Egypt's legislature approves election law

AP News
Posted: Apr 11, 2013 6:07 PM
Egypt's legislature approves election law

CAIRO (AP) — Egypt's Islamist-dominated legislature approved a revised version of the law organizing the country's parliamentary elections on Thursday, after a court ruled an earlier version was invalid and delayed the vote.

The parliamentary elections had been scheduled to start this month, but the ruling said the law must be reviewed by the Supreme Constitutional Court before elections can be called. That body had asked for amendments to the earlier draft.

Thursday's approval was made by Egypt's Shura Council, the upper house of parliament now fully entrusted with legislation until new elections are held. It also referred the text to the Supreme Constitutional Court for review, Egypt's state news agency reported.

The Supreme Constitutional Court could take up to 45 days to rule on the new law. President Mohammed Morsi has said he expects the elections to be held in October.

Also on Thursday, Morsi promoted the heads of Egypt's air force, air defense forces and navy to the rank of Lieutenant-general during a meeting with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. The decision came amid recurrent media reports of strained relations between the presidency and the military.

Egypt's state news agency quoted an official close to the meeting as saying Morsi expressed his appreciation for the role of the armed forces, and his rejection for any attempts to "slander" it. He has repeatedly denied tensions with the military.

Opposition members were not immediately available for comment on the electoral law. But Egypt's opposition said it was not consulted on its drafting and had said before it would boycott the vote.

The opposition, represented by the National Salvation Front, had expressed concerns over gerrymandering by Islamist groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood. The opposition had also criticized a recent decision by the council to allow the use of religious slogans during the campaigning period.

Members of the council discussed the law over the last month. In televised sessions, they voted over the redrawing of districts, one of the changes the Supreme Court had asked for. Members said security officials, who oversee and secure the voting, had approved much of the redrawing.

Morsi and his supporters view the parliamentary elections as a step toward bringing stability to the country and capping months of turmoil. They accuse the opposition of stirring up unrest to derail the voting.

But the mainly liberal and secular opposition had called for a boycott of the vote, saying Morsi must first find some political consensus and ease the wave of popular anger. Regardless of whether the opposition boycotts or not, the Islamists would likely win a parliamentary majority.

Egypt's has been increasingly mired in highly polarized politics, waves of protests and deadly violence.

Recent sectarian violence since the weekend has left eight people dead, including at least six Coptic Christians.

It was the worst bout of such violence since Morsi was elected in June 2012. Morsi strongly condemned the clashes, but the Coptic Pope was highly critical of the authorities' response to the violence, during which the main Coptic Cathedral in Egypt came under attack.

The violence which started Saturday in Khosoos, a town north of Cairo, left another five dead — including four Christians.

More clashes broke out Sunday at the cathedral after funerals for the Christian victims. An angry mob of Muslims threw firebombs and rocks at the church, leaving two people dead, one of them a Christian.

Coptic Christians make up about 10 percent of Egypt's estimated 84 million people. They have long complained of discrimination by the state and by some among the majority Muslims. Clashes break out occasionally with Muslims over the building of churches or because of inter-religious love affairs.

Over the two years since Egypt's uprising against longtime leader Hosni Mubarak, the community has grown more concerned about its future as Islamist political forces, long repressed under the previous autocratic regime, grew more assertive. Attacks against Christians have grown bolder and more frequent, particularly in poorer and rural areas.

Also on Sunday, a traditional reconciliation meeting was held in Khosoos between local religious figures from both sides. The session was also attended by security officials and one of the president's aides, Emad Abdel-Ghaffour.

Clashes and disputes between Christians and Muslims are usually addressed through such reconciliation gatherings, mediated by security and religious leaders. Rights group say the informal sessions preclude criminal prosecution for crimes and contribute to a climate of impunity that permits such assaults.

On Wednesday, Human Rights Watch appealed to Morsi's government to break the "cycle of impunity" in sectarian violence, which it said is "rarely properly investigated and punished."


Mariam Rizk in Cairo contributed to this report.