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Egypt to set timetable for parliamentary polls Sunday amid parties' disarray

While preparations for the parliamentary elections will shift into high gear on Sunday, the country's political parties are still in a state of disarray

Gamal Essam El-Din , Saturday 29 Aug 2015
In this Nov. 29, 2011 file photo, two Egyptian women are seen in voting booths cast their votes on the second day of parliamentary elections in Cairo, Egypt, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2011 (AP)
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The Supreme Elections Committee, the seven-member judicial body in charge of supervising Egypt's parliamentary polls, will announce a timetable for the elections on Sunday.

According to a committee statement released on Thursday, the chairman, Ayman Abbas, will announce the dates in a press conference at the headquarters of the State Information Service in Cairo.

Abbas will give details of when candidate registration will begin, when campaigning will begin and end, and when the vote will take place, both in Egypt and at Egyptian embassies abroad, the statement said.

Details of the candidate registration process, including the documentation that needs to be submitted and health checks required, will also be announced at the press conference.

Informed sources, however, told Ahram Online that the SEC is expected to announce only a date for candidate registration and campaigning at the Sunday press conference. 

"The timetable for the elections could be announced at a later stage, after consultations with the ministries of defence and interior, who are in charge of securing the polls, are complete," said the source.

The last few days saw different press reports suggesting that candidate registration will begin on 12 or 13 September and continue for ten days, closing just one day ahead of the Islamic festival of Eid Al-Adha, expected to take place on 25 September.

The long-awaited elections are likely to be held in two stages, and could take up to two months to complete. Press reports also said that the first stage of the poll will be on 20 October, including 14 governorates, and that campaigning for this stage will begin on 1 October and last for 18 days. The second stage of the poll would therefore include 13 governorates.

The SEC's spokesperson Omar Marawan told parliamentary reporters last week that "the committee's decision to announce a timetable at the end of August signals the first phase of preparations for the vote has been finalised."  

"Laws necessary to hold the poll have been ratified, and the process of issuing permits for civil society organisations and media outlets seeking to cover the polls, updating national voter lists and finalising the lists of judges who will be in charge of supervising the election process in Egypt's 27 governorates have almost been completed," said Marawan.

The committee said last week that it had accepted requests to cover the poll from 44 press organisations, 13 news websites and 768 foreign reporters.

In their reactions, political parties have generally welcomed the announcement that a timetable will be at last in place.

"The timetable will send a message that the government and the regime of President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi are sincere about implementing the third stage of the post-Morsi political roadmap," said chairman of the liberal Reform and Development party, Anwar El-Sadat.

El-Sadat told Ahram Online that "despite negative remarks about election laws, we all agree that the country should move forward in terms of electing a parliament capable of legislating and supervising the government."

El-Sadat believes that the coming parliament will be the most important in Egypt's modern history. "It will convene after two revolutions that have rocked the country and a new constitution has been passed granting parliament greater powers," said Sadat.

Agreeing, Nabil Zaki, spokesperson for the leftist Tagammu party, commented: "The coming parliament will be the first without the two major powers which dominated Egypt's politics in the last 40 years: Mubarak's ruling National Democratic Party and the Muslim Brotherhood."

Although the NDP was officially dissolved by a court ruling after Mubarak left office in 2011, former members are still allowed to run for office as long as they have not been convicted of corruption crimes.

As for Muslim Brotherhood, it was designated a terrorist organisation in December 2013. The Brotherhood's party – the Freedom and Justice Party – was dissolved and most of its leaders have been arrested.

According to Al-Ahram political analyst and chief editor of "Politics International" magazine Wahid Abdel-Meguid, "while the NDP was mixing business with politics, the Muslim Brotherhood was mixing religion with politics, and both were rejected by the people in two popular uprisings."

Abdel-Meguid, however, deplores that "secular political parties have not been able so far to fill the vacuum left by these two forces and  offer a convincing political alternative."

Abdel-Meguid told Ahram Online that "hopes that Egypt's oldest and main liberal party – the Wafd Party – will recover its place as the major dominant force in Egyptian politics were dashed in the past few weeks."

"The internal divisions among the party's ranks have seriously weakened its performance and there are great fears that the Wafd will not be able to get a secular majority in the coming parliament," he said.

The Wafd Party was split into two warring factions, one led by chairman El-Sayed El-Badawi, the second by lawyer Fouad Badrawi, the grandson of the late party leader Fouad Seraggeddin.

Abdel-Meguid also laments that the Dostour Party, another liberal voice, fell in internal divisions and power struggles.

"When this party was founded by ex-UN diplomat Mohamed ElBaradei, hopes were high that it would be the voice of the pro-democracy revolution against Mubarak," said Abdel-Meguid.

The supreme committee of the Dostour Party finally accepted the resignation of party head Hala Shukrallah last week and elections for a new chair have been indefinitely delayed. Sources said disputes over whether to boycott or participate in the upcoming parliamentary polls lie behind the divisions, which could tear the party apart.

Abdel-Meguid stresses that the long years of political repression under the former autocratic regime of Hosni Mubarak left most civilian political forces seriously marginalized.

"The intervention of the state security apparatus in the internal affairs of these parties have torn them apart and led to harrowing the political life in Egypt in general," said Abdel-Meguid, arguing that "most of the secular – or non-Islamist – parties in Egypt are now either old guard forces suffering from internal rivalries like Al-Wafd, or leftist forces suffering from chronic shortage of funding and candidates like the Nasserists, or low-key parties with no popular support on the street in any way."

Abdel-Meguid agrees that "Mubarak's crackdown on secular forces came in favor of religious currents – especially the Muslim Brotherhood which exploited its parliamentary membership to advance an Islamist agenda and widen its base of supporters and allies in favour of a religious state in Egypt."

El-Sadat, however, disagrees that secular forces are in poor shape. "I think we will see three or four major electoral secular coalitions that will be able to sweep the polls and get a majority in parliament," said El-Sadat, adding: "Let us just wait until registration opens and all will see how strong secular coalitions will be formed."

El-Badawi dismissed reports that the Wafd had split into two camps, insisting that the party's coalition with the so-called "For the love of Egypt" electoral bloc will ensure that secular forces gain a big foothold in the coming parliament. The bloc is widely believed to be an attempt to rally the main forces backing President El-Sisi in parliament.

Zaki said he wants the SEC's press conference on Sunday to specify how it will oblige candidates to adhere to the electoral law regulations and prevent them from using religious slogans, using places of worship for campaign purposes and keep within the limits set for campaign spending.

There have been rumours in recent weeks that some wealthy political parties – like the Free Egyptians Party – have paid millions to “buy” candidates with popularity in different districts, to run in the party's name. Other rumours suggest several businessmen with links to the Mubarak regime aim to spend millions to obtain seats as independents in the coming parliament. 

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