Close to 40 political parties are to meet on Thursday to discuss an initiative aimed at unifying the Egyptian opposition's positions on the country's election laws and moving the country's long-delayed parliamentary polls forward.
In public statements on Monday night, Akmal Qortam, chairman of the Conservatives Party, said that participants at Thursday's meeting would recommend holding workshops on the three election laws for three days.
"These workshops, with legislative experts and opposition officials attending, will discuss the three election laws in detail and help to reach a unified position on their amendments," said Qortam.
Qortam asserted that the initiative has gained a big boost in recent days, gathering support from around 40 political parties in one week.
"These political parties stressed that they have now become convinced that all should work together and that they should unify their positions on the election laws and offer an alternative to the government's amendments," said Qortam.
The initiative comes after a government-appointed committee late last month finalised amending the three laws necessary to pave the way for the country's long-delayed parliamentary elections.
The laws, which will determine the workings of the House of Representatives, the Division of Electoral Constituencies, and the Exercise of Political Rights, are being revised in legal and constitutional terms by the State Council's Department of Legislation and Fatwas.
Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Ibrahim Al-Heneidy told reporters on Sunday that the council is expected to take between one and ten days to finish its examination of the laws.
The council this week obtained the most up-to-date statistics about Egypt’s population and the distribution of voters and citizens in the country's different governorates and districts, he said.
"The council gets this data from different sources – such as the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics and the Higher Electoral Commission – to guarantee that these sources do not have different figures, and that the amended laws observe equality among constituencies depending on these statistics," said Heneidy.
Heneidy said the new parliament will comprise 596 seats, 448 for independents, 120 for candidates running on party lists, and 28 for presidential appointees. In determining these figures, Heneidy stressed that the government-affiliated drafting committee made sure that the difference in number of voters between one constituency and another doesn't exceed 25 percent, as stipulated by the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC).
The government doesn't have any objections to political parties proposing amendments to the election laws, Al-Heneidy said.
"But we just have fears that these amendments might further delay the polls and might be ruled unconstitutional by the SCC," he however added.
Qortam maintained that the amendments proposed by opposition parties would not, in any way, cause a delay in the polls.
"As all know is that President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi indicated that the polls would be held only after the holy month of Ramadan or at the end of next July, and maybe after," said Qortam. "This means that more than two months still lie ahead, during which time more amendments can be introduced and heavily discussed."
Qortam, who is leading the opposition's initiative, also denied that the opposition's amendments might be ruled unconstitutional.
"The amendments mainly focus on the articles that were ruled unconstitutional by SCC in March," said Qortam. "In this way, I think we will be of help to the government, helping it hold the elections as soon as possible and without violation of the constitution or SCC's orders."
Amr Hashem Rabie, a political analyst at the Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies (ACPSS), told Ahram Online that the so-called "Legislative Reform Committee", led by former cabinet minister and liberal political activist Ahmed Al-Boraie, had been contacted by Qortam for coordination on election laws.
"Qortam said that here should be consultations between the committee and opposition parties over the proposed amendments to the laws," said Rabie. "The committee comprises a lot of experts on election laws and that these will participate in the workshops aimed at drafting the opposition's own version of amendments."
Topping the list of the committee experts are chairman of the Lawyers’ Syndicate Sameh Ashour, former judge and Qalioubiya governor Adli Hussein, civil rights activist and lawyer Negad Al-Boraie, and chairman of the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights (EOHR) Hafez Abu Seada.
"Once completed, the amendments will be referred to President Sisi," said Qortam. "The president has the choice: either endorse the opposition's proposal or ratify the government's amendments.”
"Citizens and political parties alike are allowed to send petitions to President Sisi,” Heneidy argued. "But I think that if he receives any proposals from the opposition, he will take the natural step of referring them to government experts to review them in constitutional and legal terms."
"Workshops on election laws will be held for three days, beginning Thursday and ending Saturday," Rabie said. "We will try our best to integrate suggested amendments into one proposal to be submitted in the name of all political parties to President Sisi."
The number of political parties joining Qortam's initiative increased from nine last week to around 40 this week, according to Rabie.
"It seems that political parties have realised that they should unify their positions and work together rather than appear divided and fragmented in the eyes of the people," he said.
Rabie also argued that political parties have also come to the conclusion that "they would not boycott the polls, even if their proposed amendments were brushed aside by Sisi."
"The opposition's unified proposed amendments just aim to send a message to President Sisi that the election laws in their current form will negatively affect political life," Mohamed Sami, chairman of the leftist Karama party and one of the leaders of the nine political parties that joined the first meeting over the initiative on 3 May, told the Ahram newspaper on Monday.
"We want to change the absolute list system which allows only political parties who win over 50 percent of seats per constituency to win all the seats," said Sami, "This system, no longer in effect in most countries, caused internal rifts among political parties, because it has led its senior officials to compete for candidacy without observing internal rules."
Sami however insisted that most political parties have decided to participate in the polls.
"Political parties promoting a boycott of the polls are the weak ones and we should not listen to them," said Sami.