Background Briefing

I. Introduction and Recommendations

On January 6, 2007, Abu al-`Ila Madi, a 48-year-old activist from Cairo, will plead his case before Egypt’s Supreme Administrative Court. He has appeared in the court dozens of times over the past 10 years. His purpose is to try once again to register the Wasat (Centrist) Party and begin campaigning under its name.

Registering a new political party should be a transparent and apolitical bureaucratic procedure, and in many countries it is.1 In Egypt, however, in practice it is the government, and the party of government, that determine which other parties will be recognized and which will not. The result is the routine denial of applications for registration of new political parties through the use of criteria set forth in the political parties law2 that are open to subjective and arbitrary application. Madi’s struggle to gain legal recognition for the Wasat Party illustrates the deleterious effects of the law on prospective political parties, and the manner in which the government and the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) exercise unfettered discretion to deny such parties their lawful participation in the country’s political life.

If President Hosni Mubarak is to make good on his promise to “enshrine the liberties of the citizen and reinvigorate political parties,”3 the Egyptian government must reform the parties law and cease obstructing the establishment and effective participation of political parties. Such reforms are necessary for Egypt to come into compliance with relevant obligations under domestic and international law. Reforms are particularly imperative in light of the government’s potential plans to reinstate party-list voting for parliamentary elections.4

The Egyptian government should take the following actions:

  • Amend Law 177/2005 to disband the Political Parties Committee (PPC). The committee’s broad powers have allowed the ruling party to control who may compete against it and under what terms, preventing the registration of new parties and placing unreasonable restrictions on existing ones.
  • Amend Law 177/2005 to repeal overly broad stipulations such as those that prospective parties’ platforms and goals should not “contradict the requirements of maintaining national unity [and] social peace;” that the proposed party should “constitute an addition to political life according to specific methods and goals;” and that allow the PPC and the State Council at the Supreme Administrative Court to suspend or dissolve parties “as may be required for the national interest and in the case of urgency.” Such vague and subjective criteria invite government abuse. Alternatively, set out clear guidelines as to how these criteria should be applied so as not to impose unreasonable restrictions on the emergence and operation of new political parties.
  • Establish a standing electoral commission to register new political parties, to regulate what parties are allowed to appear on the ballot, and to determine media access and what financial support, if any, they should receive from public funds. This body should be politically neutral and wholly independent of the government, political parties, and interest groups. Any decisions on restricting, suspending, or banning parties must be taken in accordance with the rights of political participation and with full respect for rights to assemble and associate under domestic and international law.
  • Require all parties to submit regular, detailed reports on their income and their expenditures. These reports should be made part of the public record.

1 For a broad, comparative survey of party laws drawing on a study of 152 countries, see Kenneth Janda, “Adopting Party Law,” Political Parties and Democracy in Theoretical and Practical Perspectives (Washington DC: National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, 2005).

2 Law 40/1977, as amended by Law 177/2005.

3 President Hosni Mubarak, speech announcing beginning of presidential campaign, August 17, 2005,
speech.asp?pg=4&NewsID=19&Section= (accessed December 22, 2006).

4 Following the Muslim Brotherhood’s successes in Egypt’s parliamentary elections in November-December 2005, senior members of Egypt’s government have discussed returning to a system in which Egyptian voters would vote for parties rather than individuals. Most recently, in his November 2006 speech inaugurating the 2006 session of Parliament, President Mubarak hinted that he might propose changes to Egypt’s electoral law that would reintroduce party-list voting. Such changes would exclude the Muslim Brotherhood, which is not a legal party, from the political process by preventing its members from running as independents. See “Egyptian PM Suggests Constitution Amendment,” The Daily Star Egypt, June 1, 2006, (accessed December 22, 2006). Since the Muslim Brotherhood has never sought to register as a political party, it is not a focus of the present paper. But Human Rights Watch has repeatedly argued that membership in the Muslim Brotherhood should not be a criminal offense. See, for example, “Egypt: Crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood Deepens,” Human Rights Watch news release, October 26, 2006,