The National Elections Authority (NEA) blindsided many commentators when it announced on 10 September that the door for candidate registration will open as early as 17 September, and remain so until 26 September. The two-stage poll will then kick off on 21 October and wrap up on 14 December.
The first stage, between 21 October and 30 November, will cover 14 governorates: Giza, Fayoum, Beni Sweif, Minya, Assiut, the New Valley, Sohag, Qena, Luxor, Aswan, the Red Sea, Alexandria, Beheira, and Marsa Matrouh. The second stage, between 4 November and 14 December, will cover the remaining 13 governorates: Cairo, Qalioubiya, Daqahliya, Menoufiya, Gharbiya, Kafr Al-Sheikh, Sharqiya, Damietta, Port Said, Ismailia, Suez, North Sinai, and South Sinai.
Political forces, the majority of which had expected the candidate registration period to open next month, rushed to hold meetings to prepare for the polls.
In a press conference on Sunday, representatives from 12 political parties announced that they had formed a coalition to contest the 284 seats reserved for party lists. The National Unified List coalition will be led by the pro-government Mostaqbal Watan (Future of the Homeland) Party and, according to Ashraf Rashad, deputy head of Mostaqbal Watan, already comprises 12 political parties — Watan, the Wafd, the Guardians of the Nation, Modern Egypt, the Egyptian Socialist Democratic Party, the People’s Republican Party, the Reform and Development, Tagammu, the Generation’s Will, the Egyptian Freedom, the Justice, and the Congress parties — with negotiations underway with four more. The two parties most likely to join are the Free Egyptians and the Ghad.
Candidates will compete for 568 seats in the upcoming poll. An additional 28 seats (five per cent) will be filled by presidential appointees, bring the total number of MPs to 596.
The 568 seats are split equally between individual and party list candidates. The latter will be elected from four mega districts, two containing 100 seats each, and two 42 seats each. The 284 individual candidates will be elected from 143 districts each of which will return two candidates.
Rashad said the National Unified List Coalition will include political forces with different ideological platforms but “united in their love for their country”. A month ago a near identical coalition contested the Senate polls and won all party list seats unopposed.
Hossam Al-Khouli, Mostaqbal Watan’s second deputy head, boasted the new coalition included the most active political parties in Egypt. “They are politically different, but they all see the coalition as their best chance to win party list seats,” he said.
Bahaaeddin Abu Shoka, chairman of the Wafd, said the party had joined the National Unified List in order to ensure the next parliament contains a wide range of parties.
Hazem Omar, chairman of the Republican People’s Party, argued that the coalition would help guarantee Egypt did not return to single party rule.
“Egypt became a one party state in 1953, and in 2012 the Freedom and Justice Party, the Muslim Brotherhood’s political wing, tried to hijack parliament.”
Now, Omar says, the coalition, which includes diverse political forces, can act as a bulwark against single party control.
Anwar Al-Sadat, head of the Reform and Development Party, said that while his party had voiced concerns over political developments in Egypt in recent years it had no choice but to join the coalition for the sake of the country.
“What I hope for now is that the candidates on the coalition’s Unified List will win the confidence of voters,” he said.
Abdel-Moneim Imam, head of the Adl (Justice) Party, said the country was still passing through difficult times which “make it almost impossible for political parties to run on their own… for the sake of stability it is better they join a coalition so they can gain representation.”
Farid Zahran, chairman of the Egyptian Socialist Democratic Party, insisted the coalition would allow both loyalist and opposition parties to join the next parliament and have a voice.
Joining the Unified List coalition, however, has led to internal rifts within some political parties. Two leading members of the Wafd organised a sit-in to protest party chairman Bahaa Abu Shoka’s decision to join the coalition and have demanded Abu Shoka resign if the party is allocated less than 40 seats on the National Unified List.
Ayman Abul-Ela, parliamentary spokesperson of the Free Egyptians Party, resigned in protest at party chairman Essam Khalil’s decision to join the National Unified List. He pointed out that the Free Egyptians Party won the largest number of seats in the 2015 parliamentary elections and argued it was capable of standing alone.
Amina Al-Naqash, editor-in-chief of the leftist Tagammu Party’s mouthpiece Al-Ahali, threatened that the party would quit the coalition if less than 15 Tagammu candidates were included on the list.
The Civilian Movement coalition, currently composed of four political parties, the Popular Socialist Alliance, the Karama (Dignity), the Constitution, and the Bread and Freedom which reject the House of Representatives’ election law, is also preparing to stand. It is rumoured that the Conservatives Party, led by business tycoon Akram Qortam, will also join.
The National Current coalition, led by former governor of Alexandria Tarek Al-Mahdi, said the NEA’s decision to open the door to candidate registration on 17 September had come as a surprise and “forced us to step up efforts to launch the National Current and join the election”.
Another coalition, the Alliance of Independents, also says it will contest the 284 party list seats. Spokesman Sayed Mahrous said the coalition includes the Araby Party for Justice and Equality, the Voice of the People’s party, the Nasr (Victory) Party, the Union of Cooperatives and the General Egyptian Federation of Trade Unions (GEFTU). Mahrous said the coalition will depend on the support of millions of workers and farmers across Egypt.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 17 September, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly