A Presidency Waived; a Constitution Scrapped.

"Constitutional crisis" is an understatement. The revolution in Egypt appears to have left the country's constitution in tatters, with military commanders apparently operating outside the legal framework to restore order, protect Egyptians' natural rights, and heed protesters' demands.

Hosni Mubarak's rule has certainly lapsed, but whether he resigned is questionable. Mubarak, the only person empowered to announce his resignation, has not been heard from since his defiant February 10 speech that temporarily dashed hopes for a post-Mubarak Egypt. Rather, the end of Mubarak's 30-year reign was announced by his hand-picked Vice President Omar Suleiman the next day, whose speech was interpreted by Al Jazeera English as follows:

At these hard circumstances that our country is experiencing, President Mohamed Hosni Mubarak has decided to waive the office of the president of the republic and instructed the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to run the affairs of the country.


Admittedly, "waive" could be a less-than-ideal translation where "resign" would have served better. ("Step down" was the interpretation by a PBS translator.) Setting aside whether Mubarak may resign by way of his Vice President's speech, the language of that speech falls short of providing the clarity that the moment commanded.

Assuming that Mubarak's resignation is constitutionally effective, it raises other legal technicalities apparently paid no mind by the ruling military. Article 84 mandates that the prime minister assume the president's authority until his long-term successor can be chosen. This was contradicted by Mubarak's instruction to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to "run the affairs of the country." In that command, Mubarak clearly acted outside of his authority, as delineated by the Egyptian constitution. Rather, military commanders' new grip on the reigns of power suggests the occurrence of a people-backed, extraconstitutional coup, and Suleiman's speech seems more like a face-saving, empty declaration, than the effective resignation of a sitting president.

Another constitutional provision so far ignored by the military dictates that, upon a vacancy of the presidency, his long-term successor must be "chosen" within 60 days. Such a short period is unpopular among many democracy advocates, including Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, who recommends a transitional government for up to one year, giving political parties sufficient time to take shape and reflect the diverse opinions which are certain to emerge in an unregulated marketplace of ideas.

In addition to announcing the nation's commitment to upholding international agreements, such as the peace treaty with Israel, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces' Communique No. 4 indicated its intent to foster "a civil, elected authority in order to build a democratic state." The declaration may comfort democracy advocates, but it makes no mention of the constitutional requirement for a new president selected within the next 60, nay, 59 days.

In a dynamic situation, this much seems true: the will of the people and military commanders, apparently in concert thus far, is the new law of the land.