Background Briefing

III. The 2005 Amendments to the Law

The People’s Assembly (the lower chamber of Parliament) in July 2005 passed much- awaited amendments to the political parties law, one of a series of touted political reforms the NDP introduced that year.22 The amendments could have been designed to ensure that the registration of political parties would not be subject to discretionary, political approval by the incumbent government, its political parties, or any agency controlled by the government or political parties. Indeed, Law No. 177/2005 (“the new law” or “the amendments”) made many long-overdue improvements to the old parties law. However, the new law has not eliminated the vague, subjective, and unnecessarily restrictive criteria that allow the government and the PPC to continue to prevent the establishment of new political parties, such as the Wasat Party, and to restrict existing ones.

A potentially significant change is one that, while seemingly semantic, does reverse the balance of responsibility for determining whether a party should be allowed to operate. Whereas the old parties law required parties to apply for permission to operate, the new law requires parties merely to notify the PPC that they have started operating, putting the onus on the committee to object within 90 days. And whereas article 4 of the old law set out a tangled set of restrictions on the formation of political parties,23 the new law radically streamlines the text of this article, removing, for example, requirements that a party’s “founding pillars, principles, goals, programs, policies, or methods” should not contradict “the principles of both the July 23, 1952 and the May 15, 1971 revolutions” or Islamic jurisprudence. It also removes stipulations that no members of a proposed party should have called for, or conspired to call for, the abrogation of Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel.24 The 2005 law also guarantees an approved party’s rights to “promote by lawful means its ideals and disseminate information on its activities,” participate in elections and referenda, and, importantly, to “use state-owned audiovisual mass media, particularly during the election campaign, according to regulating rules.”25

The amendments also made compositional but essentially cosmetic changes to the PPC, expanding its membership from seven to nine and reducing the Cabinet’s share of seats. Yet the president still appoints all but one of the committee’s members, including “three public figures … not affiliated with any political party.” The ninth is still the head of the Shura Council and the chair of the committee.26

The new law also introduces regulations that impact on political parties’ participation in public life. For example, the 2005 law limits to two the number of newspapers a party may publish without applying for a license (previously, the law set no limit on the number of newspapers parties could publish).27 The new law also increases the number and broadens the constituency that a new party must establish it has in order to qualify as a political party: Law 40/1977 required that a petition to create a new political party had to be signed by 50 founding members, and that half of these had to be “peasants and farmers.”28 Law 177/2005 raises the number of “officially authenticated” signatures required to 1,000 and stipulates that these should be “drawn from at least ten governorates with no less than fifty members from each [of the ten governorates],” but drops the requirement that half of these be peasants and farmers.29

More troublingly, the new law leaves intact the old law’s requirements that parties’ platforms not contradict “the requirements of maintaining national unity [and] social peace” and that parties’ platforms “constitute an addition to political life according to specific methods and goals.”30 Such vague requirements invite government abuse.

Moreover, the new law does not significantly curtail the broad powers of the PPC or the role it plays in placing unnecessary restrictions on prospective and existing parties. The new law still entrusts the PPC with “the competence to examine and consider notices of the establishment of parties,”31 and authorizes it 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.”32 The chair of the committee may still request the Socialist Attorney General to investigate whether a party has violated one of the criteria for a party’s participation in public life (see above). Upon a finding of such violation, the chair may still request the State Council to dissolve a party, liquidate its funds, and determine which party will absorb the dissolved party’s members, elected officials, and assets.33 The parties law still empowers the PPC to test a party’s license to operate based on such criteria as whether “the party’s platform shall constitute an addition to political life,”34 and whether its establishment would harm “national unity.”35

22 The People’s Assembly approved the amendments on July 4, 2005, as Law No. 177/2005.

23 Some of these are listed in the preceding section of this report.

24 Law No. 40/1977, art. 4: “There must not be evidence that the founders and leadership of a party have called for, or participated in calling for, conspiring to commit or carrying out propaganda in any public manner concerned with principles, directions or activities contradictory to the principles stated in the previous clause,” that is, Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel.

25 Law No. 177/2005, art. 9 (bis) leaves these “regulating rules” undefined.

26 Law No. 177/2005, art. 8. The PPC is now comprised of the speaker of the Shura, the minister of the interior, the minister for People’s Assembly affairs, “three former heads or deputy heads of the judiciary bodies who are not affiliated with any political party,” and “three public figures who are not affiliated with any political party.” The president appoints the three former heads or deputy heads of judiciary bodies and the three public figures for renewable, three-year terms.

27 Ibid., art. 15.

28 Law No. 40/1977, art. 7.

29 Law No. 177/2005, art. 7.

30 Law 177/2005, article 4.2-3.

31 Ibid., art. 8.

32 Ibid., art. 17.

33 Ibid., art. 17.

34 Ibid., art. 4.3.

35 Ibid., art. 4.2.