Background Briefing

II. The Political Parties Law

The current political parties law has its roots in former President Anwar al-Sadat’s efforts to consolidate his power. In 1962 al-Sadat’s predecessor Gamal Abdel Nasser promulgated the National Charter, which established the Arab Socialist Union (ASU) as the country’s sole political party. In 1974 al-Sadat, seeking to dismantle Abdel Nasser’s single party, split the ASU into three wings, or “forums.” Two years later, he elevated these forums to parties, establishing the NDP, the Tagammu` (National Progressive Unionist Grouping) Party, and the Ahrar (Liberal) Party. In June 1977 al-Sadat signed Egypt’s first post-independence law governing political parties (Law No. 40/1977, “the political parties law,” or “the parties law”), which stated that “Egyptians have the right to create political parties and every Egyptian has the right to belong to any political party.”5

Many of the law’s provisions are in fact uncontroversial. The 1977 law stipulates, for example, that parties “should not include or be based on any military or quasi-military methods,” and “should not be founded upon being a branch of an external party or a political organization.”6 It lays out basic requirements as to what sort of information—name, address, finances, and internal party bylaws, for example—should be included in prospective parties’ applications for recognition.7 Other provisions, however, set out more problematic criteria or guidelines for political parties. In practice, these other provisions contained within the same law have provided the government with apparent overly broad discretion to restrict the rights to form and belong to a political party of choice.

Most systemically problematic is the creation, under the 1977 law, of the Political Parties Committee, which remains the president’s and ruling party’s primary lever for controlling Egypt’s political landscape.8 The PPC has the power to refuse the registration of new parties, to freeze existing parties’ licenses, to close parties’ newspapers, to reverse parties’ decisions or halt parties’ activities based on the “national interest,” and to ask Cairo’s Supreme Administrative Court to dissolve parties and redistribute their funds.

In its composition and powers, the PPC is a creature of the president and, in practice, the NDP. Under the 1977 law, the president appointed six out of the committee’s seven members: the minister of justice, the minister of the interior, the minister of state for parliamentary affairs, and three former judges.9 The seventh member, the head of the Shura Council and the chair of the PPC, hardly can be considered independent: since the president appoints one-third of the Shura Council directly and the NDP dominates the rest of the body, the chair of the PPC is invariably a leading member of the ruling party and an ally of the president. Today, NDP Secretary General Sawfat al-Sharif occupies both posts.

The PPC is entrusted with “the competence to examine and consider notices of the establishment of parties”10 and is authorized to temporarily suspend the activities or leaders of any existing party, and to reverse any of their “delinquent decision[s] or act[s]” in consultation with the Interior Ministry’s Socialist Attorney General “as may be required for the national interest and in the case of urgency.”11 The chair of the PPC may request the Socialist Attorney General to investigate whether a party has violated one of the criteria for a party’s participation in public life. According to the 1977 law, a party’s “founding pillars, principles, goals, programs, policies, or methods of the party in carrying out its activities” should not contradict: the principles of Islamic jurisprudence, “being as it is, the main source of legislation;” “the principles of both the July 23, 1952 and the May 15, 1971 revolutions;” or the requirements of “preserving national unity, social peace, the social democratic order and the socialist gains.”12 The law further specified the following in order for a party to be recognized:

  • “The uniqueness of the party’s programs, and policies or methods in achieving this program, in a manner clearly different from other political parties;”13
  • “Its principles, programs, activities, and means of choosing its leaders and members” should not contradict “edicts … concerned with the protection of the internal front and social peace, or [be based] on classicist, ethnic, factional, or geographical foundations, or on the basis of discrimination based on gender, origin, religion, or faith;”14
  • The leaders or members of the party may “not be affiliated with, related to, or in cooperation with any party, organization, group, or political power” that has called for the abrogation of Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel;15 and
  • The party may not be a reincarnation of a party the government had previously banned.16

If the PPC determines that an already recognized party has violated one of the principles for participating in public life, the chair may request the State Council (Majlis al-Dawla)17 at the first circuit of the Supreme Administrative Court (al-Mahkama al-Idariyya al-`Ulya) to dissolve a party, liquidate its funds, and determine which party will absorb the dissolved party’s members, elected officials, and assets.18 Parties may appeal an order of suspension, but only after three months have passed.19

The parties law also empowers the PPC to test a prospective or established party’s permission to operate based on such criteria as whether “the party’s platform shall constitute an addition to political life,”20 and whether its establishment or existence would harm “national unity.”21

5 Law 40/1977, art. 1.

6 Ibid., art. 4.4.

7 Ibid., art. 5.

8 Ibid., art. 8.

9 Ibid.

10 Law 177/2005, art, 8.

11 Ibid., art. 17.

12 Law 40/1977, art. 4.1.1-3.

13 Ibid., art. 4.2.

14 Ibid., art. 4.3.

15 Ibid., art. 4.5-7.

16 Ibid., art. 4.8.

17 The State Council is a quasi-judicial body comprised of 15 persons: seven of them judges of the first circuit (al-Da’ira al-`Ulya) of the Administrative Court (al-Mahkama al-Idariyya al-`Ulya) and eight “public figures known for their efficiency and good reputation.” These public figures are selected by the minister of justice, subject to the approval of the Supreme Judicial Council. The Ministry of Justice, in turn, determines the composition of the Supreme Judicial Council, the body that nominates, promotes, and gives judges their assignments. The Ministry of Justice may appoint anyone to occupy eight of the Supreme Judicial Council’s 15 seats. The seven other members—the attorney general, the minister of state for justice, the head of the Court of Cassation, two other justices from the Court of Cassation, the president of the Court of Appeal, and the chief justice from the Tribunal of First Instance in Cairo—occupy their seats by virtue of the job they hold. Since the executive appoints the attorney general, the minister of state for justice, and the head of the Court of Cassation, 11 of the 15 Supreme Judicial Council members are directly appointed by the executive. This makes it easy for the executive to determine which judges sit in key seats, such as those that result in appointment to the Supreme Judicial Council itself or the State Council —and thereby to determine who will hear appeals on failed attempts to register political parties.

18 Law 177/2005, art. 17.

19 Ibid., If its appeal fails, the suspended party may appeal again after three months.

20 Law 177/2005, art. 4.3.

21 Ibid., art. 4.2.