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POGAR > What We Do > Rule of Law > Constitution

By framing the supreme legal principles, allocating power among branches of government, and enumerating the rights and duties of individuals vis a vis the state, constitutions define the rule of law and contribute to transparency and accountability in governance.

In the Arab world, constitutions may describe a variety of political structures: federal, as in the United Arab Emirates and the Sudan; unitary, as in Tunisia; a constitutional monarchy, as in Jordan; a republic as in Egypt; or a traditional hereditary monarchy as in Saudi Arabia.

Arab constitutions also allocate power among the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government. They may contain certain checks and balances in the form of provisions empowering judicial review of legislative and/or executive acts. They do not generally contain provisions protecting parliaments from executive domination, however.

In addition, Arab constitutions may enumerate civil rights and civil liberties. These usually include provisions for freedoms of speech and worship, presumption of innocence, the right to trial and to counsel, the protection of private property (generally subordinate to the public interest), the sanctity of family and its protection by the state, and the privacy of the home and personal communications. Some Arab constitutions have specific provisions against arbitrary arrest and torture. Many Arab states have also signed and ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (1966).

While most Arab constitutions are documents with roughly similar provisions, some constitutions are noteworthy products of historical and political circumstances. In Saudi Arabia, for example, the Quran itself is considered the constitution, accompanied by a series of royal decrees compiled to function as a manual for the application of its principles. In Libya, the Constitutional Proclamation, the Green Book written by Muammar Ghaddafi, and the People’s Declaration together constitute the basic law of the land.

Constitutional amendment procedures vary, sometimes requiring direct referenda or legislative action. In some countries, the head of the state may issue amendments by decree.

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