Partisans and Parliamentarians Adopt a New Bill Drafted by the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights

April 24th, 2008 by EOHR

The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights held a workshop at its office entitled “Partisan Life in Egypt…Reality and Future Prospects” on 23/4/2008. A number of representatives of political parties and members of parliament declared their intention to adopt a new bill concerning political parties, and replace the current law – Law No.40 of 1977. Participants agreed to submit the bill to the Egyptian Parliament.

Mr. Hafez Abu Seada added that the workshop comes within the framework of the “Egyptian Legislative Reform Forum”, EOHR’s initiative to amend and modernize the legislative system to conform with international covenants on Human Rights. This forum was initiated by EOHR in January 2007 in 7 governorates (Cairo, Alexandria, Gharbia, Damietta, Port Said, Asuit, Qena) and is supported by the European Union. This forum aims at amending national legislation in accordance with international human rights standards and international covenants on human rights. These covenants have already been ratified by the Egyptian government through drafting new bills or adopting new law that is compatible with human rights standards. The forum also aims at discussing the bills submitted with members of the People’s Assembly and Shura Council, furthermore, the forum hopes to hold dialogues with all other involved persons and hopes to submit the bills to the president.

Mr. Abu Seada confirmed that partisan life in Egypt faces a number of constraints. The current legislative environment hampers partisan work. Where laws such as Law No. 40 of 1977, concerning political parties and party committees formed according to the law, greatly limits political freedom. The committee has the right to forbid the establishment of the party and most of its members belong to the National Democratic Party. Also, parties suffer from several interior problems, such as a lack of differing views in its Partisan Program. All of the Egyptian parties simply agree on common denominators, with differences being too minute to give voters real and different choices.

Mr. Abu Seada called for a re-invigoration of the inactive Egyptian partisan arena through:
Allowing political parties to freely establish themselves through government notification
The cancellation of Law No. 40/1977 (Amended by Law No. 177/2005)
Government acceptance of a new bill that includes –

  • The Freedom to form political parties without prior approval.
  • The right of Egyptian citizens to join and withdraw from any party voluntarily.
  • The right of party members to draft basic documents for political programs, regulations and program activities for election of leaders without any interference from outside influence.
  • The submission of the political parties to the normal judiciary.
  • Political parties’ commitment to the law and the constitution without any extra conditions.
  • Parties with military, paramilitary formation, or parties based on religious grounds, or ideological or sectarian or ethnic lines are forbidden to be established.
  • Parties will depend on contributions from their members, unconditional donations, and the support of the new state budget. Parties will fully respect standards of transparency and accountability. They should be exempt from all taxes and fees related to their premises, newspapers and activities. Essam El Din Hasan, researcher at Cairo Centre for Human Rights Studies, agreed with Mr. Hafez Abu Seada as he called for the abolition of law No. 40/1977 and called for the implementation of a new democratic law that depends on the following principles:
    • Parties should be established through notification. They should not have to deal with monitoring or permission prior to establishment. In Germany the law does not require any action to establish parties and Article 21 of the Basic Law stipulates that establishing parties is free from restrictions. German law does not force a party to complete more than a written program and a set of regulations that needs to be sent with a list of the party leaders to the Chairman of the Federal Committee that monitors elections. Another example are political parties in France. The law of assemblies guarantees the freedom of establishing associations without permission or prior notification needed. The French legislator is satisfied with declaring the name of the association, its premises and leadership positions to give it a legal entity. The French Constitutional Council does not require any declaration except after publishing the main system, programs, and party leader’s names in the formal newspaper.
    • Restrictions should not be imposed on establishing parties, except for protecting democratic society. The Committee of Political Parties which refuses to register parties and imposes prior monitoring should be canceled along with all forms of procedural restrictions.

    Essam El Din Hasan enumerated some limits as well:

    • The prohibition imposed by the Constitution on establishing associations or organizations that depend on violence or a military basis .
    • Establishing parties on the basis of religious or ethnic or regional or on any discriminatory basis should be prohibited.
    • Parties should be committed to abide by democratic principles and the constitution, which protect general freedoms.
    • Party membership should be open for any who agree to abide by its targets and programs without distinction.
    • The interior systems for parties should include clear rules to manage the party, form its hierarchy and vote for its members. Further, it should manage its interior problems on a democratic basis.
    • Parties should publish their main programs and the names of those that established the party, their leaders and members.

    The normal judiciary should be the only area for jurisdiction, as Law No. 40 of 1977 brought parties to the Political Parties Constituency in the State Council. This violates constitutional guarantees. Instead, proceedings should be submitted to the Constitutional Court, as this system was adopted in the same manner as other democratic systems, such as that in Germany. Its law confirms that those parties that go against democracy become illegal.

    Abdul Ghaffar Shokr, Vice Chairman of the Research Center of Arab and African Countries clarified that there is a need to reconsider the foundations of the multi-party system that have been in Egypt since April 1976. Despite 32 years of using this multi-party system, it has not accomplished its main objective, due to the restrictions imposed by Law No. 40 of 1977 and its amendments. This law has imposed restrictions on the freedom of party establishment and their activities.

    Shokr added that the current Law on political parties has the following repercussions:

    • The permanence of a one-party system, but in a multi-party template. There is one large party that holds a monopoly over the regime, and small parties are not allowed to grow or compete for power.
    • The existence of distorted partisan plurality that does not serve society. There are parties that obtain legitimacy, but these parties do not reflect social or political visions of society. Further, there are political parties that do not get legitimacy despite their clear active role at the political level.

    Shokr confirmed that the one of the main mechanisms to fulfill the domination of Executive authority over political parties is the Committee of Political Parties. It has the right to object to establish a party along with the right to interfere in party affairs and, lastly, it has the right to dissolve parties and their newspapers from being published.

    Shokr expressed his refusal to amend Law No. 40 of 1977; he confirmed that the expected amendment for multi-party system in Egypt will never be done through amending the current party law. He called for enacting a new law that is established on a clear democratic base.

    Essam El-Islambouli, Lawyer at the Cassation Court, confirmed that the political parties case is one of the most important yet. Party law, he argues, has deviated from legislation. Further, the idea of personifying the country came when Law No. 37 of 1953 was published and the government dissolved parties, instead setting up a one-party system based on the idea of a single organization through the National Liberation Front and the Socialist Union. Then, Article 5 was adopted in the Constitution of 1971 and the one-party system was now constitutional. After the 6th of October war, of which the outcomes were not used to better Egyptian society, the coup of the 1971 Constitution which came as a result of a paper presented by president Sadat to develop the Socialist Union. This developed into three platforms and then to certain organizations, then to parties. This period continued until the issuing of Law No. 40 of 1977.

    Although the Constitution in that period prevented a multi-party system, they amended the constitution to adapt the law. And although the law had stipulated the freedom to establish parties, it imposed several restrictions on their establishment and activity.

    El Islambouli clarified that Law 40 is rife with unconstitutional law. It was said that it is complementary to the Constitution, while the Supreme Constitutional Court called for providing two main prerequisites: 1- The constitution includes what the law stipulates.
    2- The integrated rule does not separate from two parts.

    These two conditions are not available in law No. 40, along with other recent amendments added to the law in 2005. These amendments include around 16 articles that are inconsistent with the constitution. For example, Article 4 stipulates that the program of a party has to add some thing “new”. This condition gives the government the right to determine if the program represents something “new” or not. Article 6, further, requires that members should have fully Egyptian parents. This is not a condition for members of the People’s Assembly or Shura Council. Also, article 8 explains the formation of the party’s committee. There are 3 ministers belong to the National Democratic Party, as well as the meetings are not valid without the attendance of the President and two ministers.

    Mr.Essam Shiha, Member of El Wafd Party, indicated that the Egyptian parties suffer from a group of interior and exterior problems, including conflicts and internal disagreement in most parties and imbalance between parties and the ruling party. This is all in combination with strong similarities in party programs.

    Mr. Mohamed Mansour Hasan, Member of the Executive Office at Democratic Front, clarified that there is a set of constraints which attack the work of parties, including moral constraints stemmed from several factors, as follows:

    • People lose confidence in all parties because the work of parties over the past thirty years has been negative. As no party was able to really change the political system, citizens became disenchanted and no longer participated in political parties. Furthermore, the membership in all parties does not exceed 3% of the Egyptian population.
    • State officials consider opposition parties anti-regime, therefore they see their duty as to fight these parties through organizations such as the Employee of Real State Registration, which discourages people from establishing their own parties.
    • There are fears that detract people from participating in parties, such as the head of the party getting arrested.
    • The absence of a culture of teamwork and volunteerism.

    Mansour added that other constraints that political parties face are financial. There is no equitable distribution of wealth in our society, and the law stipulates that the only contributions allowed to parties are through donations. As about 95% of Egypt’s wealth is in the hands of businessmen, the only source of contributions are through these people, but businessmen refuse to join any opposition party in fear that they may put themselves at risk.

    Also Mansour indicated that other constraints which detract from partisan life is the prohibition of holding civil conferences, holding marches and rallies, or distributing publications (except during election campaigns and only for two weeks every 5 years). How can parties connect with the people?!

    Mansour confirmed that the political and economic situation in Egypt is very dangerous and the government should treat this situation, especially the economical problems, to avoid popular unrest. Also, government should help parties to reform through amending the law of parties and encouraging people to participate in politics and support democracy.

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