Hala Shukrallah, president of Egypt’s Al Dostour (Constitution) Party, spoke with MEI about the party’s preparations for upcoming parliamentary elections, its legislative agenda, and the challenges it will face in Parliament. See more of her comments at this year's Egypt Conference.

Q: How has the Dostour party been preparing for the upcoming parliamentary elections?

We see the next Parliament as vital for translating the Constitution into a series of pieces of legislation which can actually create a democratic reality on the ground. This is one of the most important post-revolution battles, so we think that it has to be taken extremely seriously. We have to look back and recognize the mistakes that the democratic forces have made in the past. Competitiveness, in particular, was paramount among them, and this should be challenged and resolved.  

We have played an essential role by first bringing everyone together. We formed political coalitions between seven political parties, as well as two social movements: the labor movement and the feminist movement.  We've begun negotiations with a bloc of five parties that is headed by the left and the Social Democratic party, and we've also gone through negotiations with the Free Egyptians. We perceive all of these as really one bloc, working for democracy, and that they should all be under one umbrella, one coalition.

We also wrote a manifesto.  It's really a basic program, stating the goals to be achieved, and the legislation needed to achieve  them.  We're trying to get all the coalitions to sign onto this program.  We're hoping to establish a platform on which all of these political parties can come together.

Q: What are some of the party’s specific legislative priorities?

We have three main issues. First is the issue of freedom, which includes principles like freedom of expression, the right to physical safety, and the right to freedom of organization. And each of these rights can be translated into legislation. When we talk about freedom of expression, for example, we're looking at modifying the demonstration law. The freedom to organize relates to the ability to form free, independent trade unions. It also means developing laws for civil society organizations.

The right to physical safety includes several legislative initiatives.  One is that torture is not only prohibited by law, but also that anyone can take legal action in response to it. That is, those who have seen it happen should be allowed to file a case against it, which isn’t the case right now.

For these and other matters, we’re looking to target legislation with problems in the way it’s written, or that has gaps in its implementation, and trying to bring it to the table.

We are also concerned about matters of social justice, including things like escalating taxation. We're also speaking about minimum and maximum wage levels, and about unemployment benefits that would be joined with training and employment opportunities, as well as the right to free, good quality healthcare and education. We seek to control and supervise the increase in the government’s budget to achieve these social goals in accordance with the Constitution.

Q: What challenges is Dostour contending with now, and what others would it face in Parliament?

Some of the challenges for the coalition include personal problems between different personalities, and the quota of each party in Parliament. We're trying to bypass these by saying that we are building a democratic bloc, regardless of who is elected from whichever party.  We have one goal, and we are trying our best to push that as our agenda. We're hoping it'll work, but it's definitely a challenge.

Within Parliament there will be many other challenges.  First, will we get the Parliament that we want or not? We have no idea. Many people are not hopeful because we are already being challenged by the law that is going to govern the makeup of Parliament.  The law superimposes individuals over the party lists, which, in other words, gives advantage to wealthy individuals rather than those who have worked within the parties.  The sort of people who will end up in Parliament will not be concerned about the laws that are going to benefit people, but instead will act in their own interest.

How do we stop this? We're going to keep hammering at the law, hoping that somebody will listen. We're going to be working with people at the grassroots level to influence what’s going on. We will also work within the current law to promote those individual candidates who share a democratic objective.  We're fighting on multiple fronts, and we're just going to continue. We don't have an alternative.

Q:  How is the party responding to the delay of parliamentary elections?

We've already responded. We have said that we do not agree with the postponement of the election, that it  is unconstitutional, and that it is against every agreement established between the government and the political parties and society at large.  We condemn the delay because we fear that we are moving toward a point where the democratic mechanisms are being set aside. 

Having said that, we're also trying to see how we can benefit from the delay by working towards a change of the electoral law. So again, we're always working on different levels, and hoping for the best.

Q: Where do you see things standing a year from now? Are you optimistic?

I am optimistic about the future. I think people who have given their all to their country aren’t going to take things lying down. The disadvantaged, displaced, and marginalized groups who have been told to keep quiet because of the threats from terrorism and instability are going to come forth again to demand that their interests be met.