The judicial body tasked with supervising Egypt's upcoming presidential elections has announced that it will not meet as planned on 18 February, the day slated by interim authorities as the beginning of the polling process which will elect the country's second president in three years.
Hamdan Fahmy, secretary-general of the five-member Presidential Election Commission (PEC), said on Monday that the meeting will be delayed until a new law regulating the upcoming elections is issued by interim President Adly Mansour.
Mansour issued a presidential decree on 26 January stating that the polls must be held within 30 to 90 days from the ratification of Egypt's newly-amended constitution on 18 January, meaning that the process was supposed to kick off on 18 February.
However, Fahmy argued that Mansour's decree, as well as article 230 of the new constitution, actually means that the 30 to 90 day window is for the PEC to begin preparing for the elections and not necessarily a time frame in which the elections must take place.
Read this way, the PEC isn't "obliged" to meet on 18 February or even announce the results of the polls within a certain period of time, only finish its preparations before the 90 days is up, which would be on 18 April, said Fahmy.
But sources told Ahram Online that the delay in the PEC meeting comes mostly from the failure of Mansour's legal team to finish drafting the new law aimed at regulating the elections.
Ali Awad, Mansour's legal and constitutional affairs advisor, told Ahram Online that the law had not been issued as expected by 17 February because the president's team had taken a lot of time to review the hundreds of proposed amendments it received from political groups, civilians and the PEC itself as part of a national dialogue concerning the law's stipulations.
Awad also repeated Fahmy's argument concerning the 30 to 90 day window and the PEC's preparations, and assured that Mansour's team had "already finalised" the new law and sent it on Monday to the State Council's Department of Fatwas and Legislation for a "final review."
After that, it will be returned to Mansour for a final decision, which should take place after a few days, said Awad.
Perhaps the most contentious aspect of the new law is article 7, which allows both candidates and citizens to file appeals against the PEC's decisions. Awad agreed that the article had been hotly debated, but he refused to disclose whether the article had been retained or altered to prevent appeals in the upcoming elections.
The majority of the received proposals had been against the possibility of appeals in presidential elections, Awad said, but he insisted that all viewpoints would be taken into consideration.
The PEC also recommended that appeals not be allowed, said Fahmy.
Article 7 caused big divisions among legal experts.
Mahmoud El-Attar, a former deputy chairman of the State Council, said that allowing candidates to file appeals in presidential elections is consistent with the new constitution: article 97 of the charter prevents elevating administrative orders above judicial scrutiny.
But Nabil Helmi, former dean of the Faculty of Law at Cairo University, insists that the PEC's decisions aren't "administrative orders."
"This is a purely judicial body composed of senior members of the highest judicial authorities in Egypt and whose decisions can't be reviewed by lower courts," Helmi said.
He argued that the PEC's decisions cover a wide variety of issues – from opening the door of registration, regulating election campaigns, to announcing the final results – and if you allow appeals in these matters, then you will open the door for presidential polls to be susceptible to a "Pandora's box of legal challenges."
Political factions, including liberals, leftists and Islamists, also differed on article 7. Most youth revolutionary movements have recommended allowing appeals, as have liberal politicians like Mohamed El-Orabi, a former foreign minister and chairman of the Congress Party, who said that appeals would "send a message of transparency and integrity" to the outside world.
But Rifaat El-Said, former chairman of the leftist National Progressive Unionist Party (NPUP), better known as the Tagammu Party, said that his party was against appeals – a move that might be explained by his announcing that the Tagammu Party was in favour of army chief Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi becoming Egypt's next president.
Regarding other amendments to the presidential elections law, Awad said that the campaign period for candidates had been lowered from one month to three weeks.
Some had proposed that a hopeful candidate's family members, including sons and daughters, must not hold dual nationality. However, Awad said that this proposal had been rejected on the grounds that it went against article 1 of the new constitution, which states that only the candidate, his parents and spouse must not have held dual nationality.
Once the new law is issued, Awad said, the PEC will meet to begin preparations for the elections.
The registration door will then open and hopeful candidates will have their names inserted on voter lists.