The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) organized a symposium on the attitude toward suggestions of the government and the NDP to amend the Political Party Law No 40 of 1977. The debate – which encompassed a number of politicians, jurists, law professors and journalists- stemmed from the agreement on general orientations, spelled out in the working paper prepared by Mr. Essam El Din Mohammed Hassan, researcher at CIHRS. Dr. Gaber Gad Nassar, Director of the Human Rights Center, Faculty of Law, Mr. Hussein Abdel Razeq, Secretary General of the Tagamu’ Party, Dr. Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, key leader in the Muslim Brotherhood, and Dr. Wahid Abdel Meguid, Assistant Director of Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies participated mainly in the commentaries. Mr. Salah Issa, Editor-in- Chief of Al Qahira (Cairo) Newspaper moderated the debate.
Discussions manifested a general consensus on what the paper concluded, namely rejecting government attempts to “graft ” the law while maintaining its major structure and philosophy that consolidates the single party system, albeit in a pluralist formal mould.
Essam Hassan elucidated that the amendments are of a formalist nature. Some of them entail further restrictions of freedom of party action such as raising the quorum of party founding members from 50 to 1000 members. The party is entitled to issue two newspapers only without license, and the competences of the Party Affairs Committee, controlled by the ruling party, were expanded in such a way as to entitle it to interfere with the internal affairs of the parties.
Opinions of the majority of the speakers, including Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, MB representative, concurred that any party law should endorse the creation and establishment of parties without prior supervision or license, and that the notification is sufficient. This was prevailing before the July 1952 Revolution. Restraints on the establishment of any party can include the prohibition of religious parties or parties with military setups. It is necessary for parties to be committed in their platforms to bolster the pillars of civil state, the rights of citizenship and the constituent elements of democratic society, and foster human rights. Participants also stressed that the natural justice alone is the sole competent body to supervise parties, and that the law should stipulate in unambiguous and detailed language the right of parties to practice their activities, including their right to organize marches, hold public assemblies and conferences outside their headquarters. They also maintained what the working paper established, namely that the people alone decide whether the party adds up to political life or not, through either rallying support for it or turning away from it.
Discussions tended toward emphasizing the necessity of abolishing sanctions included in the Party Law, and maintained that provisions of the Penal Code were sufficient, while stressing that many of those provisions need a comprehensive reconsideration to prevent their being used to constrain rights and hamper public freedoms.
While some speakers expressed reservations on the principle of state financially supporting the parties, others asserted that it is the obligation of the state to support partisan life, but on the basis of objective foundations and criteria. It was suggested in this respect that state allocations in support of parties should be contingent upon the number of votes each party obtains in public elections, or the number of candidates it puts forward in those elections. However, this would still be linked to an elective system that ensures equal opportunities, neutrality, impartiality and integrity.
Dr. Wahid Abdel Meguid focused in this context on the necessity of having an independent and permanent body to supervise elections and regulate political life in general, which would be subject to judiciary supervision, like the Indian experience. He indicated that this body would also be entitled to supervise the democratic process within parties. He also drove attention to the fact that apprehensions raised regarding religious or other parties that turn against democracy and could reach the seats of power by majority vote requires the enforcement of the principle of temporary and conditional electoral proxy, according to which no core modifications could be introduced to the democratic constitutions except through overwhelming majority. Salah Issa added that we can adopt what other democratic constitutions reached, namely, the prohibition of any constitutional amendments for long periods of time on sections of the constitution related to the structure of the political system, rights and public freedoms.
Some speakers expressed pessimism regarding the use of partial reforms of this or that law. Dr. Gaber Gad Nassar maintained in this context that the ruling institutions are not qualified to lead the reform process. He stressed the need for a comprehensive change through an integrated constitutional and legislative reform that limits the huge powers wielded by the head of state and the boggling of the executive over the legislative power, which is subordinate to it. On the other hand, others considered that any reforms, albeit partial, provides a basis for more thorough reforms, as long as it is part of a full-fledged reform program supposedly approved by democratic political forces. This is also related to urging government and its party to debate this program and set time tables for its implementation.
The Secretary General of Tagamu’ Party, Hussein Abdel Razeq, renounced what the government promoted, namely, that the suggested amendments to the law have been discussed with parties through national dialogue. He indicated that though the Tagamu’ did not reject the law altogether, it present not less that 12 amendments to its provisions, none of which has been adopted. Up and front was the cancellation of the Political Party Affairs Commission and all of its competences, in such a way that supervision over parties would be exercised by natural justice alone, represented in the two levels of administrative justice. Furthermore, restriction on the right of parties to invest their financial resources should be lifted. All rhetoric that the law is replete with, such as the July and May Revolutions’ principles, socialist gains, the coalition of the popular forces and social peace should be excluded.
Nevertheless, some speakers raised question marks regarding the unclear and undeclared attitude of different opposition parties, vis-à-vis the suggested amendments. This state of affairs casts doubts about parties’ readiness to seriously rally for those amendments or struggle for a democratic law.
Despite this vast concurrence scored in the opinions of participants, regarding whether the attitude toward Party Law, or the issue of democratic reform altogether, the question raised by the working paper remains unanswered: Can those aspiring for freedom invest upon the situation of the regime in crisis, and the atmosphere that betrays wider possibilities to dedicate new dynamics for socio-political movement for reform? Or would the logic of miserable political deals that take place in the shadow in isolation from public opinion, and the acquiescence and playing within the margins that government decides?
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