Egyptian leaders to discuss new election law amid conflict about transition plan

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The suggested amendments to be introduced of Egypt’s election law will be discussed in a government meeting to be chaired by Prime Minister Essam Sharaf on Tuesday, Al Arabiya reported.

In a meeting with Lt. Gen. Sami Annan, the second-in-command in the military council, political leaders have agreed on Saturday on a timetable for the current transitional period.

The military council agreed to amend Article 5 of the Election Law to allow political party candidates to contest seats specified for independents (one-third of the total seats in Parliament).

The military council also agreed to consider ending the Emergency Law, in effect since 1981, and issuing a law banning former ruling party members from running in elections.

The meeting of the military council with the party leaders came a day after tens of thousands of demonstrators poured into the streets to protest the Election Law and the extension of the Emergency Law, which expired (in theory) on Sept. 30.

Egyptian political parties pulled back from threats to boycott Egypt’s first multi-candidate vote since President Hosni Mubarak was ousted.

The parties, seeking to keep former allies of Mubarak out of parliament, had threatened to boycott the polls unless the army changed an election law to allow them to field candidates both on party lists and for seats allocated to individuals.

Egypt’s parliamentary elections are due to begin on Nov. 28.

Good step along the right track

Mubarak’s former allies, many of them local notables who still enjoy clout in their areas, have been spurned by most parties, leaving them with few options to get re-elected to parliament apart from running as independents.

Some politicians described the plan as a “good” step along the right track, but others said the plan does not meet the aspirations of the people, warning against future friction between the majority of Egyptians and the Army because of its insensitivity to the demands of a people thirsty for a quick and effective transition.

“Boycotting the elections was a threatening option to pressure the military council, not a serious one,” Essam al-Erian, deputy head of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice party, told Reuters on Sunday.

“Political parties are established to participate in elections, not to boycott them,” he said.

While the military council showed flexibility, if only in the form of verbal promises, to most of the demands of the party leaders, the fact that it only met with a fraction of Egypt’s 50 political parties may be cause for a further deterioration in the relations between the Army and the political powers.

“The latest agreed measures will only serve the military because they will prolong their presence in power,” Abdul-Moneim Abul Fetouh, a potential presidential candidate, The Egyptian Gazette reported on Monday.

“This will cause more suffering for the people, who already have more than their fill of economic pressures to contend with,” he added.

Boycotting the elections was a threatening option to pressure the military council, not a serious one. Political parties are established to participate in elections, not to boycott them

Essam al-Erian, the Muslim Brotherhood

Optimism about the future

Even with this, some politicians feel optimistic about the future, saying the Army is doing its utmost to try and ensure a smooth transition in Egypt, striving to respond positively to almost everybody.

“Let's be frank about this,” said Helmi Salem, the head of the al-Ahrar Party, who attended the meeting with Annan on Saturday.

“It is impossible for the council to please everybody here. But we are seeing signs that the Army wants to hand power over to the people when the conditions are right,” he told the Gazette.

Liberal and leftist groups have been demanding guarantees that the new constitution will ensure a civil state, fearing that any future Islamist majority could push through the creation of a theocracy.

Islamists argue that laying down such rules before the elected constituent assembly meets is undemocratic.

“The meeting ended the debate over supra-constitutional principles and they will be announced once we agree on them,” said Mohamed Morsi, head of Freedom and Justice, in a statement on the Brotherhood’s official website.

Elections, which under Mubarak were marred by ballot stuffing, vote buying and intimidation, may be monitored by foreign non-governmental organizations and media, according to Reuters.

The military had previously said it would not permit international monitoring of the elections.

The army also said it would consider ending military trials for civilians and would study the status of an emergency law criticized by rights groups for handing the authorities sweeping powers of arrest and detention.

It has previously said the law would stay in force until next year. Six presidential hopefuls said in a joint statement on Thursday that the state of emergency legally expired on Friday, saying any further use of it was devoid of legitimacy.

The latest agreed measures will only serve the military because they will prolong their presence in power. This will cause more suffering for the people, who already have more than their fill of economic pressures to contend with

Abdul-Moneim Abul Fetouh, a potential presidential candidate