A lawsuit asking to delay Egypt's upcoming parliamentary elections has left the country's political forces taken aback amid a scramble to form alliances before the expected polls.
The suit – filed by former independent MP and businessman Hamdy El-Fakharany with Cairo's Administrative Justice Court – argues that the polls, scheduled for later this year, must be delayed for a year or even more.
"This one year delay is necessary until security forces are strong enough to safeguard candidates and election campaigns against any possible terrorist attacks," said El-Fakharany's lawsuit, adding that "the group of the Muslim Brotherhood ... could exploit the polls to attack its arch rivals – including the candidates of political secular forces, non-Islamist independents and even the ultraconservative Nour Party – with the objective of dragging the country into a Syrian-style civil war."
In an interview with a private television channel last week, El-Fakharany said that "the number of candidates in the coming parliamentary polls could surge to as high as 60,000 and in which case the Muslim Brotherhood could exploit election campaigns and tours to explode bombs, mount acts of terrorism and sabotage and kill its political opponents."
El-Fakharany's lawsuit said that "security forces, now in a war of attrition against the Brotherhood on several fronts, will not be able to face another front against the terrorist group, taking into account that this front will be opened on the level of all Egypt's 27 governorates."
He also argued that the new constitution does not stipulate that parliamentary polls must be held at a certain date.
"Only article 230 [of the constitution] stipulates that preparations for the first parliamentary polls must begin within six months from the date of the passing of the new constitution in a public referendum [in January 2014], but it left the date when these polls must be held to the High Elections Commission (HEC)," said the lawsuit, adding that "President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi already invited the HEC to meet on 15 July."
The lawsuit has gained support among certain political circles, especially those with close links to former president Hosni Mubarak's defunct ruling National Democratic Party (NDP).
Salah Hasaballah, a leading official of the liberal Congress Party and a former NDP official, agrees with El-Fakharany that the constitution does not set a date for when parliamentary polls must be held.
"I am, however, in favour of holding parliamentary polls as soon as possible, but if the matter needs some necessary logistical support and security measures, why not delay it until these measures are completely taken?" Hassaballah told Al-Ahram Online.
Besides, Hassaballah argues, the delay could be useful for new revolutionary political parties which came into being in 2011. "These parties need time to create a kind of grass-root popularity in provincial governorates," said Hassaballah.
Joining forces is Gamal Zahran, a professor of political science at Suez Canal University and a former independent MP. Zahran told Al-Ahram Online he approves of delaying the polls "for other reasons."
"I think there should be a new national dialogue over the new political laws regulating the polls because they were drafted in a way that does not serve the interests of political parties in Egypt," said Zahran. He also believes that these laws must be changed to include members of Mubarak's NDP and the Muslim Brotherhood – or the enemies of the 25 January and 30 June uprisings.
Leading officials of the so-called Civilian Democratic Current led by former presidential candidate and Nasserist politician Hamdeen Sabahi asked El-Sisi and Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahleb twice to put two laws to a national dialogue – one regulating the House of Representatives and the other the country's political rights.
"We want the polls to be delayed until these two laws are amended in a way that can truly serve the new political life in Egypt," Abdel-Ghaffar Shukr, a leading official of the Current, told Al-Ahram's daily Arabic newspaper last week.
Most liberal and leftist political parties have rejected that the new House of Representatives Law reserves as many as 420 seats for independents (75 percent) and just 120 seats (20 percent) to party-based candidates. "This represents discrimination against political parties and we want the number of seats allocated to party lists to be increased to at least 30 percent," said Shukr.
In response to the above calls, senior government officials, HEC judges and prominent public figures strongly refuted any plans for delaying the polls. Mohamed Idris, HEC's spokesman, denied in a public statement on 25 August that "parliamentary polls will be delayed or postponed."
"HEC is currently in the process of completing all measures necessary for parliamentary polls to be held as soon as possible," said Idris, adding that "the actual measures will begin as soon as a law redrawing electoral districts is finalised."
Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ibrahim El-Heneidy told Al-Ahram on Sunday that "the law redrawing electoral districts has already been completed, but it still needs a final revision by a technical committee before it is finally endorsed by El-Sisi," El-Heneidy said.
He explained that the number of eligible voters in Egypt will rise to 54 million by the end of this year, and we "want to make sure that there is no discrimination among them in terms of districts and voting."
Amr Moussa, Egypt's former high-profile minister of foreign affairs and chairman of the 50-member committee which drafted the new constitution in January, insisted on his Facebook page that "parliamentary polls represent the third – and final – part of a new political roadmap that has been adopted after the Revolution of 30 June – which led to the ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013."
"Any delay in implementing this roadmap will be considered against completing this political roadmap," he said. In Moussa's words: "it is not a question of whether the delay goes with or violates the new constitution, but the question should be whether or not this is in favour with Egypt's democratic transition."
Moussa rejected the idea that security conditions are not solid enough to allow holding parliamentary elections this year. "Some raised this idea ahead of presidential polls in May, but security forces, along with the army, were quite able to safeguard the country against any terror threats."
Mohamed Anwar Sadat, chairman of the liberal oriented Reform and Development Party, told Ahram Online that "recent developments show that there is a lack of seriousness on the part of El-Sisi and the government to implement the third part of the post-30 June political roadmap."
"There is a clear kind of retardation in the form of taking too much time in finalising the electoral districts law or refusing to meet with heads of political parties to listen to their complaints about the new election laws," said Sadat.
In a recent meeting with editors-in-chief of Egyptian newspapers, El-Sisi stressed that parliamentary polls will be held this year.
HEC's spokesman Idris indicated on 25 August that the new constitution stripped the president of the republic of exercising any kind of control over polls and that the final say on all election matters has become the exclusive prerogative of HEC.