Election fallouts from secularist divisions feared in Egypt

Friday 26/06/2015
What will the ballot box yield this time?

CAIRO - Secular political parties are trying to form a unified list of candidates to contest Egypt’s next parliamentary election in an attempt to prevent a comeback of Islamists to parliament.
The election date is yet to be decided despite a delay of five months. The unified list, which was proposed by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, aims at grouping the nation’s non-religious parties in a unified front to counter Islamists, including the Muslim Brotherhood of ousted president Muhammad Morsi and the Salafists.
At stake in the election are 120 parliamentary seats specified for political parties and 448 seats allo­cated for independent candidates. The president has the right to give 28 additional seats to figures of his choice, according to Egypt’s elec­tion law. These seats usually go to marginalised Christians, women and disabled citizens.
The parties have had several meetings regarding mechanisms for the formation of the unified list but without success in accomplish­ing their goal, according to Amin Radi, deputy chairman of the lib­eral Congress Party, who is partici­pating in the negotiations.
“The aim is for these parties to achieve coordination among them­selves before the upcoming elec­tion,” Radi said. “This is an ideal mission, and they need to have more coordination as far as all par­liament seats are concerned.”
Egypt has been without a par­liament since July 2013 when the army, backed by the nation’s politi­cal and religious forces, dissolved the Muslim Brotherhood-dominat­ed parliament, which was elected in 2012.
Sisi is expected to continue hold­ing the country’s legislative powers until a parliament is seated.
Politicians and political analysts are highly sceptical about the abil­ity of secular parties to form a uni­fied front, one capable of defeating the Islamists, before the election.
“These political parties are weak. Instead of discussing unity, they will fight among themselves over who will dominate which con­stituency,” commented Mamdouh Qenawi, a veteran of Egyptian poli­tics and the chief of the liberal Free Social Constitutional Party.
Some politicians close to the ne­gotiations acknowledge that con­flicts among the parties on who will take which seat have hindered the formation of the unified list.
Qenawi said he advised Sisi five months ago not to depend on po­litical parties to help him create a strong political situation in Egypt. Instead of the parties, he told the president to rely more on the youth.
Before the revolution, which ousted longstanding president Hosni Mubarak in February 2011, there were fewer than 20 political parties in Egypt. Today, the coun­try of more than 80 million peo­ple boasts more than 100 parties. Apart from some well-established groups, most parties are not known to the public and have few follow­ers.
The apparent weakness of Egypt’s political parties makes Is­lamists’ domination over the next parliament possible.
“This is particularly true for Salafists, who receive tacit support from the military establishment,” said Hussein Abdel-Raziq, a leading member of the leftist National Pro­gressive Unionist Party.
Al-Nour, Egypt’s largest Salafist party, deserted the Muslim Broth­erhood after the public turned against the Brotherhood in June 2013, and joined the army, other political forces and the religious establishment in backing Morsi’s ouster a month later.
While cracking down on the Mus­lim Brotherhood, the military es­tablishment is widely believed to be tacitly supporting the Salafists, in an attempt to disprove claims that it has been acting against Is­lam.
With growing public support, especially in southern Egypt and in rural areas in the Nile Delta, al- Nour, which poses itself as a politi­cal, not religious, party, is expected to have a major share of seats in the next parliament. Under Egypt’s new constitution, the formation of political parties on religious grounds is banned.
“We have to admit the truth here: Islamists will be present in the next parliament because they have a strong presence in the street,” Radi said.
Al-Nour’s popularity has been growing significantly since the downfall of the Muslim Brother­hood. The party was represented in the panel that drafted the post- Brotherhood constitution and had lobbied for it before, during and after the January 2014 referendum.
During the presidential election in May 2014, al-Nour supported Sisi’s election. In addition to al- Nour party candidates, second-and third-line Muslim Brotherhood leaders can run as independents in parliamentary elections, even though the movement has been designated a “terrorist” organisa­tion and its political arm, the Free­dom and Justice Party, dissolved in December 2013.
While most top Brotherhood leaders are in jail, facing charges of involvement in violence and murder, “the risk lies with second-and third-line Muslim Brotherhood leaders who are not known to the public,” Abdel-Raziq said, arguing that people might vote for them without being aware of their links to the Brotherhood.
That is why, in the absence of a united secular political front, many experts fear a comeback of Islam­ists, be they from al-Nour or inde­pendent Muslim Brothers, in the next parliament.