Egypt’s elections could herald Islamists’ demise

Egypt’s Islamist forces received a nearly fatal blow with the exit of the Muslim Brotherhood, by far the largest Islamist force in Egypt before its collapse in 2013.
Sunday 05/01/2020
Lawmakers of the Egyptian Salafist Nour Party attend a special session of parliament in Cairo, last April.(AFP)
Weak prospects. Lawmakers of the Egyptian Salafist Nour Party attend a special session of parliament in Cairo, last April.(AFP)

CAIRO - Egyptian political parties have started preparing for House of Representatives and Senate elections amid expectations the vote will herald the demise of the country’s Islamist forces.

Political parties are preparing lists of potential candidates following parliamentary debates on election laws and working to build recognition on the streets to ensure constituents’ support.

Some parties organised training for potential candidates, with a focus on political education, outreach to constituents and legislative priorities. Other parties formed coalitions to better compete with larger parties.

Officials of the Nation’s Future Party, which controls 387 of the 596 seats in the House of Representatives, have coordinated with other political parties and formulated criteria for the selection of candidates.

“We have been doing this for some time now to ensure that we are fully prepared for the polls,” said Ashraf Rashad, the party head. “The preparations are happening inside all party branches in all provinces.”

More than 50 million Egyptians are registered to vote and the government will spend millions of dollars to set up voting centres.

Apart from the House elections, Egyptians will elect senators for the first time since 2012. The Senate was abolished in the 2014 constitution, which was drafted after the army-backed popular uprising against the Muslim Brotherhood in mid-2013. Amendments introduced to the constitution last April reinstituted the Senate.

The Senate is to include 180 members, 60 to be appointed by the president.

The House of Representatives is to debate election laws and the division of constituencies in the coming weeks.

The Senate elections are scheduled for April but there are calls for having the Senate and House elections, due in November, at the same time to reduce costs. This means that the date for the Senate elections could be changed if the Election Commission decides to combine the vote for the two chambers.

The elections will be of extreme importance for Egypt’s political parties, especially those that could not win House seats in 2015. Egypt has more than 100 political parties but few are represented in the parliament.

“The elections will give a very good chance for the political parties to prove their worth among voters,” said Tarek Fahmi, a political science professor at Cairo University. “The problem is that we have so many parties but very few of them have a real presence on the ground.”

On December 17, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi reiterated his call for weak parties to merge into other parties to form stronger entities.

The elections are seen as an end to Egypt’s political transition, which started following the downfall of the Muslim Brotherhood regime in 2013. That, analysts said, means that political forces successful in the elections will continue to be a presence for many years.

That raises questions about Egypt’s Islamist forces, which received a nearly fatal blow with the exit of the Muslim Brotherhood, by far the largest Islamist force in Egypt before its collapse in 2013.

Egyptian authorities dissolved the Muslim Brotherhood’s political party in 2014. Islamist parties affiliated to the group are considered inert but continue to exist on paper.

The Salafists are part of the Egyptian political scene, having escaped the fate of the Muslim Brotherhood by demonstrating support for post-Muslim Brotherhood authorities.

However, the Salafists did not make significant gains in the 2015 elections, winning only 12 seats. The Islamists, including the Salafists, have weak electoral prospects for several reasons, including growing public hostility, analysts said.

“The next elections will probably promulgate the total demise of political Islam in Egypt,” said Muneer Adeeb, a specialist in Islamist affairs. “The Islamists have already lost credibility among the members of the public.”

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