Commentary

Egyptian Parliamentary Elections

Middle East In Focus

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In November, Egypt will hold parliamentary elections to determine the political balance in the lower house, the 8th such event since the constitution of 1971 went into effect. This year’s campaign has not been free of controversy.

 In September, hundreds of protesters unhappy with what they perceive as a rigged electoral system designed to groom President Hosni Mubarak’s son for the presidency in 2011, took to the streets. According to news reports, “Lines of riot police encircled and attacked demonstrators opposed to Gamal Mubarak outside Abdeen palace, the site of a 19th-century nationalist revolt against monarchical and colonial British rule.” Just this week, the government shut down an independent TV station and removed Al Destour chief editor Ibrahim Eissa,  from office. Both the TV station and the newspaper have been outspoken critics of President Mubarak.

These developments take place in the context of a call to boycott the elections, issued by the National Assembly for Change (NAC), led by former IAEA director and potential presidential candidate Mohamed El-Baradei. The boycott call was initially supported by most major opposition forces, including the Muslim Brotherhood and Wafd, currently represented in the lower house. According to Al Ahram, the main concern expressed by the opposition involves “a series of constitutional amendments in 2007 [that] ended full judicial supervision of elections.... And in light of emergency laws, which are accused of restricting political activism and giving the security apparatus a free hand in detaining people, the opposition can be forgiven for being wary of the election battle that awaits them.”

In addition to the changes in electoral law, suspicions have been fueled by what the opposition characterizes as non-responsiveness by the Higher Electoral Commission. Gamal Essam El-Din reports that “in a conference hosted by the leftist Tagammu Party on 25 September, opposition leaders lamented the absence of any clear role for the HEC in ensuring that the upcoming parliamentary elections are not rigged.”

Despite their attempts to put together a united front, however, both the Wafd and the Muslim Brotherhood ultimately decided that they would not boycott the elections. According to the daily Al Wafd, “Wafd party members voted at their general assembly on Friday, with 504 in favor of participating in the November election compared with 407 against.”  Similarly, after weeks of vacillating between participation and non participation, according to an AP report published in Gulf News, Muslim Brotherhood ”lawmaker Saad el-Katatni, who leads the Brotherhood's parliamentary caucus, said Thursday the group will field candidates in the November elections. Abdel-Rahman al-Bar, known as the Brotherhood's spiritual adviser, also urged supporters to vote.”

The failure of the opposition to stand together on the issue the boycott, according to one report, stems from the realization that the opposition forces can do more inside the system then outside.  According to Mohammad Salah, “Everyone remembers the consequences of the decision made by these parties along with the Brotherhood to boycott the elections that were held in 1990. At the time, these political forces left the field to the ruling party, and the latter monopolized the political game, waging the elections nearly alone, with no real competition.”

Some argue that the impact of the Brotherhood “on the Egyptian political environment remains limited.” What’s more, “In the eyes of many Brotherhood constituents and activists, the movement’s pursuit of reform issues in parliament has simply not paid off; the de-emphasis [on] moral and religious issues has proven vain and unfruitful.... Increasingly, the Brotherhood’s leadership has felt the need to account for this negative balance and offer explanations for its priorities to the rank and file.” Regardless of these debates, the Muslim Brotherhood has decided that sitting out the upcoming parliamentary elections is less advantageous than participating in them. Whether the strategy pays off remains to be seen.

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Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: http://mepc.org/articles-commentary/articles-hub. Comments and feedback are welcome at info@mepc.org.