Parliamentary Elections Update: The Week in Review

The first round of voting in Egypt’s parliamentary elections, the country’s first parliamentary elections in three years, is fast approaching. Voting is scheduled to take place abroad on October 17, and voting in Egypt will occur on October 18 and 19. The second round of the elections is set to take place on November 22 and 24. The parliament will include 596 parliamentarians. A total of 2,573 individual candidates are contesting 226 seats in the first stage of elections, and seven party-based lists are contesting sixty seats. As campaigning comes to a close, electoral lists and independent candidates are seeking to increase their support across the country.

Voting in the First Stage

According to the High Elections Committee (HEC), over 27 million Egyptians are registered to participate in the first round of parliamentary elections on October 18. According to HEC Spokesperson Omar Marwan, there are 13,257,507 women and 14,144,846 men who are registered to vote

700,000 Egyptians abroad have registered to participate in the elections and will vote on October 17 in 139 embassies and consulates abroad. Voting will not take place in four countries due to unrest, namely Libya, Syria, Yemen, and the Central African Republic. Meanwhile, Deputy Foreign Minister Ambassador Hamdy Luza called on Egyptians living abroad to take part in the elections and “turn a deaf ear to any rumors” about the voting process. Some Egyptians abroad, however, have complained of a lack of information regarding voting procedures and candidates.

The HEC has banned women from wearing the Niqab while casting their ballots for identification verification purposes. According to HEC’s official spokesperson, there will be rigorous identity check in polling stations during the upcoming parliamentary elections, and women’s faces must be revealed to controllers.

The government has also reportedly issued an order banning women dressed in revealing clothes from voting in the elections. According to Al Arabiya, Elections Advisor to the Prime Minister Major General Refaat Komsan, said, “It is not acceptable for a woman in revealing clothes to enter a polling station to vote in the elections which are expected to be a democratic carnival.”

Campaigning and Candidates

The Nour Party

The Salafist Nour Party said it will field less than 200 independents and fifteen party-based candidates running in the elections. The party had originally planned to field 200 candidates, according Senior Party Official Shaaban Abdel-Alim. He added that the party decided to focus on the West Delta and Cairo constituencies rather than field candidates throughout the entire country in order to capitalize on its bases of support. Abdel-Alim also Abdel-Alim added that the decision was meant to “send [the party’s secular rivals] a message that [the Nour Party] want[s] to be partners in the coming parliament rather than to be monopolizers.” The party will support the For the Love of Egypt (FLE) party list in East Delta, as it is running uncontested, and will allow its members to decide which list to support in Upper Egypt.

The party has focused its campaign on promises of reform and the provision of services. It has promised to develop roads, sanitation, education, and build schools and hospitals. The party also said that revising Egypt’s controversial protest law and reforming pretrial detention are among the main priorities on its legislative agenda. The party is leading shuttle tours in a number of provinces as the campaign period comes to a close to mobilize the largest possible number of votes.

The party has also sought to emphasize its identity as a political party, not as a religious movement. For this reason, the party has focused on private meetings and public conferences as opposed to campaigning through private television channels that have raised debates about the party’s religious background. Member of the party’s Presidential Council Salah Abd al-Maqsood told Daily News Egypt that the Salafist Call, the party’s religious arm, is completely different from the Nour Party and that each group has its own members and board of directors. Meanwhile, ​​internal rifts within the Salafist Call began to emerge as the head of the group in Matruh, Sheikh Mohamed Gwely criticized the Nour Party, saying that leaders in Alexandria have forgotten or ignored their beliefs.

Conflict also surrounds Coptic candidates allied with the Nour Party. Pope Tawadros II said that Copts who join the lists of Nour Party for the parliamentary elections should not be trusted either by Muslims or Christians.

For the Love of Egypt

Head of the Conservative Party Akmal Kortam has reversed his decision to withdraw from the FLE electoral list, stressing that he has no intentions to withdraw again. Kortam said that his withdrawal was due to a misunderstanding with leaders of the list, and not due to the low percentage of his party’s representation on the list. He said he would take full responsibility for the misunderstanding that occurred.

FLE is also ramping up its campaigning in the few days before the election. According to DNE, the FLE displayed large banners across Cairo, Giza, and other governorates and issued television and radio advertisements. The group is seeking to form political alliances in the second round of the elections with a number of independent candidates.

A number of news outlets have reported on the list’s projected success in the elections, including AFP, Reuters, and Ahram Online.   

Free Egyptians Party

Founder of the liberal Free Egyptians party, Naguib Sawiris, said that his party is not looking for a majority in the elections. “The party has already succeeded in training youth cadres capable of contributing positively to the state, regardless of the elections’ results,” he said. The party is fielding 227 individual candidates and up to nine candidates on the FLE list.

Socialist Popular Alliance Party

The Socialist Popular Alliance Party has launched a campaign, entitled “If You Elect Them,” warning voters against electing members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood and Hosni Mubarak’s dissolved National Democratic Party to the new parliament. Acting Chair Member of the Party of the SPAP Medhat al-Zahed said that the party “is participating to fight against the return of the old faces of Mubarak and political Islam.” Organizers from the “Tamarod” campaign are joining the campaign, and the party plans to invite other “revolutionary parties” to join.

Last week, the party announced its electoral program and discussed freedoms, education, health spending, corruption, culture, and unemployment. The party also announced its stance against amendments to the 2014 Constitution. Zahed said the party’s electoral program is based on “the social and democracy goals represented by the January 25 Revolution and its extension in June 30.” The party is fielding six candidates for individual seats and nine independent candidates on party lists.

Wafd Party

Egypt’s Wafd Party is touting its long history in parliament as it heads into the elections. The party is competing for 264 independent seats in the elections. It also has eight members on the FLE list. Wafd Party Head El-Sayed El-Badawi promoted his party’s “100 years of history” in a televised interview last week, and head of the party’s communications office Yasser Hassan has emphasized the broad recognition of the party, saying it is “well-known by people on the street.” The party does not have an electoral program, but is instead presenting a draft legislative package comprised of political, economic, and social laws.

“No to Religious Parties”

The “No to Religious Parties” campaign group announced it collected 2 million signatures. The campaign also said it would form an operations room to monitor and document electoral violations committed during the elections, with particular attention to be paid to the Nour Party.The group said it would file a case against the twelve Egyptian political parties founded on religious bases, among them the Nour Party.

Military and Police Candidates

Al Masry Al Youm reports that a large number of former army and police officers are running as independent public figures in the twelve electoral lists competing for seats in the elections.  The largest number of former generals can be found in the “For the Love of Egypt” list, which is led by retired army general Sameh Seif al-Yazal. Other former military and police officials running on the list include Kamal Amer, a former military intelligence chief, Saad al-Gammal, a former assistant to the minister of interior and a former member of parliament, and Yahia al-Kedwany, a former undersecretary of the General Intelligence Service.

Other lists that include former army and police officials are the joint list of the Independence Current and the Egyptian Front, Republican Alliance of Social Forces, and Forsan Misr (Knights of Egypt).

Disqualified Candidates

Last week, Egypt’s Supreme Administrative Court upheld decisions barring steel tycoon Ahmed Ezz and belly dancer Sama al-Masry from running in the parliamentary elections. Both candidates had lodged appeals against their disqualifications, which were shot down in court. The Supreme Administrative Court said that Ezz did not submit required paperwork to the HEC, including financial documents. The court cited misconduct in its ruling against Masry, saying that she was not suited to be a parliamentarian because she “lacked a good reputation” and “trust.”

Violations and Complaints

Candidates have reportedly committed a number of campaigning violations ahead of the elections. A regulation prohibiting the use of places of worship for campaigning has been violated by candidates in a number of governorates. One candidate from Beheira reportedly spoke about his electoral platform during prayer at a mosque. Another candidate in Luxor, who is said to have since been suspended and referred to investigation, used his position as an official at the Ministry Religious Endowments to promote himself in mosques. Youm7 reported that nineteen candidates have been campaigning via the weekly community magazine of the Coptic Orthodox Church, including Christian candidates affiliated with the Forsan Misr list. In addition, Al-Shorouk reported that the Ministry of Religious Endowments was calling for its preachers in mosques to dedicate their Friday sermons to participation in the elections.

HEC Media Committee Member Amgad Fathy said that several television channels have failed to abide by HEC regulations. “Based on our observations, several TV channels began interviewing candidates prior to the scheduled date, and in several instances we noticed that media content was mixed with promotion,” he said. Media Committee Spokesperson Ihab al-Sayyad told Al-Masry Al-Youm that a number of candidates working in television and print media had violated HEC regulations. He criticized Tawfik Okasha for leveraging his position as owner of the satellite channel Al-Faraeen to promote his campaign. Several other candidates have allegedly abused their positions as owners of media platforms to promote their campaigns. Egyptian Media Production City (EMPC) Head Osama Heikal has been accused of using the compound’s television studios to shoot ads for the FLE list. EMPC has denied The allegations. The Wafd newspaper, the official mouthpiece of the Wafd Party, dedicated an entire section to publicizing campaign events for the party’s candidates.

Al-Sayyad said a report would be filed to the HEC on all campaign violations. Last week, Media Committee Spokesman Amr Marwan said that the number of television channels that had violated the HEC’s media regulations on regarding elections coverage had risen to ten and that the committee was considering the procedures that will be taken against the channels.

Aswat Masriya reported that it has uncovered cases where candidates have exceeded the campaign spending cap stipulated by the HEC. The regulatory body has acknowledged that some candidates have violated campaign spending regulations, however no disciplinary measures have been taken.

On Wednesday, spokesperson for a joint local-international observation mission Ayman Okeil said that a total of 223 complaints had been referred to the HEC. The HEC has referred three of the complaints to the Office of the Attorney General to open investigations into electoral irregularities, he said. Okeil added that electoral irregularities have been reported since early September.

A number of Sufi orders will file a complaint with the HEC against Head of the Supreme Council of Sufi Orders Abdel Hadi al-Qasabi, who is running on the FLE list. Sufis in Egypt are split over support for that list and the Republican Alliance list. The complaint charges Qasabi with exploiting a religious institution for the use of politics and using its name in his list’s electoral campaign.

The Nour Party submitted complaints to the HEC’s Higher Committee on Media Monitoring on Tuesday, accusing the FLE list of attacking the party and for a breach in electoral advertising regulations in several governorates.

Election Monitoring

Last week, Advisor to the Prime Minister Refaat Qomsan announced that eighty-one domestic and six international nongovernmental organizations (NGO), including the Global Network for Rights and Development and the International Institute for Peace, Justice and Human Rights,will be allowed to observe the parliamentary elections. 17,465 members of domestic NGOs and 717 members of international NGOs have received observation permits.

Meanwhile, embassies that requested to observe the elections will be granted permits to do so. HEC Spokesman Amr Marwan said that more than sixty embassies in Egypt requested to observe the elections.

On Sunday, Czech Ambassador to Cairo Veronika Kuchynova Smigolova said that three Czech diplomats will observe the electoral process and will coordinate with the European Union mission.
On Tuesday, fifteen international observers arrived in Cairo who are part a mission of 300 observers from local, regional, and international organizations based in the European Union. The mission will deploy 150 international observers to monitor the first phase of the elections.

Egypt’s National Council for Human Rights (NCHR), one of the entities monitoring the elections, said it would temporarily freeze the activity of two of its members who are running in the upcoming elections. The activities of rights lawyer Hafez Abu-Seida and journalist Mohamed Abdel-Aziz will be frozen until the end of the parliamentary in order to preserve the Council’s “objectivity and independence” during monitoring.

Both the Administrative Prosecution Authority Club and the Journalists’ Syndicate announced that they will set up operations rooms to observe the elections. The Administrative Prosecution Authority Club will monitor comments and complaints from the judges responsible for supervising the electoral process and act as  a link between the Administrative Prosecution Club and the HEC.The Club plans to issue a  report with observations about the electoral process that will be submitted to the HEC.Youm7 reported that Egypt’s Journalists Syndicate has set up an operations room to observe violations against journalists during the election. The operations room will receive reports from journalists who have been prevented from carrying out their work. Syndicate Board Member Gamal Abdel Rehim told Youm7 that the syndicate’s members will contact authorities based on journalists’ reports.

The National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) will also set up an operations room to follow Egyptian expatriates’ complaints during the voting process. The room will be reportedly be administered by the NCHR and 136 other organizations.

Other News

The Finance Ministry has said the Egypt’s parliamentary and municipal elections will cost the government EGP 1.5 billion (around $191 billion). The money will be used for, among other things, the printing of voting cards and voter rolls and the supplying of phosphorescent ink in polling stations. The spending will be supervised by the ministry and the Central Auditing Agency.  

Minister of Local and Administrative Development Ahmed Zaki Badr said that the days during which the parliamentary elections will take place will not be public holidays except for workers at schools where polling stations are located.

Elissa Miller is a Program Assistant  at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East 

Image: Photo: Nehal El-Sherif