A Critical Review of the Law on the House of Representatives and the Law on the Exercise of Political Rights... Where is the Political Representation of Women?

Research Paper

13 Jul 2014

This paper seeks to provide a feminist review of the Law on the Exercise of Political Rights and the Law on the House of Representatives, and the impact of the provisions of the latter on the participation of women in the upcoming House of Representatives.

About the Law on the Exercise of Political Rights and the Law on the House of Representatives:

The Law on the Exercise of Political Rights is a supplementary constitutional law that provides for detailed legal rules for the general political rights prescribed in the Constitution, determining the procedural phases of the electoral process from its beginning to the announcement of the final results, and indicating who has the right to run for office and who has the right to vote, as well as the conditions and disqualifications for both, etc. Moreover, the Law on the Exercise of Political Rights illustrates the rules of electoral administration, designating the bodies responsible for receiving and accepting candidacy applications, for supervising and monitoring elections, and for receiving electoral appeals.

The Law on the House of Representatives provides for the rules governing the administration of the electoral process of the House of Representatives, and defines the competencies of members.

A Committee was formed, under Presidential Decree 126/2014, to prepare two draft decrees on the amendment of some provisions of the Law on the Exercise of Political Rights and the Law on the People's Assembly, in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution.  

The amended Egyptian Constitution, adopted by popular referendum on January 18th 2014, provides for appropriate representation of Women in representative assemblies in article 11(2), which states that "the State shall work towards taking the necessary measures to make sure that Women are appropriately represented in representative assemblies".

Problems of the Law on the Exercise of Political Rights and the Law on the House of Representatives:

The two laws face many problems with regard to the failure to include women in the composition of the Committee and hence in the subsequent phases leading to the adoption of the laws, in addition to articles included in both laws which would not lead to the fair representation of women in the upcoming House of Representatives.
With regard to the Law on the Exercise of Political Rights, it failed to stipulate the inclusion of Women in the composition of the General Committees and the Subcommittees provided for in article 40, which states that:

"Polling shall take place under the full supervision of the High Elections Committee, which shall form Subcommittees to supervise polling and vote-counting, under the chairpersonship of a member of a judicial authority or body. A single member may be the chairperson of more than one Subcommittee, provided that the polling stations under the supervision of these Subcommittees be located, without separation, in the same place, in a way that would allow the Chairperson to exercise actual supervision over all of them.

The Subcommittees shall be supervised by General Committees to be formed by the High Elections Committee from among the members of judicial authorities or bodies, according to the rules and procedures set by the High Elections Committee.

The High Elections Committee shall appoint, from among civil servants for each General Committee and Subcommittee, one regular secretary or more, and a sufficient number of substitute secretaries, including one woman.

The High Elections Committee may employ young people from both sexes who are under the age of thirty-five and hold tertiary degrees for work in Subcommittees, subject to the regulations established by the Committee in that regard.

The High Elections Committee may, where necessary, appoint, from among the members of judicial authorities and bodies, substitutes for the chairpersons of Subcommittees and the chairpersons and members of General Committee; as well as regular and substitute members from these authorities or bodies in each governorate to assist the General Committees in supervising elections in those governorates, and, when necessary, take over the chairpersonship of polling stations or act for the chairperson or members of the General Committees".

The lawmakers should have provided for the inclusion of Women from among the members of the judicial authorities and bodies constituting the Committees as representatives of the judges of judicial authorities and bodies and members of the Administrative Prosecution Service, upon the approval of their respective higher councils, as well as representatives of the relevant ministries as determined by the High Elections Committee to be selected by the competent ministers. However, the lawmakers settled for the presence of one women among the substitute members of General Committees and Subcommittees, which we consider to be negligence on part of the Committee charged with issuing the Law.

Pursuant to the Decree of the President of the Republic on the formation of a Committee on amending the Law, the Committee had to invite all stakeholders, political parties, and civil society organizations to a societal dialogue on the draft-law, which did not happen, as the dialogue was confined to some unannounced sessions, after which the amendments were unofficially revealed  as a draft-law in newspapers. This has served to affirm the lack of transparency in the work of the Committee, and the fact that the Law was drafted in a way that falls short of the expectations of most political parties and the civil society organizations concerned with democracy, elections and the political participation of Women.

Several feminist and human rights organizations and groups, as well as political parties have presented more than one proposal to the Committee on amending the two Laws, so as to ensure appropriate representation for women in the upcoming House of Representatives . Nonetheless, the Committee eventually approved the final text of the Law, in the midst of the Presidential Race and as all political players were preoccupied with following up with the presidential elections.

The Law provided for the representation of Women within 4 lists to guarantee the election of no less than 56 Women members in the upcoming House of Representatives; which does not fulfill the provision of the Constitutional article with regard to the appropriate representation of Women. Women represent approximately 50% of society, and through our monitoring to women’s participation in the public political sphere in the past, the State is obliged to support the presence of women not only in the political sphere, in general, but also in elected assemblies, and particularly in the upcoming House of Representatives. The situation of Women is different form that of any other group specified by the Law, as the constitution provides for "appropriate" representation for Women, unlike other groups which are granted only "adequate" representations". Taking the percentage of Women in the general population into consideration, the percentage specified by the law was unsatisfactory, and the lawmakers should have provided for a fairer representation of Women in pursuance of the intention of the Constitution-maker.

With regard to the electoral system, article 3 of the new Law states 3 that "The election of the House of Representatives shall be according to the Individual-Seat system for 420 seats, and absolute closed list system for 120 seats. Political Parties and independents may run for both". Thus, the Law has granted a broader scope to the Individual-Seat system which is based on tribalism and financial capabilities, and does not support a systematic multi-party political life; therefore limiting the capacity of Political Parties to nominate Women for Individual Seats, and barring the less empowered Women candidates from winning a larger number of seats by confining their candidacy to the Seats elected under the list system.  

The Individual-Seat system requires much financial capabilities to be able to afford the burden of political campaigns, as well as familial and tribal support. These conditions may not be available to most Egyptian women our country. Therefore, the Lawmaker should have granted the List System a larger scope.

Furthermore, the Individual-Seat system has several disadvantages and negative impacts with regard to the political participation of Women and their causes. The first of these disadvantages pertains to districting, as some districts may extend to 600 km2 including desert areas, where as others may not exceed 10 km2. This variance in district size leads the candidate to focus all her/his efforts on a specific area within the constituency to conduct her/his campaign and engage with the population, which makes this candidate completely unknown to many of the voters. In other districts, demographic differences may be the cause behind the unfamiliarity of some voters with a certain candidate, as we noticed in the 2011/2012 elections. Some districts comprise rich neighborhoods, slums and industrial areas, which is problematic for both voters and candidates. Voters, on the one hand, find themselves in confusion for their inability to normally communicate with the candidate, whereas the candidate, on the other hand, finds it difficult to address the various elements of her/his district with the same discourses and policies. These difficulties are aggravated if the candidates are Women. Unless they belong to strong parties (often ruling parties), have financial resources to cover these large districts, or have a family to back them, Women will never succeed in winning seats under the Individual-Seat system.  

The second disadvantage to the Individual-Seat system pertains to the general temperament of the Egyptian voter, who prefers a certain type of candidate, which represents a key obstacle facing Women candidates. The common attitude generally refrains from supporting women, in addition to the diffusion of discourses against the presence of Women in political life and the inability of Women, especially those adopting a gender perspective or belonging to newly-established political parties or movements, to find a place for themselves in such circumstances.  

Third and most commonly, the Individual-Seat system is dominated by tribalism, strong families, and  political money, especially in Upper Egypt, the rural areas, and Sinai where large families with power and money are prevalent. Such families seek to impose their influence, whether through the family's control of the resources of the governorate, money that is directly used to buy votes, tribal moral support, or other forms of influence. This negatively impacts the political participation of Women, as Women in traditional communities, especially in Upper Egypt, lack this sort of influence except in very few cases.

The Proportional List System, rather than that of closed lists, would strengthen the multi-party political life in Egypt, and lead to a multi-party parliament that is more capable of speaking for all citizens. Under this system, political parties would be able to nominate more Women for Parliament, and support them politically and financially, leading to their political empowerment and participation in the public sphere and decision-making positions.    

The Law has adopted an absolute closed list system where the list garnering a 50% + 1 majority wins all, thereby wasting the opportunities of Woman candidates in other lists, even if such list secured more than 40% of votes, as well as wasting the votes of those who voted for other lists.

Moreover, article 4 of the Law provided for the division of the country into 4 electoral districts, to be organized according to the population covered by each district; but the Law failed to provide for taking Gender into account in apportionment, as the lawmakers confined themselves to fair representation in terms of population density only.

Additionally, article 31 (on prohibited campaigning activities) is void of aggravating conditions with regard to the violation of the rights of Woman candidates to campaigning, as they are the most likely targets for libel, defamation, or violation of personal life whether verbally or in writing. Sexual violence against Women in the public sphere should also be added to the prohibited campaigning activities specified in article 32 of the draft law, which lists 8 items of such activities, including item 3 which provides for the prohibition of using or threatening to use violence, while ignoring violence against women in all forms, and sexual violence in particular.

Regarding media coverage regulations, article 32 failed to take the situation of Women into account, being the least likely to receive media attention as candidates. Therefore, the law should provide for the necessity of allowing more space for covering the electoral campaigns of women candidates, as part of social support and promotion of Women’s participation, and in order to realize the principle of equality of opportunities between candidates of both sexes with regards to access different media outlets. Moreover, an aggravated penalty should be imposed on any media coverage violating the rights of Women candidates, whether by libel, ridicule or violation of private lives, which may put their lives in danger. Different media outlets should devote adequate space to introduce the planned electoral system to voters, specially after adopting the quota system for Women in the absolute closed lists provided for in the draft law on the House of Representatives, so as to allow voters to choose on the basis of a clear understanding of the existing electoral system.

Article 38 of the draft law addressed the role of civil society as an observer of the electoral process, without providing for regulations for non-interference with and protection of observers from local and international civil society organizations, as well as permitting such organizations to observe the elections and protecting them from administrative arbitrariness.

In conclusion, the Committee on amending the two laws failed to recognize the demands of feminist groups, civil society organizations and political parties, by adopting two laws that do no represent women in a fair and equitable way in the next elections and the upcoming House of Representatives. The Committee ignored, more than once, the request of these stakeholders to include Women in the membership of the Committee and its various technical committees . More than one proposal of a draft law was presented to the Committee with more than one formulation of the ideal electoral system, seeking a larger scope for elections by the list system to allow for the appropriate representation of women in accordance with the constitution and to produce a House of Representatives that allows for strong blocks of political parties and that is capable of effectively implementing the provisions of the 2014 constitution. A proposal of a draft law was ignored, which asked the Committee to adopt a mixed system whereby 50% of seats would be elected under a list system and 50% under the individual-seat system, provided that a ranked voting system is adopted for list elections. The Committee, however, ignored all proposals and provided for an electoral system that is biased towards the individual-seat system, with a percentage for women that does not fulfill the constitutional requirement of appropriate representation for women .

The representation of Women by only 56 seats in the upcoming House of Representatives, and under systems that shut many doors in the face of effective and true participation of diverse Women, raises many questions about the future of the political participation of Women, deeply impacts the participation of many Women in the upcoming political, fails to rise to the aspirations of the Egyptian Women who participated in the national political momentum over the past few years, and undermines constitutional entitlements.