A number of controversial laws setting the stage for Egypt's parliamentary elections and toughening penalties on terrorism crimes will be on the top of the weekly meeting of Egypt's cabinet on Wednesday.
Minister of Parliamentary Affairs and Transitional Justice Ibrahim Al-Heneidy told parliamentary reporters that the discussion of a new tougher anti-terrorism law will be discussed, taking into account "reservations expressed by some opposition forces and the press syndicate over a number of articles related to freedom of speech and the jailing of journalists for publication offences."
A meeting will be held between Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab and a number of editors of national and private newspapers in a bid to reach common ground on some of its controversial articles.
Heneidy indicated that a raft of election laws, approved by the cabinet last week, will be referred Wednesday to President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi for ratification, opening the way for the long-delayed parliamentary elections to officially kick off.
Heneidy said the laws regulate the division of electoral constituencies, the workings of the house of representatives, and the exercise of political rights. "The constituencies law is the most important because it was the main obstacle which led to postponing parliamentary elections last March," said Heneidy.
Heneidy told reporters that a committee comprising a number of national experts on election laws did its best to ensure that the final draft of the law goes in line with the constitution and the orders issued by the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) last March.
According to Heneidy, the committee adopted five criterion in drafting the constituencies law. "The first is that the new draft observes equality in terms of distribution of voters among districts," said Heneidy.
The draft law's explanatory note states that the distribution of voters was based on the most up-to-date statistics officially released on population and distribution of voters in Egypt in May rather than January.
"These indicate that the number of registered voters in Egypt reached 55.471.390 million voters while the number of population stood at 87.632.963 million," said the note.
In light of the above figures, Heneidy said, it was calculated that the density of voters per constituency should stand at 160,831. "This applies to independent constituencies which will reach 205, electing 448 MPs," said Heneidy.
Heneidy argued that there could be slight differences among voters in different independent constituencies. "As you know, it is impossible to observe absolute equality in terms of number of voters among constituencies," said Heneidy.
As for the second criterion, Heneidy indicated that "in accordance with the constitution and SCC's orders, the draft committee did its best to ensure that the difference in number of voters doesn't exceed 25 per cent between one constituency and another."
Heneidy disclosed that the State Council, after its revision of the three election laws, recommended that the difference doesn't exceed 10 per cent rather than 25 per cent.
"But it was quite difficult, if not impossible, to implement this recommendation as a 10 per cent difference would sure lead to widening the boundaries of constituencies to unprecedented levels, not to mention disrupting the social and tribal cohesion in different parts of the country," said Heneidy, also indicating that the 10 per cent difference was rejected by the interior ministry for security reasons.
Heneidy also disclosed that the draft law has excluded "the country's border governorates from the above criterion."
"These governorates are of a particular importance to Egypt in terms of national security and geographical interests," said Heneidy, also indicating "these governorates do not have high population density, which makes it difficult to apply the criterion adopted in the country's other governorates."
Egypt has six border governorates: North Sinai, South Sinai, Marsa Matruh, the New Valley, the Red Sea and Aswan.
In general, concluded Heneidy, the draft law states that Egypt's parliament will comprise of 596 deputies, 448 independents, 120 party-based MPs and 28 as presidential appointees. It also specifies that 448 independents will be elected from 205 constituencies and 120 party MPs from four constituencies.
If ratified by El-Sisi, the Higher Election Committee should meet to set a timeline for the polls.