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Parties and government exchange fire over Egypt's parliamentary elections

A government committee is to meet on Sunday, amid heated commentary on the future of Egypt's parliamentary elections

Gamal Essam El-Din , Saturday 11 Apr 2015
Empty Egyptian parliament
File Photo: Egyptian parliament (Photo: AP)
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A government-appointed committee in charge of amending two laws necessary to pave the way for Egypt's long-delayed parliamentary elections is to meet on Sunday, minister of state for parliamentary affairs and transitional justice IbrahimEl-Heneidy told reporters on Saturday.

According to El-Heneidy, the meeting will be the first after prime-minister Ibrahim Mahlab held three "national dialogue" hearings with representatives of Egypt's mainstream political parties between 2 and 9 April.

"The 12-member committee will meet Sunday to review the amendments proposed by political forces to two election laws: the Electoral Constituency Division Law and the House of Representatives' Law,"said Heneidy.

"The committee's meetings will continue until the two laws are redrafted in a way that is as satisfactory as possible to political parties, and also in line with two Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) rulings," he said.

Heneidy said that he expects the amendments to be finalised next week, so that president Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi can endorse them by the end of April.

Egypt's parliamentary elections were originally scheduled to begin on 21 March, but were postponed after the SCC said there should be equality among independent candidates in 13 governorates, and that Egyptians with dual nationality should be allowed to run for parliament.

Heneidy said that the national dialogue exposed divisions over amendments of the two laws, and whether elections should be held soon or further delayed.

"We have two camps," said Heneidy. "The first rejects any radical change to the constituencies' law and wants the elections to be held only after the holy Islamic month of Ramadan [set to start mid-June], but another camp is pressing hard for radically changing the law and holding the elections before Ramadan."

Emad Gad, a political analyst at the Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies and a member of the "For the love of Egypt" coalition, told reporters that most participants in the dialogue wanted the constituencies' law to be amended to merely comply with SCC's rulings.

"They also see that it is quite difficult for the polls to be held ahead of Ramadan and that these polls should be delayed to August," said Gad.

By contrast, Al-Sayed Al-Badawi, chairman of the Wafd party, opted to open fire on last week's national dialogue, arguing that it was "a waste of time".

"It was only aimed at further delaying the elections, rather than reaching any common ground," said Al-Badawi. "The drafting committee came under prior orders not to accept any significant change to the constituencies' law, especially in terms of allocating more seats to party candidates, because officials believe that this would only help Muslim Brotherhood elements to return to parliament."

Amr Hashem Rabie, a political analyst with the Ahram Centre, told Ahram Online that he agrees that the dialogue helped to expose divisions among political parties rather than reach any kind of national consensus.

"I personally believe that the government wanted to use this dialogue to send a message to the people that the existing political parties are weak, full of conflicting interests and cannot be trusted," Rabie said.

Mohamed Sami, chairman of the leftist Karama party, also insists that "the dialogue served to tarnish the image of political parties."

"Please note that these meetings happened, despite president Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi asking that the committee finalise amendments by the end of March," Sami said in a TV interview. "Why, instead of meeting this deadline last week, did the government all of a sudden decide to hold a national dialogue?"

"All they want is to delay the polls," said Sami. "We knew in advance that the drafting committee would only accept cosmetic amendments." 

Salah Fawzi, a constitutional law professor and a member of the committee, told Ahram Online that leftist and liberal opposition forces submitted three kinds of proposals.

"The first seeks to raise the party-list constituencies from four to eight, with 15 candidates to be elected from each constituency, with the objective of making the size of constituencies smaller and less costly for candidates to cover with their campaigns," said Fawzi.

"The second aims to allocate 40 percent of seats to independents, another 40 percent to party candidates to be elected by the proportional list system, and the remaining 20 percent to marginalised brackets such as women and Copts."

"I think that the above two demands cannot be accepted because they go beyond the scope of SCC's rulings, since such radical changes could be ruled unconstitutional and hence further delay parliamentary polls," said Fawzi. "More than 40 officials representing political parties said they do not agree with these proposals."

Fawzi said most political parties agreed that the SCC should conduct a pre-scrutiny of laws, the third proposal, and that citizens with dual nationality should be allowed to run for parliament.

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