After a three-hour meeting with the heads of the country's mainstream political parties Wednesday, Egypt's President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi stressed that the long-delayed parliamentary elections will be held at the nearest possible time and that Egypt will have a new parliament before the end of 2015.
El-Sayed El-Badawi, chairman of the liberal Al-Wafd party, told reporters that El-Sisi was firm that "parliamentary elections were not deliberately delayed."
"You all know that the Supreme Constitutional Court ruled that some laws were unconstitutional and as a result the polls were delayed," El-Badawi cited El-Sisi as saying.
According to Anwar El-Sadat, chairman of the liberal Reform and Development party, El-Sisi expressed his wish that he and the chairmen of the country's political parties hold meetings on a regular monthly basis.
"It is important to meet on a periodical basis to exchange views on parliamentary elections, laws and the country's other political challenges," Sadat cited El-Sisi as saying.
Sadat also unveiled that El-Sisi thanked political parties for their unified amendments of three election laws. "He said the unified amendments will be examined by a government committee in charge of amending laws to see whether they go in line with the constitution and if they can be adopted," Sadat also cited El-Sisi as saying.
Nagi El-Shehabi, chairman of the Generation Party told Al-Ahram news website that El-Sisi has urged political parties to join one unified electoral coalition "just like they have drafted unified amendments of election laws."
According to El-Shehabi, El-Sisi recommended that all parties from across the political spectrum, including even the salafist party of Al-Nour, to stand in the polls on unified electoral lists.
"The challenges the country are facing require you to join forces and compete the elections as one force," El-Shehabi cited El-Sisi as saying, also adding that “if you really want a powerful parliament that can rise above narrow-minded partisan and personal interests and achieve supreme national interests, you should first mend fences and run as one bloc."
"In this way, we will have a good parliament full of high-calibre politicians," El-Shehabi cited El-Sisi as saying.
Egypt's parliamentary elections were scheduled to be held last March, but were postponed after two election laws were ruled unconstitutional. While a government-appointed committee finalised amendments of the laws to go in line with the constitution, close to 40 political parties proposed different unified amendments of the laws.
According to Hesham Abdel-Aziz, chairman of the Reform and Renaissance party, El-Sisi stressed that "had the Supreme Court not ruled some laws unconstitutional, Egypt would have convened a parliament by now."
Abdel-Aziz cited El-Sisi as indicating that he has referred the unified amendments to the government committee to give a final say on them. "If viable, they would be adopted," El-Sisi said.
However, Abdel-Aziz indicated that El-Sisi refused to give an answer to a request submitted by political participants in the meeting.
"Most of the party officials said they want the absolute list system to be abrogated in favor of the proportional list system," said Abdel-Aziz, adding in public statements after the meeting that "El-Sisi insisted that the committee in charge of amending the laws is the one entrusted with investigating the electoral system."
Political parties complain that the absolute list system which allows the party winning more than 50 per cent of the votes per constituency to win all the seats could stop many political parties from joining the coming parliament.
Al-Wafd's El-Badawi also disclosed that some party officials opened fire on the government of Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab on the grounds that it is not doing enough to eradicate corruption and bureaucracy. "But El-Sisi defended Mahlab and his government, insisting that they are doing a good job amid huge challenges facing the country," El-Badawi cited El-Sisi as saying.
"He argued that the performance of some cabinet ministers might not be good enough but this does not mean that the whole staff is the same," El-Badawi also cited El-Sisi as saying.
All participants agreed that "El-Sisi showed a lot of concern about economic conditions and terrorism in North Sinai."
El-Shehabi told Al-Ahram that El-Sisi has indicated that "Egypt's domestic debts have soared to LE2 trillion, compared with just LE700 million in 2011." "El-Sisi also explained that the costs of servicing this debt are very high for the country and that all should work hard in order to reduce these costs."
El-Shehabi declined to say whether El-Sisi asked the government to lift subsidies on fuel in a bid aimed at reducing the national debt. El-Sisi abolished 70 per cent of fuel subsidies last year and just one month after he was sworn in as president in June, 2014.
Sadat said political parties agreed with El-Sisi that the new 2015-2016 budget should be the subject of an open public debate among political parties and civil society organisations "as long as the country is still without an elected parliament."
In terrorism terms, El-Badawi cited El-Sisi as insisting that the armed forces were able to kill around 90 per cent of terrorist groups in Sinai. "We still have some pockets, and we will be able to get rid of all of this only if we all – the government, the people and political parties - stayed united and solid," El-Sisi was cited as saying.
Sadat said political parties blasted Germany for its attacks on 19 May's judicial ruling that former Islamist president Mohamed Morsi be sentenced to death. "El-Sisi's answer was that the judiciary should stay independent in spite of all foreign reactions," Sadat cited El-Sisi as saying.
Sadat said some political parties complained that certain private television channels have begun acting like a new parliament and that "some of them do not serve national interests."
El-Sisi's response, according to Sadat, was that he strongly believes in freedom of speech "and that the state never intervenes in media affairs."