembly, was widened, but the president clearly retained dominant authority. Sadat dissolved the old legislature on September 8, 1971, and on September 19, he formed a new cabinet.

The Constitution provides that the president may issue binding decrees, which was essentially the way Sadat ruled the country. After ridding himself of Ali Sabri and his allies, Sadat conducted his presidency without the constraints that Nasser had faced. Sadat's government came to be composed of his own handpicked followers, not of colleagues whose opinions he had to consider. Especially during the euphoria following the October 1973 War, Sadat was able to consolidate the power of the presidency in a way that Nasser never had.

Nevertheless, Sadat attempted to allow a certain degree of political expression. Competitive, but not totally free, elections were held for the People's Assembly on October 27, 1971. In 1975 Sadat permitted the establishment of three groupings in the ASU to express the opinions of the left, the right, and the center of the regime. By 1976 the three platforms were permitted, within established guidelines, to act as separate political entities, but each group needed to elect a minimum of twelve deputies to the People's Assembly to be recognized. The leftist group was originally known as the National Progressive Unionist Organization (NPUO--later NPUP when it was allowed to become a party) led by Khalid Muhi ad Din, a Free Officer and a Marxist. The right-wing group was the Socialist Liberal Organization (SLO--later the Liberal or Ahrar Party) led by Mustafa Kamil Murad. The center group was known as the Egyptian Arab Socialist Organization. The country's main political forces, the Wafd, the Muslim Brotherhood, the Nasserites, and the communists, were not allowed representation.

In the October 1976 election, not unexpectedly, the progovernment center platform of the ASU won an overwhelming majority, 280 seats; the SLP won 12 and the NPUP only 2. Independent candidates won forty-eight seats. When he opened the new assembly, Sadat announced that the platforms would become political parties.

In July 1977, Sadat announced that he would establish his own party, the National Democratic Party (NDP), signaling the end of the Arab Socialist Union, which was merged with the NDP. Sadat also wanted a more pliable left-wing opposition party, so the Socialist Labor Party (Amal) was founded with Sadat's brother-in- law as vice president.

Sadat also allowed comparative freedom of action to the Muslim Brotherhood. Sadat felt he could use the Islamic fundamentalists to counter the growing influence of the left. The leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood were freed in 1974 along with other political prisoners. They were not allowed to become a legal organization, but they were allowed to operate openly and to publish their magazine, Al Awd (The Return) as long as they did not criticize the regime too sharply. This policy seemed to work until the peace treaty with Israel, and then the Brotherhood became a severe critic of the regime.

The movement away from a one-party system matched Egypt's turn away from the Soviet Union and toward the United States. Sadat hoped that his new political and economic policies would attract large sums of private American investment. He also felt that the United States was the only country that could pressure Israel into a final peace settlement. To enhance relations with the United States and to respond to the Soviet Union's refusal to reschedule repayments of Egypt's debt, Sadat unilaterally renounced the Soviet-Egyptian Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation in March 15, 1976.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress