Problems on hold
Even as the first round of balloting in Egypt’s parliamentary elections takes place, public debate rages over the legality of religious [Islamic]-based political parties contesting these elections. Those parties—most prominent among which is the Salafi al-Nour—have been fiercely campaigning for seats in the upcoming parliament. This fired the debate, posing serious questions on why the Supreme Parties Committee (SPC) was allowing them to run despite the fact that the Constitution bans religious-based parties. The parties claim they are not Islamic-based in the first place; they have placed women and Copts on their election lists in compliance with the law which requires them to do so and contrary to the principles these parties have repeatedly endorsed. Yet mainstream Egyptians see through them and know they are Islamist at core.
Given that the parties are admittedly Islamic-based, fears and speculations abound that the non-constitutional situation threatens to halt the elections or even dissolve the new parliament once formed. Public outrage demands official action against the SPC, but wiser Egyptians insist that only a court order banning religious-based parties from running for parliament can resolve the predicament.
A recent court order, though not directly suspending the activity of religious-based parties, has condemned the inaction of the SPC and its failure in assuming its legal mandate to reject their running for parliament. Despite my apprehension on how this court decision could impact the elections, I see it as a first step to pursue these parties and oust them once and for all from the political arena.
On 12 September 2015, the Supreme Administrative Court (SAC) issued its ruling in the case filed by lawyer Essam al-Islambolli three days earlier against the head of the SPC. Mr Islambolli claimed he had handed a written demand on 14 October 2014 to the SPC asking that it should scrutinise the principles and agendas of 10 political parties that dub themselves ‘parties with religious reference’, and should monitor their activity in order to ensure they conform to the Constitution. He cited the 10 parties as: al-Nour, al-Wasat, al-Assala, al-Fadila, al-Watan, al-Binaa’ wal Tanmiya, al-Eslah wal-Hadara, al-Amal al-Gadeed, al-Estiqlal and Misr al-Qadima. These parties, he wrote in his demand, have exercised actions hostile to the will of the Egyptian people and opposed to the principles of democracy. They formed paramilitary groups and participated in the July/August 2013 Rabaa and Nahda pro-Muslim Brotherhood sit ins that violently opposed the overthrow of the post-Arab Spring Islamist rule in July 2013. This overthrow had come in the wake of the massive Egyptian revolution on 30 June 2013. In his recent court case, Mr Islambolli claimed that the SPC decided to comply with none of his demands, failing thus in carrying out the responsibility it was charged by the law. He demanded that the SPC’s negative decision be remanded in order for the elections to proceed correctly without jeopardising the upcoming parliament.
The SAC ruled in favour of Mr Islambolli’s 2014 demand, and required the SPC to go back on its negative decision and look into the activity of the parties in question. Here are excerpts of the legal reasoning behind the ruling, which is even more important than the ruling itself:
• The claim by the State Litigation Authority (SLA) that the SAC is not authorised to view the case was refuted since the court’s qualitative competences include viewing cases contesting SPC decisions.
• The SLA claim that the case was filed by an irrelevant claimant was refuted on grounds that the claimant is an Egyptian citizen who as such is entitled and has an invested interest in that the Constitution and law should be respected with regard to political parties, their activity, and their running in general elections.
• The Constitution bases political life in Egypt on political and party pluralism and peaceful rotation of power. It grants citizens the right to form parties upon notification according to the law. The Constitution bans any political activity or party based on religion or on gender, ethnic, sectarian or locality differences. It also bans any activity hostile to democracy, or of secret or military or paramilitary nature. It bans the dissolution of parties without judicial ruling; no party may be dissolved by an administrative decision.
• The clause banning parties with religious-oriented principles, agenda, activity, or members does not target Islam or any of the heavenly religions endorsed by the Constitution. It does not deprive the followers of any of these religions from practicing politics or participating in party activity. It is rather intended to guard religion against being exploited as means of division. Religion must not be thrust into the political melee to cause communal discord, or to replace loyalty to the homeland with religious loyalty. Once religious belonging replaces the concept of citizenship, it has the potential of undermining national unity and laying the foundation for gruesome sectarianism.
• If any citizen or party comes to the SPC with a claim that one or several parties failed any of the conditions stipulated by Article 4 of Law 40 of 1977 which governs political parties, and demands the SPC to take legal proceedings, the committee must comply according to the law. It should refer the demand to the Prosecutor General for investigation, and should accordingly take action … The SPC must assume the role legislatively assigned to it without laxity. Its failure in assuming this role carries negative consequences for democracy and runs contrary to the political rights of citizens as stipulated by the Constitution and the law. It also means the SPC is relinquishing a national duty and is failing the people.
• The SPC resorted to silence and did nothing regarding the demand of the claimant. It thus failed the duty assigned to it by the law. This represents an illegal administrative decision that would be annulled once the case is looked into, and the SPC is now obliged to undertake the legislatively specified legal proceedings regarding the demand by the claimant.
The ruling holds conclusive conviction of the SPC, and redeems all who question or denounce its failure to uphold the Constitution and law vis-à-vis religious parties. But what about the ongoing parliamentary elections? Will the execution of the ruling spell ruin to the parliament whose members are currently being elected?
18 October 2015