Egypt's parliamentary elections, previously scheduled to begin on 27 April, have been brought forward to start on 22 April, according to a statement issued by the presidency's online media outlets late Saturday amid calls for boycott.
The decision came after members of Egypt's Coptic Christian minority had criticised the planned timing of the elections because some voting would take place during their Easter holiday.
The change in schedule entailed date changes in all four stages of the anticipated elections. Below are the new dates:
The first round of voting will be held on 22 and 23 April and will take place in Cairo, Beheira, El-Minya, Port Said and North Sinai. If runoffs are necessary, they will take place on 29 and 30 April.
The second round will be held on 11 and 12 May in Giza, Alexandria, Sohag, Beni Suef, Aswan, Suez, Red Sea and New Valley. If runoffs are necessary there, they will take place on 19 and 20 May.
The third round of voting will be held on 28 and 29 May in Daqahliyah, Qaluibiya, Menufiya, Qena, Damietta, Luxor, Matrouh and South Sinai. If runoffs are necessary, they will take place on 5 and 6 June.
The final round is scheduled to take place on 15 and 16 June in Sharqiya, Gharbiya, Assiut, Kafr El-Sheikh, Fayoum and Ismailia. If runoffs are necessary there, they will take place on 23 and 24 June.
Morsi announced the initial election plan on Thursday amid support from Islamist groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood, the group he hails from, and the ultra-conservative Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya's Construction and Development Party.
Opposition forces, on the other hand, have been complaining they were sidelined in talks over setting elections laws and timeframe.
Mohamed ElBaradei, prominent critic of Morsi and founding member of the main opposition bloc, the National Salvation Front (NSF), called early on Saturday to boycott the elections, saying he will not be "part of an act of deception."
Other opposition figures have echoed similar sentiments, including liberal political analyst and ex-MP, Amr Hamzawy who cited "unfair" political, constitutional and legal regulations that "contradict with democracy."
Before the announcement of the initial election plan, the NSF demanded postponing upcoming parliamentary polls, and guaranteeing judicial and international oversight of upcoming elections to ensure transparency.
The NSF, however, has yet to announce its official stance on the elections.
The Egyptian Popular Current, led by Nasserist politician Hamdeen Sabbahi, stated last week it will boycott the coming parliamentary elections, regardless of guarantees, in objection to the current "undemocratic regime."
Sabbahi himself, a leading NSF figure, lamented what he described as an "attempt by the Muslim Brotherhood to again dominate parliament," after Morsi's Thursday decision to start elections on 27 April.
The ex-presidential contender says what would guarantee fair electoral competition is the formation of an "unbiased" government instead of the FJP-majority cabinet to supervise the elections, forming a committee that would redraft the disputed constitutional articles, dismissing the current president-appointed prosecutor-general, and empowering the judiciary to fully supervise the coming elections.
For his side, Mohamed Zidan, spokesman of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), stressed on Saturday that an independent judicial committee will be responsible for overseeing the elections.
He also slammed calls to boycott the anticipated elections. "Opposition forces who are calling to boycott the parliamentary elections believe there is no way they would assume power through ballot boxes, but only through sit-ins, strikes and extreme polarisation," he told Al-Ahram Arabic-language news website.
The elections are for the House of Representatives (the lower legislative chamber of parliament, formerly known as the People's Assembly).
The previous People's Assembly was dismantled last year after the HCC declared the law that regulated last winter's elections unconstitutional. Morsi has recently ratified the new election law.