Friday,20 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1262, (10 - 16 September 2015)
Friday,20 October, 2017
Issue 1262, (10 - 16 September 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Final push to the polls

A high-profile corruption case signals the authorities’ determination to battle graft ahead of parliamentary elections, Gamal Essam El-Din reports

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Speculation was rife that parliamentary elections would be postponed after Cairo’s Administrative Court ruled on Monday that Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb’s decision to change the boundaries of two electoral districts, one in Cairo, the other in Qena, should be revoked as it violates equality.

The court also ruled that the Higher Election Committee’s (HEC) decision to accept candidates’ medical check-ups conducted in February violated the House of Representatives Law.

Following the ruling the HEC moved quickly to reassure the public that elections would proceed as planned. The window for candidate registration, it said, would remain open until 2pm on 12 September, though nominees would be granted until the 15 September to submit the additional medical check-ups ordered by the court.

While HEC spokesperson Omar Marawan pointed out that the two rulings could be appealed, Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Ibrahim Al-Heneidi, said on Tuesday that  the government will not appeal the ruling.

“The government would rather change the boundaries in accordance with the ruling rather than appeal it and further delay the polls,” said Al-Heneidi.

Yet another Cairo Administrative Court ruling on Monday rejected a petition that had attempted to delay the polls until the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) gives a final judgement on article 2 of the Law on Exercise of Political Rights and article 11 of the House of Representatives Law. The two articles prevent serving police and military personnel from voting or standing in parliamentary elections.

“The court ruled polls should go ahead because there is no time limit placed on SCC rulings on whether or not the legislation is constitutional,” said Marawan.

Of the 4,273 candidates who had registered by the end of Monday 3,300 were hoping to stand as independents and just over 900 as party-based candidates.  Political analysts say the low number of party-based candidates reflects the fact that secular parties are still in the process of hammering out possible coalitions.

Only three party lists had been submitted by Monday, that of the Call of Egypt electoral coalition, and two by the Salafist Al-Nour Party.

Sameh Seif Al-Yazal, coordinator of the For the Love of Egypt coalition, said “new procedures on medical check-ups made it difficult for the coalition to complete its lists by Monday”. He added that he expected “to announce the names of 120 party-based candidates running under the For the Love of Egypt banner” by the end of the week.

Al-Ahram political analyst Emad Gad says the For the Love of Egypt coalition will include “high-profile figures from all walks of life”.

A preliminary list of 65 candidates included businessmen, media figures, several former cabinet ministers and a number of leading members of Hosni Mubarak’s now defunct ruling National Democratic Party (NDP).

Political analyst Wahid Abdel-Meguid says the internal divisions plaguing secular political parties not only makes it difficult for them to forge coalitions but offers a chance for the Nour Party, the only Islamist party standing in the elections, to become the largest single party in parliament. Abdel-Meguid predicts the Nour Party could win up to 20 per cent of parliamentary seats.

He warns that members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood could sneak into parliament by either running as independents or on Nour Party lists.  

“Although the Nour Party supported the 30 June Revolution against the regime of the Muslim Brotherhood, the two movements remain facets of the same coin,” says Abdel-Meguid.

“Both the Nour Party and the Brotherhood believe Egypt should be an Islamist state and apply a strict interpretation of Islamic Sharia.”

While Abdel-Meguid worries Muslim Brotherhood elements could join parliament as independents, Gamal Heshmat, speaker of the group’s Turkish-based shadow parliament, insists the Brotherhood will neither recognise, nor play any part in parliamentary elections “held under the military coup”.

In an interview with CBC satellite channel on Saturday the Nour Party’s Shaaban Abdel-Alim reacted angrily to rumours its lists would include Brotherhood members.

 “We have been at war with the group since 30 June. And besides, the Brotherhood refuses to recognise the elections on political and ideological grounds,” he said.

Abdel-Alim stressed that Nour Party candidates would be contesting just 40 per cent of constituencies.

“We have limited the number of candidates to show that we want to be partners with other political groups in the coming parliament, not to monopolise it.”

Meanwhile, the government of Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb has launched “a campaign against corruption in government circles”. Agriculture minister Salah Hilal is the first big fish it has netted. He was detained on Monday for 15 days pending investigation into charges of bribery and graft after he was sacked.

Official sources say President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi was informed by the Administrative Control Authority of its concerns over possible corruption in the Ministry of Agriculture while he was visiting Russia and Asia.

“When the president returned to Egypt on Saturday he scheduled a meeting with Mehleb at which he asked for Hilal to resign,” an informed source told Al-Ahram.

The manner of Hilal’s arrest was clearly intended to send a message that corrupt officials will no longer be tolerated.

“Not only the arrest was made in Tahrir Square, the epicentre of Egypt’s revolutions against autocracy, corruption and religious fanaticism, but the media was allowed to film it,” says political analyst Gamal Zahran.

The first anti-corruption move under Al-Sisi, argues Zahran, “may be a response to massive street protests against corrupt officials in Iraq and Lebanon that have been going on for weeks now”.

“Al-Sisi and his government may have seized on this corruption case to show Egyptians that they are different and will not wait until they face massive anti-corruption street protests to take action.”

“We can only hope the arrest of Hilal is more than a matter of window dressing and that the fight against corruption will continue,” says Zahran. He recalls that when Mubarak came to office in 1981 he also led a campaign against corruption that included the arrest of the brother of his predecessor Anwar Al-Sadat. “But with time the campaign collapsed and Mubarak ended his 30 years of rule facing accusations of massive corruption.”

Hilal and the manager of his office, Mohamed Said, have been charged with taking bribes from two businessmen in return for circumventing the legal procedures necessary for the purchase of 2,500 feddans in Wadi Al-Natroun. The bribes came in the form of a membership of Al-Ahly  sporting club, worth LE140,000, and LE8.25 million worth residential units in Cairo’s Sixth of October City.

Sources told Al-Ahram that Al-Sisi and Mehleb had given the Administrative Control Authority carte blanche to expose government corruption and signal to citizens that no state official is above the law.

Cabinet spokesperson Hossam Gawish said on Monday that further resignations are not expected and no cabinet reshuffle is planned. Irrigation Minister Hossam Moghazi has been appointed interim agriculture minister.

On Tuesday Cairo’s Supreme Administrative Court ruled that Ahmed Ezz, the steel tycoon who was part of Gamal Mubarak’s inner circle and is currently on trial for corruption, cannot run in the coming elections.

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