A law regulating the exercise of political rights in Egypt was passed in 1956, ahead of Egypt's first parliamentary elections that followed the 1952 revolution.
The Law on the Exercise of Political Rights (no.73/1956) sets rules for the eligibility of candidates and voters and describes the manner in which the elections are conducted. It has been amended over twenty times since 1956.
On 20 July 2011, the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) amended articles 40, 43, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, and 50 of this law. Most of the amendments were concerned with detailing appropriate punitive measures for using violence, bribes, or religious slogans in elections.
Article 40 states that those who are on the voter’s roster and abstain from voting will be fined up to 500 EGP.
Other articles made voting more than once, voting under pretense identity, and voting without being legally eligible punishable by serving one to five years in prison.
According to Article 50, stealing or damaging ballot boxes, or ruining their content, is punishable with imprisonment. Electoral campaigns based on religious slogans or involving sexual or ethnic slurs are punishable with a minimum of three months in prison and a fine ranging from 6,000 EGP to 12,000 EGP.
Articles 43, 45, 46, 47, and 48 set the penalty for insulting election officials, damaging election facilities, hiding or damaging voter rosters, and registering names of voters through illegal means at one to five years in prison. Those who violate these terms may also be subject to fines from 10,000 EGP to 100,000 EGP.
Using force to prevent anyone from voting or forcing anyone to vote for a certain candidate, as well as spreading rumors about the elections or candidates in a bid to influence the outcome of voting, are also punishable by imprisonment. The offenders may be banned from running for office for five years.
These tough measures were widely supported by the public. Human rights activists have warned that the definition of some of these offences are too vague and lend themselves to abuse by law enforcers, especially that of spreading rumors.
Leaders of Islamist parties have also criticized the ban on religious slogans.
The Muslim Brotherhood (MB)-led Democratic Alliance for Egypt announced that it would campaign under the slogan “We bear good for Egypt.” It has been reported that the Brotherhood continues to use its controversial slogan “Islam is the solution” in its elections campaign for the 2012 parliament.
In the lead-up to elections, the chairman of the Supreme Electoral Commission (SEC) warned that “should any candidate violate the amendments of the political rights law in terms of using religious slogans or obtaining money from foreign states or institutions, the individual in question would be tried by the Supreme Administrative Court."
Under Mubarak, the MB was officially banned. However, its candidates were usually permitted to run as independents, as long as they do not identify themselves as MB members.
Salafist Groups and the Islamic Group (Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya) maintain that they are entitled to use religious slogans.
Liberal forces oppose the use of religious slogans in election campaigns. “This reflects the ideology of Islamist parties, which are fond of mixing politics with religion,” stated Nabil Zaki, spokesman of the left-wing Al-Tagammu Party.
Following the amendments of 20 July, the Egyptian government issued an executive memorandum explaining the implementation mechanisms for the law. According to the thirty-nine article memorandum, the SEC would have final say in matters related to supervising the parliamentary elections. The SEC will be in full charge of the election process, from "preparing the lists of voters" to "announcing the results."
According to the memorandum, the committees supervising the elections in all of Egypt’s twenty-seven governorates will be composed of members of the judiciary. “These committees will make sure that voters have easy access to voting lists ahead of the elections,” SEC chief Abdel Moez Ibrahim said.
The SEC has formed three subcommittees to prepare a database of Egyptian voters. “The first subcommittee will take charge of clearing voter lists of the deceased and emigrants; the second will compile the names of newly eligible voters; and the third will be entrusted with adding the names to the lists,” Ibrahim said.
The first subcommittee, headed by Samir Abul Maati, has added the names of individuals stripped from exercising their political rights during the Mubarak era to the lists of voters.
“Voter lists will be made available in both print and electronic form,” Abul Maati promised. Complete print lists, indicating the exact number of voters registered at each polling station, will be available in police stations and courts.
“Hundreds of copies will also be made available to citizens to make it easier for them to vote. In addition, the lists will be available on the SEC’s official website.”
The second subcommittee will update voter lists, drawing on data made available by the Civil Status Authority, the Interior Ministry, the Ministry of Health, and the prosecution authorities. The third subcommittee will determine the exact number of eligible voters and organize the polling stations accordingly.
“The judge responsible for each committee will ensure that the polling states operate in a way that allows for the smooth running of a secret ballot,” said Abul Maati.
Civil society organizations have welcomed the executive regulations. “It is essential to overhaul voter lists,” says Hafez Abu Seada, chairman of the Egyptian Organization of Human Rights (EOHR).
“The voter lists had been repeatedly exploited by the former regime to rig election results. All we need now is for civil society organizations to have free access and all necessary help in monitoring the poll,” Abu Seada added.