Before adjourning for the summer recess parliament approved on Monday a long-awaited law redrawing electoral districts.
The law, drafted by the majority Support Egypt coalition, is the last law needed to pave the way for holding House of Representative elections in November.
Four laws, passed on 17 June, covered the exercise of political rights, the formation of the House of Representatives, the performance of the National Elections Authority (NEA), and the formation of the Senate.
Support Egypt coalition leader Abdel-Hadi Al-Qasabi told reporters on Sunday that the draft law states that 143 districts will be created to elect 284 deputies via the individual candidacy system, and another four districts will be formed to elect another 284 deputies through the closed list system.
“The law, in line with the constitution, also stipulates that 25 percent of seats be allocated to women, and the president of the republic is empowered by the constitution to name a further 28 appointees [five per cent],” said Al-Qasabi.
“This will mean there will be 596 deputies in the next parliament, sufficient to guarantee equality, legality and fairness.”
The law will replace legislation from 2012 and “specify the number of MPs representing each district, making it very different from the 100 per cent individual system under which each district will elect two independents,” said Al-Qasabi.
The draft law divides the 143 individual districts with 284 seats among Egypt’s 27 governorates as follows: Cairo (19), Giza (12), Alexandria (six), Port Said (two), Ismailia (three), Suez (one), Qalioubiya (six), Sharqiya (eight), Daqahliya (10), Damietta (two), Kafr El-Sheikh (four), Gharbiya (eight), Menoufiya (six), Beheira (nine), Fayoum (four), Beni Sweif (four), Minya (six), Assiut (four), Sohag (eight), Qena (four), Luxor (three), Aswan (four), Marsa Matrouh (two), New Valley (two), Red Sea (two), North Sinai (two), and South Sinai (two).
Four party list districts will be created with 284 seats as follow: Cairo and five Middle and South Nile Delta governorates (Qalioubiya, Daqahliya, Menoufiya, Gharbiya, and Kafr El-Sheikh) 100 seats; 11 North, Middle and Upper Egyptian governorates (Giza, Fayoum, Beni Sweif, Minya, Assiut, New Valley, Sohag, Qena, Luxor, Aswan, and the Red Sea) with 100 seats; seven East Nile delta governorates (Sharqiya, Damietta, Port Said, Ismailia, Suez, North Sinai, and South Sinai) with 42 seats; and three East Nile Delta governorates (Alexandria, Beheira, Marsa Matrouh) with 42 seats.
Bahaaeddin Abu Shoka, head of parliament’s Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee, said that party lists include candidates representing women, and other marginally represented groups, such as youth, farmers, workers, Christians, Egyptian expats and the physically challenged.
Al-Qasabi revealed that in drafting the law, Support Egypt consulted constitutional law professors and the heads of political parties. “We also used the existing database of the number of voters and the latest census to guarantee that voter numbers were equally distributed across districts.
All of these measures are in line with Article 102 of the constitution and promote national objectives.”
Ihab Al-Tamawi, deputy head of the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee, said the committee had been keen to consult with the NEA, the National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). “We sent letters to these three institutions to identify their opinions on the draft law before it was discussed in parliament,” said Al-Tamawi.
MPs voiced several concerns about the law. Suleiman Wahdan, deputy parliament speaker, said he has concerns about the equality of representation. “In Port Said, for example, the law states that just four seats will be up for grabs, compared to six in 2012. Port Said, like the neighbouring governorate of Ismailia, should be allocated six seats. They are almost equal in the size of the population.”
Alexandrian MP Afifi Kamel claimed there is a lot of dissatisfaction among MPs over the draft law.
“Governorates like Alexandria, with a large population, have too few seats, while others like Ismailia have been allocated, proportionally speaking, too many,” said Kamel.
In response, Parliament Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal said, “If you told two MPs or two constitutional law professors to draw or divide a district they will differ. We need to observe objectivity and public interest in discussing this law.”
Abdel-Aal said it is the first time that a law on electoral districts has been drafted by MPs. “In the past such laws were issued in the form of presidential decrees with immediate effect. It is a progressive step that MPs are now in charge of drafting the law.”
Alaa Abed, head of parliament’s Human Rights Committee and deputy head of Mostaqbal Watan Party, said the law “got the consent of constitutional law professors most of whom agreed that it observes equality of representation among governorates”.
“As far as I know, the Support Egypt coalition observed two criteria in drafting the law: that border governorates were accorded some relative weight and that women be allocated 25 per cent of seats in parliament in line with the constitutional stipulation,” said Al-Sayed Al-Sherif, deputy parliament speaker.
Ahmed Al-Sigini, head of parliament’s Local Administration Committee and secretary-general of the Support Egypt coalition, said the adoption of a 50-50 mixed election system had led to some electoral districts being enlarged.
“This is different from the old formula where each district elected two individual MPs. Now we have 50 per cent individual seats and 50 per cent party list seats and districts necessarily differ in size but are more or less equal in the number of voters.”
*A version of this article appears in print in the 20 August, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly