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The Center for Constitutional Transitions at NYU Law & International IDEA Reports: Constitutional Design in the Middle East and North Africa

Goal: The Constitutional Transitions Clinic ‘back office’ is preparing a series of thematic, comparative research reports on issues in constitutional design that have arisen in the Middle East and North Africa. Zaid Al-Ali, Senior Adviser on Constitution Building at International IDEA, has acted as an adviser on these reports and has overseen International IDEA’s participation in the report-drafting process. These reports will be
jointly published by Constitutional Transitions and International IDEA in English and Arabic, and will be used as engagement tools in support of constitution-building activities in the region (e.g. in Libya, Tunisia and Yemen).

Date: 1 April 2014 - 1 October 2014

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Sujit Choudhry
added 3 research items
Political party finance law is the set of norms governing the income and expenses of political parties. While many countries have addressed political party finance constitutionally, such provisions are usually phrased in general terms, such as requirements of transparency, leaving the details to law and to the regulations promulgated by enforcement agencies. Legal reforms to political party finance systems are not a panacea; but when written and implemented well, the legal framework can help address significant challenges that face political party systems. Political party finance law can be divided into five basic design areas: the provision of public funds to parties and campaigns; limits on party income; limits on party spending; disclosure of party finances to the public; and enforcement of political party finance laws. These five key areas are intersected by cross-cutting themes, which must be considered throughout: whether party finance rules operate on an ongoing basis, on an electoral campaign basis, or both; whether party finance rules operate at the national, regional and local levels of party organization, or only at some of these; the role of actors who are not parties or candidates; the use of state resources by parties in power; and the importance of incentivizing compliance with party finance rules. This report applies comparative and academic research on political party finance law to the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, with a focus on Egypt, Libya and Tunisia as post-authoritarian states that are currently engaged in comprehensive reform of their political institutions and are utilizing examples from other newer and more established democracies.
The political history of many of the countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region over the last 60 years has been one of strong presidents and weak legislatures. The democratic revolutions of the Arab Spring created the opportunity to reconstitute the political system in a way that marks a fundamental break from the dictatorships of the recent past. This report assesses the contribution that the semi-presidential form of government can make to preventing the re-emergence of presidential dictatorship and consolidating democracy in the MENA region. The failure of the constitutional systems in place before the Arab Spring can be attributed to a combination of three factors. First, presidential power was largely unlimited. Second, the system of government did not allow the legislature to act as an effective check on presidential power. Third, many pre-Arab Spring countries were single-party states, in which much of the bureaucracy and many state institutions were dominated by the president’s political allies and supporters. Semi-presidential government, if carefully designed, can act as a mechanism to ensure that presidential dictatorship does not re-emerge. The design of such a system must be guided by three principles that respond directly to the constitutional failures in the MENA region: (1) limited presidential power, (2) an effective legislature that is capable of exercising oversight of the president and the government and (3) effective and meaningful power sharing between the prime minister and the president. The report applies these principles to the design of a semi-presidential system for the post-Arab Spring MENA region
The Middle East-North Africa (MENA) region is experiencing an unprecedented moment of constitutional transition. Among other constitutional reforms, many countries in the region have adopted, are considering adopting or have strengthened systems of constitutional judicial review as a way of signalling the government’s commitment to the rule of law. While constitutional judicial review is not new to the region, many countries have established a constitutional court—a specialist judicial body with exclusive jurisdiction over constitutional judicial review—in an attempt to strengthen the role of the courts in interpreting and enforcing the constitution. A constitutional court plays many important roles, including promoting the rule of law, protecting individual rights, providing a forum for resolving disputes, enforcing the separation of powers, holding different political players accountable to their constitutional commitments, serving as ‘political insurance’ for opposition parties and symbolizing the end of a period of authoritarian rule. The success of constitutional courts is closely tied to the success of constitutional democracy in the region. Constitutional courts are often called upon to decide on a country’s most pressing political issues, including questions about electoral laws and results, regulating the activities of political parties, enforcing the separation of powers among the branches of government, reforming the legal system after a period of authoritarian rule and overseeing constitutional amendment procedures. The litigants in these disputes are often political parties. Even if the cases do not frame the issues in this way, constitutional interpretation is a site of partisan political conflict among political parties, which constitutional courts are called upon to resolve. The process of appointing judges is central to establishing or reforming a constitutional court. The judicial appointments process determines who will interpret the constitution. This report investigates how constitutional court appointment procedures can be designed to promote both judicial independence and judicial accountability to a democratically elected government.
Sujit Choudhry
added a project goal
The Constitutional Transitions Clinic ‘back office’ is preparing a series of thematic, comparative research reports on issues in constitutional design that have arisen in the Middle East and North Africa. Zaid Al-Ali, Senior Adviser on Constitution Building at International IDEA, has acted as an adviser on these reports and has overseen International IDEA’s participation in the report-drafting process. These reports will be
jointly published by Constitutional Transitions and International IDEA in English and Arabic, and will be used as engagement tools in support of constitution-building activities in the region (e.g. in Libya, Tunisia and Yemen).