In cooperation between Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies (ACPSS) and the office of the IFES Organization in Cairo, a roundtable panel was held at Al Ahram foundation discussing the Egyptian system for elections administration and its future options. The roundtable was attended by a variety of experts, researchers and politicians from a wide range of the Egyptian political spectrum. This variety included Dr. Abdel Monem Said the Director of Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, Mr. Nabil Abdul Fattah, the Assistant Director for Al Ahram Center, Judge Hisham Al Bastawisy member of the Egyptian Judges Club, Dr. Ibrahim Darwish Professor of the Constitutional Law at the Faculty of Economics and Political Science at Cairo University, Dr. Sami Al Sherif Professor of Media at Cairo University, Mr. Hussien Abdul Razek Vice President of the Unionist Socialist Party, Mr. Diaa Rashwan, the Head of Political Systems Unit in ACPSS, and Dr. Essam Al Arian the Speaker for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. The roundtable was also attended by members from the Peoples Assembly.
In the first session, Dr. Fernando Martinez Burkayo presented a paper titled Democratic Reform and Institution Building: the Mexican Experience in Elections Administration and Electoral Systems. In his presentation, the Mexican Judge discussed the Mexican experience in transforming from a one party system to a democratic multiparty system which was especially progressed after the Presidential Elections of the year 2000. During these elections the PRI has lost after monopolizing the Mexican political scene for nearly 70 years.
In his presentation, Burkayo described the political and electoral system of Mexico. Democratization came through a political pause then a breakthrough in which the political regime and the opposing political parties negotiated the size of participation in all ruling and governance capacity of the state and not only elections.
In his paper Burkayo developed his ideas on how undemocratic regimes utilize their electoral reforms to undermine and contain real demands for political reform. Electoral reforms in Mexico were used by the political regime to reach three goals. First, the gradual reforms presented for the political regime an indicator for its popularity in comparison to other opposition parties among different segments of the population. Since, the competitiveness between the two players in elections becomes extremely brutal. At the same time the regime was willing to compete with the opposition because no high risks or threats were present for the political regime. The Second Goal is that the political regime sometimes resorts to electoral reforms to create disagreements among the opposition movements. Finally, electoral reforms tend to attract all the efforts of the opposition parties and encourage potential political riots. This trend may once again increase the credibility of the political regime among the constituencies as the only power that can stabilize the society. At the end of his session, Burkayo pinpointed how the electoral institutions developed in Mexico, the role of the federal electoral institution and the system of electoral justice.
In the second session which discussed the legal administration of the elections through the supreme committees system. Two papers were presented in this session. The first one, Mr. Ahmed Abdul Hafiz has presented and it was titled the Relationship between the Supreme Committees and the Candidates. The second paper was presented by Judge Ahmed Saber and it was titled by the Relationship between the Supreme Committee and Official and Unofficial Monitoring of Elections. The session was chaired by Dr. Ibrahim Darwish who insisted that the electoral process should be solely handled and supervised by the judiciary as stated precisely by the Egyptian Constitution in articles 88, 93 and 172.
As for Mr. Ahmed Abdul Hafiz in explaining his paper, he argued that generally before 2005, the Interior Ministry carried out the complete responsibility for the elections since the constitution of the year 1923 and all related laws and amendments. This responsibility has continued even after the July Revolution of 1952. Abdul Hafiz emphasized that all the amendments that were undertaken concerning the administration of the elections were minor, artificial and were not related to the core demands for reform. He argued that this was clear in the presidential and parliamentary elections of 2005.
As for Judge Ahmed Saber, he welcomed in his speech the role of civil society in increasing the awareness of the democratic values among the Egyptian society and encouraging the Egyptians to practice their right to vote. However, Saber indicated that the role of the civil society is limited due to the regulations of the executive authorities on their activities. However, the Judiciary in Egypt respects and acknowledges the role of civil society in monitoring elections as long as it does not interfere in the responsibilities of the judiciary.
As for the third session which focused on two topics. The first topic was an analysis for the media coverage for the presidential and parliamentary elections. The second topic was a descriptive analysis for the elections campaigns for the two elections. Dr. Farouk Abu Zeid the speaker for the first topic drew a comparison between the legal framework for media coverage of the presidential and parliamentary elections according to the law no 174 of 2005 which organizes the media campaigns of elections, the recommendations of the Supreme Council for Journalism, in addition to the media coverage values and ethics. On the other hand, he examined the actual practical implementation of the law and the other guidelines. In which, he found out that the national broadcasting television and radio stations did not apply a fair balanced coverage; on the contrary, their coverage policies were more inclined in favor of the national democratic candidates in both elections. He also concluded that neutral objective media coverage would not be achieved without an institutional reform of the information sector.
Dr. Amr Elchoubaki elaborated on the second topic first by stating the obstacles that an opposition political party faces in its political campaign and how the National Democratic Party enjoys a state of integration with the government administrative body which gives the NDP a powerful capacity to win elections. The other thing Dr. Elchoubaki elaborated on the vagueness of information on a number of issues concerning elections campaigns. First, there is no concrete information on the criteria for choosing elections party candidates. He argued that this character is shared by all Egyptian political parties. Second, in democratic states, parties' elections campaigns budgets are known to the public because this shows a pattern of transparency and accountability. However, in the Egyptian case this kind information is hard to obtain and you can't have assurance on its validity.
The final session topic was the bureaucratic administration of elections and the process of voters' registration. Dr. Ahmed Thabet began his presentation emphasizing the Egyptian experience with all sorts of elections that the state institutions rarely practice neutrality. The Egyptian experience has in the majority of the times witnessed a state intervention in favor of its candidate. Then Dr. Thabet spoke specifically about the methods of defining electoral districts in Egypt, in which, there are always a huge differentiation between the electoral district and the administrative unit. This dissimilarity creates for voters' difficulties in knowing their electoral districts thus leading to a smaller turnout of participation.
Finally, Dr. Rabie discussed in his presented paper the methods of administrating the civil registry in Egypt. More than one issue was related to this topic. First, Dr. Rabie explained the legal framework for the registration process in Egypt. The second issue was laying out the European and Indian experience in this process. Finally, he made some empirical suggestions on the improvement of civil registries in Egypt. According to Dr. Rabie civil registry is an indicator of two things. The first is that it indicates the level of neutrality of the bureaucratic administrative bodies of the government. Second it is also an indicator of the measure of political participation in the electoral process.
Policy Recommendation for the Roundtable Panel
The participants had a consensus on the necessity of the complete supervision and monitoring of the electoral process in Egypt by the Judiciary. This supervision should be applied through a judicial committee from the beginning of the voting process until the official declaration of the results.
An independent committee should be formed to be in charge of organizing all elections in Egypt i.e. presidential, parliamentary, municipalities. The committee should also have the authorities to settle electoral disputes through a specialized court that coincides with the rule of law.
All elections in Egypt should be domestically and internationally monitored by civil society organizations.
A process of reviewing the civil registries of voters should be undertaken under the auspices of the judiciary or a new independent committee.
The names of voters listed in the civil registry should be installed on central computers to prevent the old method of handwriting in the registration process.
The abolishment of article 11 of the law of political rights that give the interior ministry and the voters the right to register their voting right in district of the working place since this right has been clearly abused during the parliamentary elections of 2000 and 2005.
The interior ministry should stop taking any administrative responsibilities concerning elections except to provide safety and security to the electoral process.
A new legislation or a constitutional amendment should come into force that provides independence of the judicial power from the executive branch of power.
Civil registry lists should be reachable to all parties and political movements because this facilitates the communication between the parties and the voters and encourages more participation in the elections.
Women should have simpler procedures and regulations for voting registration.
The political rights law should be amended also to have more simplified procedures for voting registration.
The redefinition of the electoral districts is an integral part of the electoral reform because it increases the accuracy of voters representation in the Peoples Assembly.
On the information reform, the panel urged the necessity of removing all obstacles that prevent citizens from issuing newspapers as this is part of their rights
The panel also called for paying more efforts to work on the separation between the notion of state ownership for the information sector and the government control over information. In addition, the private sector should enjoy equal rights as the public information sector in ground television and radio broadcasting as long as the private sector abides by information laws and regulations.
Consortium of Research Institutes' Project on Regional Co-operation and Security in the Middle East and North Africa
The Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies (Cairo), the Gulf Research Center (Dubai) the Institut Diplomatique et des Relations Internationales (Algiers), the Centre Tarik Ibn Zyad (Rabat)
Report of Rabat Seminar on Regional Cooperation and Security Systems: General Lessons of Past Experience
Rabat Seminar, Morocco 4-5 June 2005
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The first day of the meeting explored the development of the regional cooperation and security systems in Europe and Asia. The second day looked at the key ideas which emerged from these regional examples as they may apply to the Middle East. However, it must be emphasized that the experience of other regions is only a guide. Each region is unique and must develop its own way of tackling issues. Nevertheless, the lessons of past experience may inspire the development of the guiding principles of a future cooperation and security system in the Middle East.
This brief paper will identify the key themes that emerged and some of the points put forward by the Middle Eastern participants in the discussion. The purpose of this paper is to identify the basic issues for discussion at the future meetings in the process.
Themes and Questions
What would be the objective of a Middle East regional system and how would it be expressed? In the European and Asian cases, the experts noted that process was at least as important as any momentary result; that regular and sustained dialogue and interaction was the real value of the system while the specific objectives evolved over time as the region changed. There was general recognition of the validity of this idea for the Middle East by the participants, but some questioning as to whether that would be acceptable in the Middle East or whether some more definite objectives have to be agreed at the outset (Palestinian statehood, WMDFZ, various reform objectives, etc.). One regional participant phrased this question in terms of asking whether the objective is conflict management or conflict resolution. The OSCE and ASEAN generally adopted the former approach, while being committed to the latter as a principle, while most Middle Easterners would have an expectation of rapid progress towards the latter. It was noted that the adoption of any specific objective risked placing great expectations on a nascent Middle East regional system, which it would not be able to meet until the region had fundamentally changed (as happened in Europe and Asia), but that the process of dialogue could be part of making that change possible and managing it peacefully (also as happened in Europe and Asia). More discussion will be required to develop an approach to this question which reflects Middle Eastern needs and expectations.
To what degree must a regional system in the Middle East be inclusive? There are two dimensions to inclusivity: membership, and agenda. There was agreement that the system would have to be inclusive in terms of membership. It was generally agreed that the region should be defined as the states of the Arab League, plus Iran and Israel and with some form of close association for Turkey. It was also noted that not all of these countries might join at the outset, but that a seat must be left for them to do so when they are prepared to commit themselves to the norms of the system. This raises the question for further discussion of who might be the core states necessary to get the system going. In terms of the agenda, it was generally agreed that all issues should be on the agenda in theory, but that the system should probably, to begin with, choose some specific issues which hold out the prospect of success - expressed by some as begin with what you can begin with. Obviously, this raises the issue of regional expectations of the system as noted above - if the agenda deliberately avoids the toughest issues, many in the region will regard the process as not serious, but if it tackles the very hardest issues right away, failure is likely. The need is to develop a notional agenda for the regime which includes the hardest issues, but recognises that they will take time, and that there are other issues which can be tackled in the nearer term while discussions about the longer term issues are ongoing. Discussion of such a notional agenda for the system will be an essential part of the upcoming meetings.
How to make this a truly homegrown and directed process? All participants seemed to agree that the regime must be, and must be seen as, something that comes from the region. But how to do that? One participant even asked whether the US would allow a truly Middle East led system to emerge. This will be a subject of further discussion at future meetings. The intimately related question of what role the extra-regional powers would legitimately play was discussed and identified as an issue for further exploration. There was praise for the approach taken in this process - the establishment of a Consortium of regional institutes to direct the process with Canadian-Danish support.
How should Soft and Human security concerns be integrated into this system? In the European and Asian cases, considerable attention has been paid to economic and social interaction and development as a separate objective of the regional system. This was not done uniformly, nor has perfection been achieved. In the ASEAN case agreement that this concept is a valid objective is still developing, whereas in Europe such interaction was held to be a basic objective from the outset (though the countries of what was Eastern Europe may have been paying only lip-service to these ideas at first). But in each case, the participants in the systems have realized, sooner or later, that these systems could not exclude these issues. In the current world of increased globalization these considerations will be even more important to any region starting out down the path of a regional system. Should this idea be included as a basic objective of a Middle Eastern system? How might these ideas be introduced into a Middle Eastern system in such a way as to make them acceptable to all? There was full recognition by the regional participants that these issues had to be on the agenda of a new regional system. But much needs to be done to address what the region means by them and how they can be integrated into the agenda in such a way as to make them acceptable to regional governments. The upcoming meetings will feature more discussion on this topic.
How can a regional system compliment and co-exist with other bodies? In both the ASEAN and CSCE/OSCE cases, other multilateral bodies co-existed, and evolved with those two systems. Some of these were military alliances, like NATO, the Warsaw Pact and the Five Party Defence Agreement. Others were economic and political bodies, such as the EU, APEC and others. The key to success was for each of these bodies to take the attitude that they were not in competition; that their basic objectives were complimentary and to find ways through which they could work towards mutually held aims (or at least not get in the way of each other's aims). In the Middle East case, there are already inter-state bodies and groups, such as the Arab League, the Maghreb Arab Union, the GCC and others. If a wider regional cooperation and security system is to be developed in the Middle East, it will likely evolve in a way which fills niches that these standing bodies do not already fill. It will also be necessary in the Middle East case to consider how sub-regional dynamics might impact upon the creation of a region-wide system. Ideally, how can each level of inter-action compliment and assist the other in a Middle Eastern context?
Consensus and other Procedural matters. It was agreed that the only way this system could work was by consensus - no regional government will surrender its right to veto ideas that could affect its basic interests. This was certainly the case in Europe and Asia. But it has also been the case that different interpretations of the concept of consensus have emerged over time which permit some flexibility. It will be necessary to consider how this might work in the Middle East, though firm adherence to consensus in its most narrowly defined sense will be required at the outset. Associated with this issue is the need for participants in such regimes to focus on their objectives and find ways to get out of bad diplomatic habits (UN-style negotiating over texts; over-reliance on procedural games to score tactical points, etc.) and focus on the achievement of agreed objectives.
Finally, the region's political culture and how this might impact on the creation of a regional cooperation and security system needs to be explored. A comment was made that Europe's and Asia's political cultures appeared to have been at the outset (or to have evolved to the point that they became) amenable to the creation of a long-term, process-oriented regime, in which most participants recognised that incremental management of issues was a good in itself, while the bulk of the Middle Eastern players may not be willing or able to accept this as a fundamental objective. This is a background issue that will require further discussion - along with the notion that ways must be found to change the region's political culture over time, if necessary. This is a key to developing a regional system which places the idea of such a system within the region's cultural and political context.
The two upcoming meetings in the process will be structured to address these key themes and questions.
The second meeting, to be held in Egypt from 30 September to 3 October, will be devoted to the question of why it would be in the interest of Middle Eastern states to develop a regional cooperation and security system, and what the substantive and structural elements of that system might be. The third conference, to be held later this year, will consider how, in practical terms, a process of this nature might be iinitiated in the region