Al-Ahram Weekly   Al-Ahram Weekly
13 - 19 July 2000
Issue No. 490
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Tempered jubilation

By Nadia Abou El-Magd

Opposition parties were upbeat over the verdict -- a change they have been calling for for years -- as attested to by some of the headlines which appeared in the opposition daily newspaper Al-Wafd. "People's Assembly is illegal," blared one headline after the Supreme Constitutional Court handed down its ruling on Saturday. "Reports of an imminent dissolution of the People's Assembly" and "Mubarak examines the status of the People's Assembly after the Constitutional Court declared it illegal" proclaimed others.

But despite the obvious satisfaction with the ruling, opposition parties are adopting a wait-and-see attitude. They want to know if, and how, the change will be introduced in the upcoming parliamentary elections, previously scheduled for November.

The ruling, which is final, quashed a 1956 law regulating the exercise of political rights that assign civil servants to oversee auxiliary polling stations.

Rifaat El-Said, secretary-general of the leftist Tagammu Party, said he was not optimistic. "It has to do with texts, and texts are made up of words which, unless applied in reality, remain words, no more." El-Said told Al-Ahram Weekly

El-Said was critical of Justice Minister Farouk Seif El-Nasr who had said that supervision does not mean intervention or follow-up by judges to make sure that the elections are fair. "This mentality should change because they are the ones who draft laws and play with words to justify unconstitutional laws," El-Said said.

In a statement issued Sunday, the Tagammu urged President Hosni Mubarak to issue a decree, that has the force of law, regarding the exercise of political rights after "serious consultations" with political parties to ensure that it does not violate the constitution. The statement warned that if the government insisted on organising the upcoming elections according to a law that has been declared unconstitutional, it would be "tampering with the constitution and the future of the nation."

Sameh Ashour, the Nasserist Party's representative in the People's Assembly, considered the ruling "a gain for the opposition and [a step toward] fair elections." Ashour warned against any attempt to dodge the application of the new ruling in the elections. Should this happen, the government would be "clowning. This could lead to a catastrophe that would endanger the stability of the state and society," Ashour told the Weekly.

Ayman Nour, a representative of the Wafd Party in the People's Assembly, described the ruling "a pleasant surprise" that confirmed what his party had been saying all along: under the unconstitutional law, judicial supervision was heavily curtailed since every judge was supposed to supervise between eight to 10 polling stations.

If the new ruling was applied in the elections, it would be "in the interest of democracy and, consequently, in the interest of the opposition," Nour told the Weekly.

Full judicial supervision would "limit, but not completely prevent, the rigging of elections," said Adel Hussein, secretary-general of the Islamist- oriented Labour Party. "Without a strong legislative authority, Egypt will remain like a bird with a broken wing," Hussein said.

The semi-governmental Political Parties Committee had virtually frozen Labour Party activities and suspended the publication of its mouthpiece, Al-Shaab, in May. However, Hussein does not recognise his party as being frozen and considers that the committee's decision, which the party contested, illegal. "If the ruling of the Constitutional Court is applied in the coming elections, the number of opposition and independent candidates would definitely increase," said Hussein.

The ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) controlled the great majority of seats in the outgoing parliament.

Hussein, 68, is reluctant to run for the elections because of his health and age, "but many of our brothers will," he said. Since 1987, the Labour Party has been in alliance with the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.

"If the government really cares about national image, it should organise the November elections according to the new ruling, which is a gain for the state in the first place," Hussein added.

 

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