Egypt's president set Nov. 28 as the date for the country's parliamentary elections in a decree issued Wednesday.
Authorities have launched a crackdown on the media and government critics in the run-up to the vote, shutting down private television channels and arresting dozens of opposition members.
The country's leading democracy advocate, Mohamed ElBaradei, has called on politicians and voters to boycott the election. He charges that the conditions for a free vote have deteriorated since the last elections in 2005. ElBaradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency who some in Egypt had seen as a possible presidential contender, says a boycott would deny the regime legitimacy.
There are 508 seats up for grabs in Egypt's People Assembly, the parliament's lower house, and another 10 are appointed by the president. The parliament is largely controlled by President Hosni Mubarak's ruling National Democratic Party.
The ruling party along with the three legal opposition parties and the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood group have announced they will field candidates. The Brotherhood gets around the ban by running its candidates as independents.
The elections will be the first time that 32 women-only electoral districts will have separate ballot cards, ballot boxes, and counting procedures, Mubarak said Wednesday. The changes are meant to ensure the 12 percent quota of women in parliament seats is satisfied.
The Brotherhood, Egypt's largest opposition group, has said it will contest up to 30 percent of the seats up for election, shrugging off the boycott calls and the crackdown. The Islamist group said Tuesday that police detained 164 members, most of them election campaign workers. The group's leaders say the raids across the country are meant to intimidate the group after it announced its intention to contest the elections.
The Brotherhood shocked the ruling establishment by winning a fifth of parliament seats in the last elections. Its decision to field as many candidates as it did in 2005 sends a defiant message to government, which has vowed not to allow the group to repeat its strong showing.
In the outgoing parliament, the ruling party controls two-thirds. To field a presidential candidate, any candidate needs the endorsement of 65 members of the lower house of parliament, 25 of the 264 members of the upper house and 140 legislators from local councils. This requirement will exclude the Muslim Brotherhood from presidential elections, as it has in the past.
The parliamentary elections are a prelude to presidential elections next year.
Mubarak, who has ruled Egypt for nearly 30 years, has not yet announced whether he will run for a sixth term.
The question of who will succeed Mubarak has gained added urgency since he traveled to Germany earlier this year for surgery to remove his gallbladder and a benign growth in his small intestine. Many expect his 46-year-old son Gamal to replace him.
The United States and activists have urged the Egyptian government to allow a third party to oversee parliamentary elections. Egypt has routinely rejected observer missions, saying they infringe on the nation's sovereignty.
(This version CORRECTS Corrects requirements for fielding presidential candidate)