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October 4, 2011
The announcement of new parliamentary elections in Egypt, together with new provisionary laws governing them, has triggered an immediate reaction from the various political forces in the country. Unhappy with provisions in the new law that many complain will favor elements of the old regime, some groups have threatened to boycott the first parliamentary elections since the fall of Mubarak.
Al Ahram’s Zeinab El Gundy reports, “The nature of the law has been very heated, as some consider the upcoming parliamentary poll the most important of its kind in Egypt’s history. They also discovered that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) had issued a short constitutional declaration on 25 September 2011 without their knowledge. Needless to say, both pieces of news were not welcomed. Reactions varied, but most believed that it would give ex-NDP party members a back-door ticket into Parliament. The notion that these old-regime figures are gathering their forces to return once again using their money and power has enraged many up and coming political powers.”
In an editorial for The Daily News (Egypt), Rania Al Malky notes, “In one fell swoop, SCAF confirmed all our suspicions: It has shown a total lack of interest in giving up power, both officially and behind the scenes; it is not particularly concerned about democratic transition; it is willing to hold Egypt hostage to a carefully orchestrated security vacuum to achieve its goals; given the choice, it would rather deal with the old structures, albeit in a new guise, as long as this maintains its existence outside the scrutiny of a superior legal entity. The good news is, despite the intimidations, the media gags and the threat of military trials, criticism of SCAF has gained renewed vigor with some political party leaders and presidential hopefuls attacking the council head-on. SCAF managed somehow to bridge the Islamist-secular polarization, creating a more clear-cut divide between those for and against the revolution.”
Turning his attention to the youth movement at the heart of the anti-Mubarak protests, the Egyptian Gazette’s Ramadan Kader believes that “the young revolutionaries appear to have been left out in the cold.... Apparently, the authors of a new election law, approved by the military rulers late last month, did not take these youths into consideration…. Moreover, the timing of the planned elections is unfavorable for the young revolutionaries. With the country in political turmoil, these nascent politicians have not got enough time to prepare for the expectedly tough elections, due to begin on November 28. It is in the cards that the new Parliament will not be fully representative of post-revolutionary Egypt. Like its predecessors, it will, disappointingly, lack the youthful driving force for the future. Has the ‘Revolution of the Youth’ been hijacked? It seems so.”
But not all agree with that assessment. El Gundy cites Atef El-Banna, a professor of constitutional law at Cairo University, who “praised both the elections law and the constitutional declaration. The jurist, who worked on drafting the original constitutional amendments, called for parties and activists to stop their debate on the new law, insisting that their fear of NDP remnants was misguided, as the Egyptian people were too smart elect old regime figures.”
Others focus more on other dynamics of the Egyptian political scene beyond the election law. For example, Nadine Abdalla writing on Al Masry Al Youm suggests, “The passage of time seems to reinforce the belief that liberal powers that are pushing for the establishment of a civil state remain unable to reach out to ordinary Egyptians. This is a serious problem that threatens to undermine the future of the Egyptian Bloc, a liberal political coalition, and its ability to achieve satisfactory results in the upcoming elections….The problem lies in the fact that liberals have failed to formulate a fresh vision for a “conservative-liberal” discourse that reconciles their call for a civil state with the values of Egyptian society. Egyptians will not lend an ear to any discourse that warns them against the perils of the religious state and sings the praises of the civil state….The ability of these liberal forces to formulate a new discourse that appeals to an audience that has largely abstained from political engagement will be key to determining their future impact on the Egyptian state.”
On the pages of the same newspaper, Samir Morkous argues for a more measured approach: “At this historical moment, we need to contemplate matters in a fashion that allows a secure political transition on a scientific basis. There are certain questions that we should answer as we build our new Egypt: What is the motive for change? Which powers have carried out the revolution? Which goals have they achieved, and which remain to be achieved?”
According to The National’s editorial, the exercise of having new elections is an important achievement in and of itself: “Elections are the first solution for Egypt's reforms….This is a tumultuous time in Egypt's political life, as the existence of 47 parties demonstrates. There appears to be a danger of a division along religious-secular lines, but it would be wrong to treat that as a certainty. The Muslim Brotherhood, for example, is proving to be less monolithic than many observers suspected. No doubt, even the aloof military council is the scene of lively closed-door debates over how much power should or must be yielded, and on what terms. Elections, then, will have the advantage of sweeping away some of the froth churned up by this year's events and revealing at least the outlines of what 82 million Egyptians want — their self-determination, after all, is at the heart of this year's momentous events.”
Yet, in the midst of the electoral fever, there are others that call attention to the economic issues at stake. A staff report on Arab Times, “Egypt Firms Struggle as Uncertainty Hits Economy” points out that, “Seven months after President Hosni Mubarak was ousted, Egypt’s business community is becoming more vocal in its pleas for the interim government to spell out how it plans to revive confidence in the economy, which has been badly hit by an exodus of tourists and investors. Businessmen say Egypt cannot wait until the ruling military council hands administration over to a civilian government....Egyptian firms, many facing strikes and other pressures to raise pay, in particular want assurances that economic policy will not become more populist. They fear the government could hike taxes on firms and introduce legislation or administrative steps to push up wages as it tries to placate protesters angry at the deep divide between rich and poor.”
Recalling the importance of a middle class for a stable democratic regime, Al Ahram’s Nesma Nowar asks, “What happened to Nasser's middle class?...Suffice it to say that we must start taking better care of the middle class. Nasser knew the importance of the middle class and was able to expand it, and this was his greatest legacy. Mubarak allowed the middle class to erode, shedding any decency along the way, and this is his worst legacy....Now we need a leader who knows how to embody the people's will without suffocating their freedom of choice. Nasser, as Iraq’s late poet Al-Gohari once said, was a man of great successes and great failures. What this country needs at present is a leader of Nasser's stature minus his lust for power. We need someone like Nelson Mandela of South Africa, who was willing to renounce power to empower his own people. What we need is not the 1952 edition of Nasser, but a 2011 edition of the great leader. We need someone with Nasser's stature and sense of justice, and we need him to be also democratic.”
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 email@example.com.