An Egyptian parliamentary committee has proposed tough conditions for independents hoping to stand in the country's first multi-candidate presidential elections, expected to take place in September.
The legislative committee of the People's Assembly, which is dominated by President Hosni Mubarak's National Democratic Party, agreed on Thursday that non-party candidates must be endorsed by at least 65 of the 444 elected members of the assembly.
Independent candidates will probably find this and other conditions difficult to achieve.
Reformers and opposition groups immediately slammed the restrictions, saying they were designed to thwart any serious challenge to Mubarak, who has ruled since 1981 and is expected to seek a fifth six-year term this year.
Mubarak proposed in February amending the constitution so that Egyptians can choose between candidates, instead of voting yes or no to a single candidate chosen in advance by parliament.
But independents, unrecognised opposition groups and analysts had said they expected the parliamentary committee would set the bar so high that independents cannot run.
"These are impossible conditions that close the door completely on any independent who wants to stand. It empties the amendment of its content and takes us back to square one," said Mohammed Habib, deputy leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, the group which could benefit most from more lenient conditions.
Nawal el-Saadawi, the feminist author who has already started campaigning as an independent, said: "They are doing that to obstruct the way for other people. As for me, I can do that, but this is very severe and strict and harsh for people younger than me. It is impossible."
El-Saadawi: Conditions imposed
create an impossible situation
Ahmed el-Sayed Naggar of the al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies said: "This is trickery against what has been called the democratic transformation in Egypt."
Mohamed el-Sayed Said, deputy director of the same Cairo think-thank and an active reformist, said the conditions made the constitutional amendment meaningless.
"Under this amendment, the president would choose who challenges him in the elections."
Under the proposed rules, independents would also need endorsements from 25 of the 176 elected members of the Shura Council, the advisory upper house of parliament, from 10 local council members in each of at least 14 of the 26 provinces, and from 70 other elected members of parliament or local councils.
Largest opposition bloc
The largest opposition bloc in the People's Assembly is the group of about 15 independents associated with the banned Muslim Brotherhood. Even if all opposition groups agreed to endorse an independent, they are unlikely to find 65 endorsements.
The People's Assembly is expected to pass the amendment in its present form or with minor amendments on Tuesday.
Pro-reform demonstrations have
swept Egypt in recent months
For candidates chosen by existing political parties, the only condition for running in 2005 is that they must be members of their party's leadership council.
In subsequent presidential elections, a party could nominate a candidate only if it had won at least 5% of the elected seats in each house of parliament in the previous parliamentary elections, and had been in existence for at least five years.
The proposal now goes to the Shura Council for its opinion, then returns to the People's Assembly.
Under the proposal, the presidential elections would be supervised by a nine-member committee, five members of which would be chosen by the two houses of parliament. There would be no appeal against the committee's decisions.
The proposal states that presidential elections shall take place on a single day - a provision opposition parties oppose on the grounds that Egypt does not have enough judges to staff every polling station simultaneously, as they do in parliamentary elections.
Opposition MP attacked
In a related incident, a convoy of cars and buses taking a prominent opposition leader to an election meeting in the Nile Delta came under attack by people throwing bricks and stones, his wife said on Thursday evening.
Nour has vociferously called for
Six people were injured, three with concussion and three from shards of broken window glass, she added.
Gameela Ismail, the wife of Al-Ghad (Tomorrow) Party leader Ayman Nour, said about 100 people ambushed the convoy near Kafr Hammad in al-Sharqia province northeast of Cairo. Three shots were fired but Nour was unhurt, she said.
Nour, a young lawyer and member of parliament, is one of the best known prospective presidential candidates from the recognised opposition parties, which will be able to field candidates this year but which have limited popular followings.
Ismail said she could not identify the attackers on Thursday but zealous members of the ruling party have tried to obstruct Nour's campaign and discredit him by associating him with the US campaign for political reform in the Arab world.
Two hours after the attack, no senior police officers had arrived to investigate, she said. A spokesman for the Interior Ministry in Cairo said he had no information about the incident.