On January 6, 2007, Abu al-`Ila Madi, a 48-year-old activist from Cairo, will plead his case before Egypts 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. Madis 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 countrys 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 governments potential plans to reinstate party-list voting for parliamentary elections.4
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, http://www.mubarak2005.com/english/ speech.asp?pg=4&NewsID=19&Section= (accessed December 22, 2006).
4 Following the Muslim Brotherhoods successes in Egypts parliamentary elections in November-December 2005, senior members of Egypts 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 Egypts 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, http://www.dailystaregypt.com/article.aspx?ArticleID=1731 (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, http://hrw.org/english/docs/2006/10/24/egypt14433.htm.