Communiqué on the Suspension of the Membership of Egypt by the African Union, 5th July 2013 (PSC/PR/COMM.(CCCLXXXIV)), OXIO 115
African Union; Egypt [eg]
1. Whether a Member State of the African Union has the right to continue as a member if its government has been ousted by a military coup.
The African Union (AU) suspended the membership of Egypt from the AU following a military coup in Egypt in July 2013. An act of international organizations relevant for general international law, the decision of the AU is part of its practice regarding unconstitutional changes of government. The Communiqué on the Suspension of the Membership of Egypt by the African Union (‘Communiqué’) is of particular importance as it differs from the way in which the majority of states and international organizations reacted to the coup.
After ruling Egypt for thirty years, Hosni Mubarak stepped down from office in 2011 and, in June 2012, Morsi became the first democratically elected president of the country. However, the elected government served for only one year and the Egyptian military, led by General Sisi, took power in a military coup in July 2013.
Egyptian military officials defined their action as a ‘popular revolution’. Although the military unseated a democratically elected president, this move was not perceived as a coup by all and the reaction of the international community was mixed. The day following the coup, the European Parliament adopted a resolution and affirmed its ‘deep concern at the situation in Egypt following the military intervention’ (see European Parliament Resolution on the Crisis in Egypt). In parallel, the US president did not qualify the act as a coup, merely expressing concern about the situation.
The most unequivocal response came from the AU which, in the Communiqué of the Peace and Security Council (‘Council’) dated 5 July 2013, suspended the participation of Egypt in the AU’s activities in accordance with Article 30 of the Constitutive Act of the African Union (2001), which states that ‘[g]overnments which shall come to power through unconstitutional means shall not be allowed to participate in the activities of the Union’.
The Communiqué stressed that political turmoil did not come to an end after the first democratic elections in Egypt. Moreover the political atmosphere remained partisan while the economic situation and security problems continued to be a major concern among people. [para 3]
The Council stated its deep concern regarding the overthrow of the elected president and underscored the possible implications this might have for Egypt’s stability, which might also create not only national but regional consequences. [para 4] The Council further noted ‘the relevant AU instruments on unconstitutional changes of [g]overnment, notably the Lomé Declaration of July 2000 and the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance of January 2007, which provide for the automatic implementation of specific measures whenever an unconstitutional change of [g]overnment occurs, and reiterate[d] AU’s condemnation and rejection of any illegal seizure of power’. [para 5]
After having stated that the overthrow of the elected president is considered to be an unconstitutional change of government in light of the aforementioned AU instruments, the Council decided ‘to suspend the participation of Egypt in the AU’s activities until the restoration of constitutional order’. [para 6] Finally, it welcomed ‘the plan of the Chairperson of the Commission to dispatch a team of high-level personalities to Egypt to interact with the ruling authorities and other Egyptian stakeholders, as they work towards a transition that would lead to an early return to constitutional order’. [para 9]
Although differing in each case, ranging from travel bans for some countries to simple statements of condemnation for others, since the adoption of the Declaration on the Framework for an OAU Response to Unconstitutional Changes of Government (‘Lomé Declaration’), the Organization of African Unity (OAU)—the predecessor of the AU—and its successor had a consistent approach in refusing to accord legitimacy to military juntas. In the Lomé Declaration, the OAU had stated that it ‘unanimously rejected any unconstitutional change as an unacceptable and anachronistic act, which is in contradiction of our commitment to promote democratic principles and conditions’, and recognized four different forms of governmental change that would qualify as an unconstitutional change. The Council also referred to the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance (2007), to which Egypt is not a party. However, the Communiqué did not precisely mention on which provisions or articles of these two instruments, or which type of unconstitutional change of government as cited in the Lomé Declaration, the decision was based. It confined itself to referring to the two instruments forming the base of the AU’s principles regarding unconstitutional changes of government.
The AU’s consistent practice in suspending Member States where the government has been ousted by a military coup can be exemplified by the cases of, inter alia, Togo (2005), Guinea (2008), Madagascar (2009), Niger (2010), and Mali (2012). The suspension of Egypt by the AU is a continuation of such practice. Two caveats must be noted in this regard. Firstly, the AU adopted a neutral approach to governmental changes that followed the Arab Spring of 2011 in Libya, Egypt, and Tunisia. Secondly, it is also noteworthy that regarding the 2013 power takeover in Egypt, the Council abstained from defining the incident as a military coup and only expressed that the situation fell ‘under the definition of an unconstitutional change of [g]overnment’ as prescribed in its relevant instruments. [para 6] This is in contradiction with its aforementioned suspension decisions, where it expressly stated that military coups were in violation of the AU’s principles on democracy.
The AU did not hesitate to take action against the overthrow of the elected president in Egypt and demonstrated a determined reaction. Other international organizations and states had a more moderate approach and this indicated how adamant the AU is towards unconstitutional changes of government. At the United Nations (UN) level, the Security Council has been silent on the subject. When the meeting records of the UN General Assembly are examined, it is possible to remark that a great majority of states which referred to the situation in Egypt, avoided use of the term ‘coup’. This challenges the Decision on the Prevention of Unconstitutional Changes of Government and Strengthening the Capacity of the African Union to Manage Such Situations (2010), taken by the AU Assembly where it urged ‘all non-African international bodies, including the United Nations and its General Assembly, to refrain from granting accreditation to such authorities’.
Despite the suspension decision, the AU continued to collaborate with Egypt in order to provide assistance for the restoration of constitutional order. On 8 July 2013, it dispatched the High-Level Panel for Egypt (‘Panel’)—composed of former presidents and prime ministers of AU members—to meet and discuss the transition period with Egyptian authorities and ways to protect advances made in the 2011 revolution. Moreover, together with the Election Observation Mission of the European Union, the Election Observer Mission set up by the AU oversaw the presidential election in May 2014.
After several meetings with Egyptian stakeholders, the final report of the Panel concluded that the continued suspension would create unfavourable results. Following the report of the Panel, the Council decided to lift the suspension of Egypt from the AU by adopting the Communiqué of the Decision on the Situation in the Arab Republic of Egypt dated 17 June 2014.
Further Analysis and Relevant Materials
- E Y Omorogbe ‘A Club of Incumbents? The African Union and Coups d’État’ (2011) 44 Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law 1 123
- Z Yihdego ‘Democracy, Peoples’ Uprising and Unconstitutional Change of Government in Egypt: The African Union Principles and Responses’ (8 July 2013) EJIL Talk (accessed 18 October 2016) [www.ejiltalk.org/democracy-peoples-uprising-and-unconstitutional-change-of-government-in-egypt-the-african-union-principles-and-responses]
- O Varol ‘Guest Post: Egypt’s Non-Democratic Coup d’Etat’ (16 July 2013) Opinio Juris (accessed 18 October 2016) [http://opiniojuris.org/2013/07/16/guest-post-egypts-non-democratic-coup-detat]
- I K Souré ‘The African Union as a norm entrepreneur on military coups d’état in Africa (1952–2012): An Empirical Assessment’ (2014) 52 Journal of Modern African Studies 1 69
- O Bamidele, and B Ayodele ‘In the Service of Democratic Governance: The African Union Normative Framework on Unconstitutional Change of Government and ECOWAS Protocol on Good Governance and Democracy in the Post-Arab Spring’ (2016) Journal of Asian and African Studies (accessed 18 October 2016) [http://jas.sagepub.com/content/early/2016/09/02/0021909616666104.full.pdf+html]
- J Powell, T Lasley, and R Schiel ‘Combating Coups d’état in Africa, 1950–2014’ (2016) 51 Studies in Comparative International Development 4 482–502 (accessed 18 October 2016) [http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs12116-015-9210-6]
- Declaration on the Framework for an OAU Response to Unconstitutional Changes of Government (12 July 2000) AHG/Decl.5 (XXXVI)
- Constitutive Act of the African Union (signed 11 July 2000, entered into force 26 May 2001) 2158 UNTS 3
- Decision on the Prevention of Unconstitutional Changes of Government and Strengthening the Capacity of the African Union to Manage Such Situations (2 February 2010) Assembly/Au/Dec.269 (XIV) Rev.1
- African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance (adopted 30 January 2007, entered into force 15 February 2012) Assembly/AU/Dec. 147 (VIII)
- Communiqué of the Decision on the Situation in the Arab Republic of Egypt (17 June 2014) PSC/PR/COMM.2 (CDXLII)
The Peace and Security Council of the African Union (AU), at its 384th meeting held on 5 July 2013, in the presence of the Chairperson of the Commission, took the following decision on the situation in the Arab Republic of Egypt:
1. Takes note of the update provided by the Commissioner for Peace and Security and the briefing made by the Commissioner for Political Affairs on the situation in Egypt, as well as of the statement made by the Permanent Representative of Egypt to the AU;
2. Recalls its previous pronouncements on the situation in Egypt, in particular communiqué PSC/PR/COMM.(CCLX), adopted at its 260th meeting held on 16 February 2011, in which Council, among others, noted the deep aspirations of the Egyptian people, especially its youth, for change and the opening of political space, expressed the AU’s solidarity with the Egyptian people, whose desire for democracy is consistent with the relevant AU instruments, and recognized the exceptional nature of the situation then prevailing in Egypt. Council further recalls press statement PSC/PR/BR.3(CCLXVIII) adopted at its 268th meeting held on 23 March 2011, which welcomed the positive evolution of the situation, as well as the relevant paragraphs of the decisions on the reports of the Peace and Security Council on its Activities and the State of Peace and Security in Africa adopted by the Assembly of the Union at its 18th, 19th, 20th and 21st Ordinary Sessions, held in January and July 2012, and in January and May 2013, respectively;
3. Notes that, while significant progress has been made in the transition, notably with the election, in June 2012, of a President of the Republic, Egypt continues to face serious challenges, marked by the growing frustration of many Egyptians over the management of the country, cumulative economic difficulties, deteriorating security, political and social polarization and lack of consensus on the best way forward. Council recalls the appeals and efforts made by the AU, including the mission undertaken to Egypt by the Panel of the Wise in June 2011, to impress upon the Egyptian stakeholders the need for constructive dialogue and compromise in order to overcome their differences and put the national interest before personal, partisan and ideological considerations;
4. Further notes the escalation of the situation over the past few days, which led to the overthrow of the elected President Mohamed Morsi, the suspension of the Constitution adopted by referendum in December 2012, and the appointment and swearing in of a caretaker Head of State. Council expresses deep concern at the risks the prevailing situation poses for the long-term stability of Egypt and cohesion of its people, with far-reaching national and regional consequences. Council endorses the press statements on the situation in Egypt issued by the Chairperson of the Commission on 3 and 4 July 2013;
5. Recalls the relevant AU instruments on unconstitutional changes of Government, notably the Lomé Declaration of July 2000 and the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance of January 2007, which provide for the automatic implementation of specific measures whenever an unconstitutional change of Government occurs, and reiterates AU’s condemnation and rejection of any illegal seizure of power;
States that the overthrow of the democratically elected President does not conform to the relevant provisions of the Egyptian Constitution and, therefore, falls under the definition of an unconstitutional change of Government as provided for in the instruments mentioned in paragraph 5 above. Accordingly, and as mandated by the relevant AU instruments, Council decides to suspend the participation of Egypt in the AU’s activities until the restoration of constitutional order;
7. Calls on all Egyptian stakeholders to embrace the spirit of dialogue and mutual accommodation and to refrain from any acts of violence and retribution. Council stresses the obligation of all Egyptian stakeholders to work towards the fulfillment of the legitimate aspirations of the Egyptian people as embodied in the February 2011 Revolution;
8. Encourages the Egyptian political actors to persevere on the path of national reconciliation that will contribute to a smooth preparation for elections leading to a return to constitutional order. In this regard, Council urges the new Egyptian authorities to engage, without delay, in inclusive consultations towards the adoption of a consensual timeframe for the organization of free, fair and transparent elections;
9. Emphasizes the solidarity of the AU with the people of Egypt and its commitment to assist in whatever way possible the process aimed at speedily returning the country to constitutional order, and to support long-term efforts to address the structural problems facing Egypt. In this respect, Council welcomes the plan of the Chairperson of the Commission to dispatch a team of high-level personalities to Egypt to interact with the ruling authorities and other Egyptian stakeholders, as they work towards a transition that would lead to an early return to constitutional order. Council requests that preparations for the dispatch of this mission be expedited and encourages the Chairperson of the Commission to take any other measures that she would deem appropriate to facilitate the resolution of the current crisis and the building of a consensus on the way forward among the Egyptian stakeholders;
10. Appeals to AU partners, both bilateral and multilateral, to lend their full support to AU’s efforts and to work towards a coordinated approach on the situation. In this respect, Council requests the Chairperson of the Commission, under the AU’s leadership, to establish an International Consultative Forum that would bring together Egypt and relevant international stakeholders to facilitate coordinated action in support of a transition leading to the restoration of constitutional order, the deepening of the democratic process, and the mobilization of economic and financial support commensurate with the needs of Egypt and the challenges facing the country;