How Does Egypt's Government Work?

Mass political protests across Egypt led the government to enforce an Internet connection blackout on Jan. 27, shutting down almost all of the country's online traffic and disrupting cell phone networks. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak instructed the Internet cutoff as one of his efforts to limit social-media access in the country and slow outgoing news of citizens rioting in protest of his presidency.

On paper, the Arab Republic of Egypt's government is semi-presidential, meaning that executive power is divided between an elected president and prime minister. The idea is that those two, along with an elected parliament, will run the country like a democracy.

In practice, though, the president has ended up having near-total control over the country, which became even more obvious when Mubarak, 82, took office in 1981. Since then, Egypt has been operating under martial law, or emergency law. In Egypt, martial law is renewable every two years and allows the government to suspend citizens' constitutional rights , extend police powers to arrest and indefinitely detain citizens without charge, curb street demonstrations and use censorship.

In May 2010, Egypt's prime minister, Ahmed Nazif, said that the emergency law will be loosened and will only apply to terrorist and drugs cases to show that Egypt "respects its commitments in the area of human rights." The current Internet cutoff and 6 p.m.-to-7 a.m. curfew imposed in several cities, however, indicates a renewed and increased implementation of martial law.

Egyptians are also protesting their country's electoral process. The Egyptian Constitution, adopted in 1971, originally required that presidential candidates must win a two-thirds majority in the People's Assembly a legislative body of 454 deputies before their nomination could be validated by a nationwide popular referendum. Mubarak, however, amended the constitution in 2005 and 2007 and changed the presidential election to a multicandidate popular vote among citizens. In the 2005 election, Mubarak won with 88.6 percent of the ballot, sparking allegations of corruption, vote-rigging and fraudulent ballots. Elected presidents serve a six-year term, but there is no limit on how many terms one president can serve (Mubarak has held office for 30 years).

"Protesters have a large number of economic, political and human-rights grievances," Michele Dunne, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for Peace, told "Widespread youth unemployment, rigged parliamentary elections in November 2010, and the prospect of President Mubarak (in power since 1981) beginning another term or being replaced by his son are the sparks that set these demonstrations off. The demonstrators are asking for Mubarak to step down and make way for an interim government to prepare for free elections." Top 5 Bizarre Political Candidates

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Remy Melina was a staff writer for Live Science from 2010 to 2012. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Communication from Hofstra University where she graduated with honors.