The 2000 People's Assembly Elections

In the lead-up to the 2000 People’s Assembly elections, the topic of electoral reform emerged once again and the convergence of interests among opposition parties, NGOs, and judicial personnel was never more clear. Khaled Mohieddin, leader of the leftist Tagemmu Party, submitted a bill to the People’s Assembly for election reforms on behalf of the main opposition parties. The bill called for elections to be supervised and administered by a ‘‘Supreme Election Committee’’ composed of nine high-ranking judges from the Court of Appeals and Court of Cassation, rather than the Ministry of Interior. The bill also called for a

number of procedural changes in the voting process, such as the reform

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of existing voter lists, safeguards designed to cut electoral fraud, and full judicial supervisions of polling stations. Egyptian judges and NGOs backed opposition reform proposals in a number of public venues. In a ‘‘Justice Conference’’ sponsored by the Judges Association, a resolution was issued with unanimous consent urging the amendment of the law on the exercise of political rights prior to the 2000 People’s Assembly elections. The Arab Center for the Independence of the Judiciary and the Legal Profession also held a forum in February 2000 on the topic of judicial supervision for the upcoming elections.46 The forum brought together prominent judges including the former head of the Judges Association, Justice Yeheya al-Rifa’i, the vice chairman of the Court of Cassation, Justice Ahmed Mekky, and a number of representatives from the various opposition parties and NGOs. Articles circulated in the opposition newspapers highlighting the possibilities for electoral reform and the efforts of the opposition parties, NGOs, and legal professionals themselves to introduce the reforms.

When it became clear that the government would not respond to opposition demands, Saad Eddin Ibrahim and other human rights activists initiated work to build a network of human rights organizations to monitor the 2000 elections, just as they had done with great success with their national commission in 1995. But the regime proved its determination to rein in the human rights movement with or without the associations law that the SCC had struck down just weeks earlier. On June 30, 2000, Ibrahim was arrested on charges of ‘‘accepting funds from a foreign party with the purpose of carrying out work harmful to Egypt’s national interest and disseminating provocative propaganda that could cause damage to the public interest.’’47

The Egyptian human rights community again mobilized international pressure. Within days, nine international human rights organizations including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch issued a joint statement condemning Ibrahim’s detention and calling for his immediate release. Pressure also came from the U.S. embassy when it reportedly raised concerns at ‘‘the highest levels’’ with the Egyptian government. The international pressure proved effective and Ibrahim was released after two months of detention. As with the detention of Hafiz Abu Sa’ada, however, the charges against Ibrahim were not dismissed. Instead, they were simply suspended and a trial could be initiated at any time.

Just days after Ibrahim and his colleagues were taken into detention, the SCC retaliated once again with another bombshell ruling, this time demanding full judicial supervision of elections for the first time in Egyptian history. The SCC ruling stated unequivocally that Article 24 of

Law 73/1956 was unconstitutional because it allowed for public sector

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employees to supervise polling stations despite the fact that Article 88 of the constitution guaranteed that ‘‘the ballot shall be conducted under the supervision of members of the judiciary organ.’’48 Once again, what the opposition was unable to achieve through the People’s Assembly over the previous three decades they were eventually able to bring about through constitutional litigation. Although opposition activists had been critical of the SCC for stalling on issuing a decision, they celebrated the ruling as a great step forward for democracy in Egypt. The Wafd Party’s Ayman Nour went so far as to admit that the SCC had virtually replaced the role of opposition parties in driving the reform agenda when he stated that ‘‘this ruling and the previous others will unquestionably affect the future of domestic politics. . . . the judiciary has nearly taken over the role of the political parties in forcing the government to take action in the direction of greater democracy.’’49

Saad Eddin Ibrahim contended that the timing of the ruling, coming a full ten years after the case was transferred to the SCC, was almost surely related to the regime’s efforts to stifle the ability of the human rights movement to monitor elections as they had done in 1995. According to Ibrahim, ‘‘The timing of the SCC ruling on judicial supervision of elections clearly had to do with this case [the detention of Ibn Khaldun Center staff]. The SCC could have made the ruling a year earlier or a year later. The decision came at this time for a reason.’’50

The focus of state-society contention quickly turned to implementation of the SCC ruling. Within a week, Mubarak issued a presidential decree that amended Law 73/1956 yet again to ensure that there would be continuous judicial monitoring of all voting stations, including auxiliary stations. In order to do this, the elections would be held in three successive stages, covering different regions of the country, and auxiliary voting stations would be combined in order to reduce their number. But it soon became clear that the regime was determined to maintain whatever control it could over the electoral process to minimize the impact of the SCC ruling. Rather than give oversight control to the Judges Association, the Supreme Judicial Council, or an ad hoc committee of judges, oversight remained with the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Justice, both under the direct control of the executive. Interior Minister Habib al-Adli was promptly charged with appointing judges to polling stations and Prosecutor General Abd al-Wahed was appointed to chair a judicial committee within the Ministry of Justice charged with administering judicial supervision. Additionally, many of the judicial personnel selected to cover polling stations were drawn from the prosecutor’s office (niyaba), an institution under the direct control of the executive branch. Moreover, the government announced that judicial

personnel participating in election monitoring would receive a ?E 6,600

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bonus ($1,700) at the end of the elections. This represented a tremendous sum of money for judges on state salaries, and reformers were immediately concerned that the bonus would be used as a stick and carrot to encourage ‘‘cooperation’’ with the regime’s interests.51

In addition to subjecting judges and prosecutors to the direct management of the executive authority, it also became clear that the regime would compensate for decreased control inside the voting stations by increasing repression outside the voting stations. As in previous years, the election cycle brought about the predictable repression of the Islamist movement. The Emergency Law gave the regime the legal cover to launch a new campaign of arrests and detentions of Muslim Brotherhood members, and throughout the summer of 2000 as many as 750 suspected Brotherhood members were arrested and 250 more were detained. By the time of the People’s Assembly elections, another 1,600 Islamists had been taken into custody.52 Not surprisingly, most of those arrested were prospective candidates or campaign organizers for the upcoming elections.53

Earning his release from detention in August 2000, Ibrahim returned to the work of organizing the monitoring campaign for the People’s Assembly elections. Although the government expected that the detention would silence Ibrahim, he promptly returned to the American University in Cairo to deliver a public lecture humorously titled ‘‘How I Spent My Summer: Diary of a Prisoner of Conscience.’’ Ibrahim slammed the regime for holding back political reforms and used his speech to call for volunteers to help in monitoring elections. For the next several weeks, Ibrahim and his colleagues worked feverishly to organize the monitoring campaign. Ibrahim was already compiling initial reports focusing on the obstacles that opposition candidates faced when he was taken back into custody. The prosecutor’s office announced that Ibrahim and his twenty-seven colleagues would stand trial in the Emergency State Security Court. Ibrahim was formally charged with “disseminating rumors with the purpose of undermining Egypt’s reputation’’ and accepting unauthorized funding from a foreign source in violation of Military Decree 4 of 1992. Despite a campaign by international human rights groups, a vigorous legal defense, and testimony from some of Egypt’s most respected figures, including the vice president of the World Bank, Ibrahim was found guilty and sentenced to seven years in prison.

Ibrahim’s detention, trial, and sentencing sent a chill through the human rights community. As a respected professor with extensive connections in Egypt and abroad (even the wife of President Mubarak was

a former student of Ibrahim) and dual Egyptian-U.S. citizenship, Ibrah-

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im’s detention and trial proved the regime’s determination to prevent the emergence of a civil society coalition resembling the National Commission for Monitoring the 1995 Parliamentary Elections. The majority of human rights activists decided to play it safe and abandon an extensive campaign to monitor the 2000 elections.

Moreover, because of the suffocation of the human rights movement through restrictions on foreign funding, human rights groups did not have the resources to mount an adequate monitoring campaign as they did in 1995. By the eve of the 2000 elections, the Group for Democratic Development had been dissolved, the entire staff of the Ibn Khaldun Center was on trial, the EOHR was forced to close four of its regional offices and reduce its staff in Cairo by 60 percent, and the remainder of the human rights groups decided not to actively participate in electionmonitoring activities for fear of being shut down by the government.54 Only the EOHR dared to monitor the elections, but due to its precarious financial and legal condition its staff was only able to monitor less than 20 percent of constituencies compared with over 40 percent that the EOHR monitored in the 1995 elections.55 Moreover, had it not been for the election coming in three stages, human rights groups would have had the capacity to monitor less than 7 percent of constituencies as compared with the nearly 60 percent monitored by the Egyptian National Commission for Monitoring the 1995 Parliamentary Elections. Reduced monitoring during the 2000 elections resulted in less documentation of violations by the regime and fewer lawsuits in the administrative courts.

Despite the weakened capacity of the human rights movement to monitor electoral fraud, the full judicial supervision brought about by the SCC ruling had a clear impact on the ability of opposition candidates to win. By all accounts, the 2000 People’s Assembly elections were the cleanest inside the polling stations, although the degree of coercion outside polling stations reached unprecedented levels. Perhaps the most surprising outcome in the first two rounds was the strong showing of Muslim Brotherhood candidates. The Brotherhood took fifteen seats in the first two rounds, more than any other opposition trend, and this despite the arrest and detention of thousands of Brotherhood activists.56 Judicial monitoring was also credited as the likely reason why prominent and longstanding NDP figures suffered early losses, including Ahmed Khayry (head of NDP for Alexandria), Mohamed Abdullah (chair of the foreign relations committee), and Mahmoud Abu el-Nasr (chair of the planning and balancing committee).

By the end of the second stage, Egyptian human rights groups were already celebrating that ‘‘judicial supervision has ended the period of filling ballots with fake names, which was prevalent in previous elections.’’57 At the same time, however, opposition parties and human

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rights groups highlighted the fact that what the regime could not produce inside the voting stations, it tried to induce outside the stations.58 Arrests of hundreds of Brotherhood members continued throughout the three stages and state security forces prevented voters from entering polling stations. According to the EOHR, ‘‘In the third stage, security blockades were not limited to a few polling stations, but were extended to block whole roads leading to polling stations, and sometimes up to 2 to 3 kilometers from the stations.’’59 Maamoun el-Hodeibi, the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, lamented that ‘‘elections are not about ballot boxes only. Inside the polling stations nobody can tamper with the process, but outside it is like a war.’’60

Increased coercion in the third round contained opposition advances, but the total number of seats won by opposition forces was still greater than they had enjoyed since 1990. By the end of the third round, formal opposition parties had won sixteen seats, independent candidates affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood won a further seventeen seats, independent Nasserist candidates won five, and unaffiliated independent candidates won fourteen seats. Independent candidates for the Muslim Brotherhood had for the first time won more seats in the People’s Assembly than all of the candidates standing for election from the formal opposition parties combined, despite the intense campaign of government repression in the lead-up to the elections.

As with previous rulings on the electoral law, the SCC ruling on judicial monitoring did not dislodge the regime from power, but it did have a significant effect on the means by which the regime maintained its power. Once again, the regime was forced to resort to even more extreme forms of extralegal coercion to ensure that the SCC ruling would not undermine the NDP’s grip on power. Yet, despite the increased reliance on extralegal coercion, the regime took every opportunity to capitalize on the SCC ruling. President Mubarak addressed the opening session of the new People’s Assembly and hailed both the SCC ruling and full judicial monitoring as a great step forward in the march of democracy. The televised speech was intended to showcase the legitimacy of the voting process in the 2000 People’s Assembly elections and to assure the public that the widespread electoral fraud, which had reached unprecedented levels for the 1995 People’s Assembly, was a thing of the past. But the continued shift from pseudo-legal to extralegal control increasingly exposed the hypocrisy of the regime; the growing disparity between the regime’s constitutionalist rhetoric and its repressive measures was untenable. While Mubarak publicly praised the SCC for its service to democracy, the regime was preparing to deal a blow to

SCC independence behind closed doors.

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