The Supreme Council of Armed Forces this afternoon announced a new law on political parties, which furious opposition members slammed as instigating only "superficial" changes.
“They just made some superficial, cosmetic changes to the old law,” said Yehia Fekry, one of the founders of the Socialist Popular Alliance Party, currently under construction. “They simply reproduced the old laws and we reject that completely.”
The much-anticipated law prohibits religion-based parties, puts a judicial committee in charge of the application process, and stipulates that each party should have at least 5000 members across ten governorates, with at least 300 members from each governorate.
One of the demands of the January 25 revolution was to provide political groups with the freedom to establish political parties by simply giving notice to the judicial committee. However, the new law stipulates that to launch a political party, the applicants must send a request to the committee which in return should reply within 30 days.
“To me, creating a party by notification means that I can go out right now, with 10 or 50 members and register it,” said Fekry. “But according to this law I still have to apply to a committee and they get to tell me yes or not, so what has changed here? Nothing.”
Another sore spot for Fekry is the minimum of 5000 members required, which he says will create a significant obstacle for many new and budding parties.
“The elections are in September, so how many parties will be able to build and attract so many members in such a short time? The only ones who will be able to make it are the two main political groups who were active in pre-revolutionary Egypt, the NDP and the Muslim Brotherhood, which means that the new parliament will be dominated by them once again and none of the new parties will make it. Ultimately nothing has changed.”
Kamal Khalil, a long-time political activist who is currently forming a Workers' Party, said that stipulating that applicants need to have at least 5000 members to apply is not fair.
“First, they say that the minimum will be 1000, and now they raise it to 5000, so they seem to be confused,” insisted Khalil. “Also, our party is a workers' party, so we are poor and the registration for each party member costs LE 37. Now multiply that by 5000. Where will we get that money and also be able to create headquarters for our party and have enough funds for other important finances?”
The vague terms used in the legislation have also raised eyebrows amongst Egypt’s opposition. The new law stipulates that the “party’s principles, objectives, programme, policies and ways must not contradict the principles of the constitution or the requirements of Egyptian national security and the protection of national unity.”
Samar Soliman, who is a founding member of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, also under construction, says that this statement causes confusion since to date, Egypt still does not have a working constitution, so which constitutional principles should they agree on?
“Also, no nation agrees one hundred per cent on a constitution. There are always people who are not happy, and even if you are happy, there will always be certain articles that you disagree with, so does that mean that they can dissolve my party if I dislike some articles in the constitution? This will stifle freedom and open the doors to hell.”
Soliman adds that Tarek El-Bishry, the legal guru who headed the committee which created the constitutional amendments, had given an interview a few weeks ago saying that the constitution stipulates that you have to accept that Egypt is an Islamic state.
“What if you disagree with that?” said Soliman. “This could alienate a lot of parties formed by non-Muslims or even Muslims who don’t feel that way.”
Ameen Eskandar, a founding member of the 12 year old, as yet unlicensed Karama Party, says that other terms such as “national security” are not clear.
“So if our party deals with another Arab country which has a disagreement with our government, does that mean that we can be dissolved?” asks Eskander. “These are vague terms and we have suffered enough from vague terms under the old regime. Enough already."
Some believe that the new law is in sync with the anti-protest law approved by cabinet last week, and both are attempts to curb the budding political freedom of the country and reduce the voices of discontent.
“We won’t stay quiet about these two laws because they shows us that both the new government and the Supreme Council of Armed Forces have failed to respond adequately to the demands of the January 25 revolution,” said Fekry. “That’s why millions of people will begin protesting again.”