Egypt’s High Election Committee (HEC), the judicial body in charge of supervising the upcoming parliamentary elections, announced on Saturday that seven electoral coalitions will contest the first stage of the polls, scheduled between 17 and 28 October.
HEC's spokesperson Omar Marawan told a press conference on 3 October that competition for 60 party-based seats in the first stage will be held in two constituencies: the West Nile Delta and Upper Egypt North, Middle and South.
The West Nile Delta includes three governorates – Alexandria, Beheira and Matruh – and will return 15 Ms. Upper Egypt North, Middle and South includes eleven governorates – Giza, Fayoum, Beni Suef, Minya, Assuit, New Valley, Sohag, Qena, Luxor, Aswan and the Red Sea – and will return 45 MPs
The three electoral coalitions – The Call of Egypt, For the Love of Egypt and Independent National Re-Awakening Bloc – are competing for the 45-seat Upper Egypt constituency, fielding a total of 135 candidates or 45 candidates each.
Marawan said that "the alliance of the Egyptian Front and the Independence Current was removed from the list of electoral coalitions competing in the Upper Egypt constituency after failing to submit the required registration documents”.
"The HEC has even decided to refer officials responsible for this alliance in Upper Egypt to prosecution for questioning over fraud and forgery charges," Marwan added, noting that the HEC's sub-committee in Upper Egypt has concluded that some of the registration papers submitted by this alliance are falsified.
Ahmed Al-Fadally, chairman of the Independence Current, insisted in a press conference Sunday that his party lists were submitted in alliance with the Egyptian Front were “rejected not because the registration papers were fake, but because the list has become invalid after some candidates decided to withdraw."
Al-Fadally pointed out that the Supreme Administrative Court ruled on Friday that alliance candidates should be allowed to stand in the Upper Egypt constituency. "We urge the HEC to respect the ruling so that we can contest this important constituency with 45 seats available," Al-Fadally said.
Both the Egyptian Front and Independence Current are closely associated with the toppled regime of former president Hosni Mubarak.
The Egyptian Front includes the Egyptian National Movement, led by Mubarak's last prime minister Ahmed Shafiq, and Masr Baladi (Egypt My Homeland) led by Qadri Abu Hussein, a Mubarak-era provincial governor.
The Independence Current coalition, led by Al-Fadally, includes 14 minor political parties, all of them licensed under the Mubarak regime as a kind of democratic décor.
The three electoral coalitions being permitted to run in Upper Egypt are generally supportive of incumbent president Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi.
The so-called coalition is led by a former intelligence officer Sameh Seif Al-Yazal. This man is head of the state-owned Al-Gomhouria newspaper's Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.
For the Love of Egypt is widely believed to be supported by El-Sisi, although the latter has repeatedly denied that he stands behind a certain faction.
For the Love of Egypt held a series of public rallies in a number of towns and cities across Upper Egypt, with large posters of El-Sisi conspicuously displayed.
In a public rally in the city of Qena on 29 September, Al-Yazal said that the coalition “aims to act as a back-up force for El-Sisi in the coming parliament”.
“We are a political force that intends to cooperate with the president in parliament to save Egypt from terrorist organisations which seek to turn it into another Syria and Iraq,” he went on.
The Call of Egypt, formed in December 2014, includes 17 political parties and young revolutionary movements.
Led by revolutionary activist Tarek Zidan, the coalition said it aims to secure the goals of the two revolutions of 25 January and 30 June.
Zidan, however, said the alliance will join other forces to stand as a bulwark against Islamist factions led by the ultraconservative party of Al-Nour.
The Call of Egypt is an active member the "No to Religious Parties" campaign, keen to keep Islamism out of parliament.
The Al-Nour party is not contesting the Upper Egypt constituency. It will be battling for the 15 seats in Nile West Delta.
Like For the Love of Egypt and The Call of Egypt, The Independent National Re-awakening Bloc is also supportive of El-Sisi.
Founded in 2014 by Sheikh Mohamed Abdallah Al-Aswany, the bloc primarily calls for economic and social development in Upper Egypt.
Al-Aswany said the bloc intends to cooperate with Al-Sisi in safeguarding Egypt's southern and Western borders with Sudan and Libya.
The bloc includes social and religious figures from the Sunni Islam institution of Al-Azhar, and representatives from the Sufi movement, the Egyptian Coptic Church, in addition to women, handicapped and young people, all from Upper Egypt.
In the West Nile Delta constituency, with 15 seats up for competition, Al-Nour seems to be the major force. As most secular political forces reject its Islamist ideology, the Al-Nour party decided to run on its own in the West Delta and the Cairo and Middle Delta constituency.
Al-Nour's manifesto, released last week, said it stands as the political arm of the salafist movement and aims to build a modern state while maintaining Islamic Sharia as the major source of legislation in Egypt.
Al-Nour joined El-Sisi and other forces in removing former Islamist president Mohamed Morsi from office, accusing the banned Muslim Brotherhood of trying to monopolise power during its one year rule.
Al-Nour's power base is concentrated in the West Delta constituency's three governorates: Alexandria, Beheira and Marsa Matruh.
Most of the party's leaders, who won seats in parliament in 2012, will be again running in Alexandria and Beheira.
Al-Nour's party list of candidates includes chairman Younis Makhyoun, deputy-chairman Ashraf Thabet, second deputy-chairman Mohamed Ibrahim Mansour, senior official Talaat Mansour, and the party's spokesman Nader Bakar. All of them were MPs in 2012's parliament.
While Al-Nour said its party list includes a number of female candidates, its officials have decreed that their photographs cannot appear on the party's posters. When the female candidates make an appearance at public rallies they come dressed in full niqab and long black Galabiya.
As in Upper Egypt, the four electoral forces contesting West Delta are broadly supportive of El-Sisi. Unlike upper Egypt, however, there will be stiff competition as the salafist Al-Nour Party will vy for this constituency's 15 seats against party-based lists put forward by the two secular electoral coalitions.
Some of the candidates of the two secular coalitions in West Delta were members of former president Hosni Mubarak's ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), with strong tribal, familial and business affiliations.
Examples of these are Alexandria's high-profile food industrialist Mohamed Farag Amer, businessman Farag Siidawi and businesswoman Sahar Talaat Mostafa.
The two former NDP MPs Ahmed Raslan and Youssri Al-Moghazi will be also running on the For Love of Egypt list in Marsa Matruh and Beheira respectively.
The Knights of Egypt party, founded in January, 2014, is primarily made up of retired army officers who are also supportive of President El-Sisi.
The party's chairman Abdel-Rafie Darwish, who served in the army as a lieutenant-general, said the party is a civil force despite most of its founders being ex-military.
"We are a party that believes in the necessity of cooperation between civil forces and the Egyptian army for the benefit of the country," Darwish said, charging that "we cannot countenance a return to the situation under Islamist president Mohamed Morsi when his differences with the army threatened to disrupt Egypt's unity".
The four electoral coalitions in the West Delta province are competing for the 15-seat Upper Egypt constituency, fielding a total of 60 candidates or 15 candidates each.
This brings the total of the candidates of the seven electoral coalitions in Upper Egypt and West Delta to 195.
Anwar Sadat, chairman of the liberal Reform and Development party, deplored that support for Al-Sisi featured high on the agenda of most candidates and coalitions in the first week of campaigning.
"This is a very regrettable development because the new constitution is based on a mixed system in which parliament and the president share powers," Sadat told Al-Ahram Online, adding that "as far as I understand, candidates can tell voters that they support El-Sisi because they want cooperation between him and the new parliament, but what’s happening now is that candidates are telling people ‘vote for us because we are El-Sisi's men’," said Sadat.
Sadat also noted that confusion has dominated the first week of campaigning.
"Some candidates decided to withdraw from coalitions and the Church requested some Copts not to run on the lists of the Al-Nour party, not to mention that courts have still not given final verdicts on appeals," said Sadat, adding that "this confusion was expected because electoral coalitions are a new thing after long years during which candidates were allowed to run as individuals only."