Egypt’s elections law: back to square one?

Human rights lawyer Khaled Ali retracted his decision to run for Egypt's 2014 elections, citing serious concerns about a new law

Sonia Farid

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This week, human rights lawyer and former presidential candidate Khaled Ali retracted his decision to run for Egypt's 2014 elections, citing serious reservations about the new presidential election law. Ali objected to Article 7 of the law, which makes the decisions of the Presidential Elections Committee immune to appeals.

“A candidate who is deemed unqualified by the committee has the right to go to court. If the results are rigged, they have to be contested,” Ali said in the press conference he held to announce his withdrawal. “This is not only in the best interest of candidates, but also of the Egyptian people.”

Ali did not approve of Article 18 of the law, which gives candidates only 30 days to campaign, including meetings, flyers and posters, media outlets, and other activities “permitted by law.” Ali said if members of a candidate’s campaign engage in any kind of gathering seen by the authorities as a form of campaigning before the specified time, they can be arrested under the protest and assembly law.

The same timeframe applies to receiving funds. “How am I supposed to tour all Egypt and collect donations within this short time?” he asked. Ali attributed this article to the state’s reluctance to give “other candidates” the chance to promote their programs.

Article 28 is equally problematic for Ali, as members of the candidate’s campaign in subsidiary polling stations will not be given a copy of the results, as was the case in the 2012 elections. They will only receive reports of the results in the main polling stations, which does not allow them to monitor the process of adding up votes.

Article 1, which lists the qualifications of a presidential candidate, is also of major concern to Ali, as candidates must have a university degree. “So you automatically assume that people who don’t get a university education are unqualified? You’re the ones who spread illiteracy and ruined the education process,” he said, addressing the state. Ali cited the example of prominent Egyptian journalist and writer Mohamed Hassanein Heikal, who does not have a university degree.

Ali also objected to another condition in the same article, which stipulates that the presidential candidate should not suffer from any “physical or mental diseases” that would affect his performance. This would be decided by the health committee appointed by the state. “Is there a list of such diseases?” Ali asked.

“I’m not announcing my withdrawal from the elections. I’m refusing to take part in a charade whose end we all know is predetermined,” he concluded.

Appealing to appeal

Presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahi sent an open letter, dated March 12, to interim President Adli Mansour asking him to reconsider the immunity given to the Presidential Elections Committee. Sabahi expressed his surprise, which he said is shared by the majority of political factions and legal experts, at not allowing the committee’s decisions to be appealed.

He said Article 7 violates Article 97 of the Egyptian constitution, which states that litigation is a right guaranteed to all, that the state is committed to facilitating the litigation process, and that granting immunity to any act or decision is forbidden.

“Violating the constitution less than two months after it was approved is not acceptable and not in the country’s best interest,” wrote Sabahi. “It makes the constitution, in which we invested a lot of time and effort, sheer ink on paper, and invites distrust in the Egyptian state on both the local and international levels.”

He refuted claims that the article brings more stability to Egypt following the declaration of election results. According to Sabahi, while the decisions of the Presidential Elections Committee cannot be appealed, a lawsuit can be filed at the Supreme Constitutional Court against the law according to which the president is elected. “Then, too, the legitimacy of the elected president will be questioned and stability is not expected to prevail.”

Constitutional legality

Prominent constitutional expert Nour Farahat said: “I was extremely surprised when I read the law. How come a law that violates the constitution is issued in a country that witnessed two revolutions and is ruled by the head of the Supreme Constitutional Court?”

Farahat said the principle of immunity was unacceptable during the rule of Islamist President Mohamed Mursi, but is being approved now. “No man of law with a clear professional conscience could ever accept that,” Farahat said.

He added that while Egypt is struggling to prove that the toppling of the Muslim Brotherhood was the result of a popular revolution rather than a military coup, this law makes matters worse. “The article makes it seem to the international community that the law is tailored for one particular candidate.”

Ayman Salama, a professor of international law, seconded Farahat’s opinion. “All citizens have the right to appeal decisions made by different judicial bodies,” he said. “This right is not only safeguarded by the constitution, but also by international law.”

For judge Ali Awad, the president’s advisor for constitutional affairs, the law is the most adequate for the critical stage through which Egypt is going. “Egypt is going through a tough time as far as security is concerned, and we need to be practical in order to complete the electoral process within the time limit specified in the post-June 30 roadmap,” he said.

Awad said appealing the committee’s decisions would result in a lengthy legal process that would leave Egypt in a political vacuum, resulting in more chaos. He denied that Article 7 violates the constitution, but did not elaborate.

Law professor and constitutional expert Shawki al-Sayed said even though the committee’s decisions cannot be appealed before courts, this does not mean they are absolutely irreversible. “The committee’s decisions can still be appealed before the committee itself, since it’s considered an independent judicial body characterized by neutrality,” he said.

Judge Mohamed Hamed al-Gamal, former head of the State Council, said the article is necessary to prevent “certain factions” from disrupting the electoral process. “Those factions want to obstruct the roadmap and to delay the elections,” he said.

Islamist parties see the law and the withdrawal of Ali as evidence that the presidential elections will not be free or fair. Hamza Zobaa, official spokesman of the Freedom and Justice Party - the political arm of the Brotherhood - said the results are expected to be rigged in favor of army chief and Defense Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

“When candidates withdraw, it means they realize that the electoral process is just a farce that Sisi initiated to deceive the world into thinking that we have a real democracy,” Zobaa said. The ultra-conservative al-Watan Party shares the same view. “It is indeed a farce and Hamdeen Sabahi is part of it,” said party spokesman Ahmed Badei.

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