Egypt has set the dates for key parliamentary elections to be held later this year. The poll is expected to be more competitive than previous elections. Some of the main opposition parties, including the banned Muslim Brotherhood, have formed a new coalition to try to present a united front against the ruling party.
Election officials have scheduled three days of voting stretched out over several weeks to allow proper judicial oversight of the poll.
The first round is scheduled for November 9 in districts including Cairo and Giza. The next round, on November 20, will include the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria. The final day of voting will be December 1, including the regions around the Aswan Dam and on the Sinai Peninsula.
Possible second rounds of voting are scheduled six days after the first rounds for districts requiring runoff contests or re-votes. The new parliament is scheduled to convene for the first time on December 13.
The parliamentary elections are expected to be a key test of Egypt's democratic reforms, much more so than the presidential election last month. That was the first time Egyptian voters had more than one candidate on the ballot from which to choose. But opposition groups and human rights activists have complained that the election was unfair.
President Hosni Mubarak took more than 88 percent of the vote, easily winning a fifth term in office. His National Democratic Party holds more than 90 percent of the seats in Parliament.
A number of key opposition groups are coordinating their approach to the parliamentary poll, in a bid to keep from splitting the anti-Mubarak vote.
A newly formed opposition coalition is calling itself the National Front for Change. It includes the popular Muslim Brotherhood, which is officially banned, but won representation in the last parliament by backing independent candidates. The Muslim Brotherhood's spiritual leader, Mohammed Mahdi Akef, told VOA the members of the coalition will coordinate their electoral strategies.
He says, If the Muslim Brotherhood has a candidate in one district, everyone else [in the coalition] will support that candidate. If another group has a candidate in a different district, everyone will support him.
In addition to the Muslim Brotherhood and several other groups, the coalition includes Hizb al-Wafd, one of the country's oldest political parties, as well as the Kifaya protest movement, which boycotted the presidential poll.
Sheikh Akef says they hope this method will result in a parliament that includes a good percentage of opposition members.
Under Egypt's electoral law, the results of the parliamentary election will affect who is eligible to run for president in 2011. Only parties holding at least five percent of the seats in parliament are allowed to field presidential candidates. This year, no opposition party met that requirement, and it was waived.
The man who finished a distant second in the presidential poll, Ayman Nour, is facing his own challenges before the parliamentary vote. His Tomorrow Party is not included in the opposition coalition, and the party has been busy tearing itself apart over an internal leadership dispute, following its better-than-expected showing in the presidential poll.
Mr. Nour is currently embroiled in two court cases, including one in which he is charged with electoral fraud. He denies the charges and says they have been trumped up to discredit him.