Monday, 28 March 2011

Egypt's new new parties law still restrictive

The military council running Egypt has made some amendments to the draft law regulating political parties as released by the cabinet a few days ago. Unfortunately they add to the confusion rather than clarify the ambiguities. The approach adopted by the military council is reminiscent of the old regime's preference for legislation that was wide open to interpretation (in its case by a pliant judiciary), so that it could finetune its apllication of the law to suit its political preferences.
    The new text, available in Arabic on El Shorouk's website, reads:
In their principles, their programmes, their practical activities or in their choice of leaders and members, parties must not be set up on the basis of religion, class, sect, group or geographical region or because of gender, language, religion or belief (sic).
    So the overt ban on parties based on religion appears to stand, though supporters and opponents of the Muslim Brotherhood seem to think that the ban would not apply to the party the Brotherhood plans to set up, simply because the party will not have Muslim in its name, or at least because the party will avoid mentioning Islam in its programme. Maybe the programme will just refer to al-Din, the religion? This is farcical.  If the military council intends to let the Brotherhood form a party (which must of necessity have Islam as one of its bases, however carefully disguised), the council should promulgate a law that explicitly makes that possible.
    The redrafted arrangements for vetting political parties are also problematic and will no doubt lead to endless legal wrangling. The new law gives the final word, after the parties committee, to yet another body of judges - the Supreme Administrative Court. This is still an improvement on the Mubarak-era law, which vested the power of denial in a political body, but it still falls way short of allowing the free formation of political parties.
    As in almost all significant matters, the military council appears to be following the path of least resistance rather than taking a stand on any firm principle. It will not come as a surprise if the council changes its mind on these points at some later stage in the political process. 
    Likewise for the phasing of parliamentary and presidential elections. El Shorouk quotes Major-General Mamdouh Shahin as saying parliamentary elections will take place in September and no date has been set for presidential elections. The Daily News version says specifically that the presidentials will come later. There have been changes back and forth on this, so this version may not be definitive.

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