The National Dialogue, which has brought together representatives of political forces, civil society organisations, unions, and professional syndicates, resumed activities this week after a one-week recess.
On Sunday, the dialogue’s Political Committee reviewed the 1977 law on the performance of political parties.
“In Egypt, we have many political parties and most of them face problems because of existing legislation and the lack of democratic practices,” said committee head Alieddin Hilal. “The faster we find solutions for problems facing political parties, the better for the country’s future and development.”
Dialogue General Coordinator Diaa Rashwan said Egypt is in a pressing need of effective political parties. “The future of this country will only be secure when we have functioning political parties that can shape public opinion and shoulder responsibility when they come to power,” he said.
The dialogue should introduce amendments to Political Parties Law 40/1977 which has made it difficult for the majority of political parties, especially those in opposition, to act freely and compete in fair elections, says Cairo University professor of political science Mazen Abdel-Rahman.
Abdel-Rahman argued the poor performance of most political parties in Egypt is due to a lack of funding. Though many parties oppose government funding, he points out that 60 per cent of countries provide finance to political parties from the state budget.
Senator Mohamed Emara said that in the 46 years since the political parties law was passed in 1977, it has become obsolete and new legislation is needed to reflect a half century of political, social, economic and technological development. He also argued that changes to the law in 2005 stipulating that parties must secure the support of at least 5,000 members from 10 governorates before being recognised had inhibited the emergence of new parties.
Hossam Al-Khouli, deputy chairman of the parliamentary majority party Mostaqbal Watan, disputed Emara’s analysis, insisting the 5,000-member stipulation was not an obstacle and after the 2011 uprising many new political parties were licensed.
“Right now, we have more than 100 political parties and most of them are ineffective. Lowering the number of members required would simply mean more lacklustre political parties,” he said.
Justice Party head Abdel-Moneim Emam asked for the minimum membership quota be changed from 5,000 to 3,000.
Ibrahim Al-Heneidi, head of parliament’s Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee, proposed that the Judicial Committee in charge of licensing political parties be given greater powers to settle the internal disputes which beset political parties every now and then, while Emam called for a higher commission to be established with the power to license political parties, help solve their financial problems and mediate internal disputes. He argued that since president Anwar Al-Sadat’s 1977 decision to transform Egypt from a single to a multiparty system nothing concrete had been done to create an environment in which political parties can act freely.
“State authorities still view political parties with suspicion rather than an asset for stability,” said Emam.
Over the last 50 years, restrictive policies strangled political parties and opened the way for extremist movements like the Muslim Brotherhood to exploit the obstacles in the way of secular parties to spread their radical ideologies, according to Rashwan.
Under Article 8 of the current law, a committee headed by the deputy chairman of the Court of Cassation and comprising six judges from the State Council and the Appeal Court, oversees the licensing of political parties.
“We have to replace this judicial committee with one that can take charge of regulating political parties from A to Z,” said Rashwan.
Rashwan supported proposals that political parties receive funding from the state budget and argued that parties should be able to receive donations, invest in commercial activities, receive tax and custom exemptions, be allowed to publish newspapers and own television channels and online websites.
In addition to changing the 1997 law, political activist Khaled Dawoud called for greater freedom of speech. “There is a connection between the performance of political parties and human rights. The freer the media, the more vibrant political life,” said Dawoud.
Political analyst Amr Hamzawi argued that after the constitution enshrining a multiparty system was passed in 2014, the 1977 political parties law became irrelevant. He called for a new law that allows political parties with similar positions to merge in order to better compete in parliamentary and presidential elections.
Hamzawi stressed the importance of political parties establishing offices in the provinces, noting “this will never happen without sufficient funding.” He said he was in favour of parties receiving state funding as long as they submitted an annual report showing how they used the money.
Abdel-Hamid Kamal, a former Tagammu Party MP, said it would be pointless to change the political parties law without first creating a new social contract between the state and opposition parties. Currently, “the lack of trust and lack of freedom of speech make it very difficult for opposition parties to act freely.”
Kamel lamented the hegemony so-called loyalist parties exercise over political life, arguing “the state should deal with all political parties on an equal footing.”
* A version of this article appears in print in the 7 September, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly