Q&A: Egypt's parliamentary elections
Egyptians go the polls next Monday to elect the first parliament since the ousting of former President Hosni Mubarak in a popular uprising in February this year.
Voters will elect members of both houses of parliament in several stages staggered over three months to allow the judiciary to supervise each round.
The elections come against the backdrop of the continuing clashes between the forces of the ruling military council, which has run the country for the past nine months, and pro-reform activists demanding an immediate transfer of power to a civilian government and the dissolution of the council.
On Tuesday, the council - known as the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (Scaf) - said it would hand over power to the new president by July 2012 and establish a government of national salvation.
The final election results are expected on 13 January. Pro-Islamist parties allied to the Muslim Brotherhood, which was banned under the former regime, are expected to emerge with a strong parliamentary bloc.
However, concerns have been expressed that any outcome may be open to challenges over the lack of security that could affect both the voters and the candidates, some of whom have already suspended their campaign.
Why are the elections seen as a landmark event?
The new parliament will appoint a committee to draft a new constitution which could shape the future of the country for years to come. Among other things, it will define the role of Islam in society,
What about the role of the military council?
The new parliament will have legislative powers but the military council will retain presidential powers until the new president is elected in a poll set to be held by July 2012.
What is the significance of the constitutional amendments?
The constitutional debate has polarised the Islamist and secularist trends. The liberal and leftist parties are worried that the Islamists could use their position as a dominant force in the new parliament to strengthen the role of Islam in society and have demanded that the constitution be amended before the election.
The tensions have been further exacerbated after the military council earlier in November put forward a proposal to keep the budget of the defence forces secret from parliament and government, prompting accusations that it wants to cling on to power.
Who has the right to vote?
Some 50 million Egyptians in the country and more than more than eight million Egyptians living abroad are eligible to vote.
How does the system work?
More than 40 parties and some 6,000 candidates are competing for the 498-seat lower parliament house, or the People's Assembly - which will oversee the constitutional legislation - and the 270-seat upper house - the Shura Council, which has only a consultative role.
Two-thirds of the People's Assembly will be picked through proportional representation, using lists drawn up by parties and alliances.
The remaining third will be open to individuals, who may or may not have party affiliations. Half of those must be "professionals" and the other half must be "workers" or "farmers".
Who is standing?
The parties running in the elections include liberal and leftist parties - most of which existed before the January uprising - and a number of Islamist-oriented parties, most of them set up in its aftermath.
The liberal leftist parties include:
- New Wafd Party - advocates a two-term limit on the presidency
- The National Progressive Unionist Party - campaigns for stronger state institutions
- The Democratic Arab Nassirist Party - promotes Arab nationalism
- Tomorrow (al-Ghad) Party - calls for the strengthening of secularism
- The Democratic Front Party - secular in orientation but not hostile to Islam
- The Egypt Freedom Party - supports civil rather than Islamic state
The Islamist-oriented parties include:
- The Freedom and Justice Party - set up by the Muslim Brotherhood. According to its website, the party supports "a civil state" in which Islamic law would be the source of legislation covering all aspects of life
- Al-Wasat (Centre) Party - a splinter of the Muslim Brotherhood, which says it wants equal citizenship rights for all Egyptians
- Al-Nur (Light) Party - allied to Salafists, who espouse a stricter form of Islam than the Brotherhood. The party calls for Islamic law to be the guiding principle for all political, social and economic issues
- The Free Egyptians Party - set up in April 2011. The party says it accepts Islam as the state religion but advocates religious freedom in a civil state
- Al-Asalah (Authenticity) Party - Salafist-oriented
- The Egyptian Liberation party - campaigns for an Islamic religious state
Are there any alliances?
Two key alliances include the Democratic Alliance - a coalition of Islamist and non-Islamist political parties set up in June 2011 with the aim of bridging the gap between the two trends - and the Egypt Bloc - a coalition of mostly liberal and leftist parties set up in August 2011 with the aim of contesting all the seats together.
The Democratic Alliance has become a dominant force in politics but it has been increasingly dominated by the Freedom and Justice Party and other Islamist groups. As a result of growing tensions due to ideological differences, several parties have witdrawn, including the New Wafd Party, the Democratic Arab Nasirist Party, al-Tajammu, the Democratic Front, and the Egypt Freedom Party.
The Egypt Bloc includes the National Association for Change, the Free Egyptians, the Democratic Front, Egypt Freedom, Al-Tajammu, and the Sufi Egyptian Liberation, the only party in the Bloc with a religious orientation. The bloc's platform includes demands for liberal democracy and universal citizenship. Despite its emphasis on a "civil state", the bloc says it embraces Islam within the political system but opposes the transformation of Egypt into an Islamic state.
What about Mr Mubarak's former ruling party?
The National Democratic Party (NDP) was disbanded by a court order after the fall of Mr Mubarak. Earlier this month, a high court ruling overturned that decision, allowing former NDP members to run for public office.
What about the media campaign?
As the vote approaches, campaigning has intensified on the ground and in the media. Some candidates have been using social media, such as Facebook and YouTube, to reach out to potential voters, while non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are deploying awareness raising material and organizing workshops to educate citizens about their political rights, the voting procedure and how to choose the right candidate.
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