Election fallouts from secularist divisions feared in Egypt
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.