Elections are changing Egypt’s political map

Friday 04/12/2015
A man casts his vote at a polling station in Toukh, north-east of Cairo, Egypt, on December 1st.

Cairo - The failure to win seats in parliamentary elections may sound the death knell for dozens of Egyp­tian political parties, ana­lysts said.

A group of three political parties won most of the seats in the Egyp­tian elections in October and No­vember, leaving the rest of Egypt’s 112 political parties without a voice in the legislature.

“This means that some political parties will totally disappear from this country’s political map,” said Essam Sheha, a veteran of Egyp­tian liberal politics. “What makes this more likely is that these par­ties do not have any support on the streets.”

A coalition backing Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi won the 120 seats specified for political parties in the elections. The coali­tion included al-Wafd, Free Egyp­tians and Country’s Future parties. The three parties also won 37% of the seats specified for independ­ents in the first phase of the polls before taking most of independ­ents’ seats in the second phase.

That left almost all other political parties without seats.

“We are talking about political parties that have nothing but their own headquarters,” said Tarek Fahmi, a political science professor from Cairo University. “They do not have any following on the streets.”

Before the 2011 revolution, there were fewer than 20 political par­ties in Egypt. Most of those parties lacked public support, except for al-Wafd, a party that dominated po­litical life before the 1952 coup that ended the Egyptian monarchy.

A political party committee, ap­pointed by long-ruling president Hosni Mubarak, made the forma­tion of political parties nearly im­possible. After Mubarak stepped down during the 2011 revolution, a sense of empowerment permeated political circles, emboldening revo­lutionary youths to form parties. The army council, which took over after Mubarak, encouraged party formation, resulting in a surge to more than 100 political parties.

Something was missing though. Most party founders apparently forgot they needed to have popu­larity on the streets, which meant that most of the political parties barely existed beyond a name.

Now there are calls for limiting the formation of political parties to groups that are endorsed by at least 20,000 people.

Most of the seats in parliament will be held by pro-Sisi legislators, meaning there will be little opposi­tion inside parliament for the next five years.

“This can result in the emergence of street opposition through the for­mation of protest movements like the ones formed during Mubarak’s last years in office,” Sheha said.

Several protest movements ap­peared during the last years of Mubarak’s rule to make up for the absence of real party opposition but most of the members of the move­ments are in jail.

In late 2013, Egypt applied the Protest and Peaceful Assembly Law, which makes it necessary for protest organisers to get permission from the authorities before stag­ing street protests. There is grow­ing pressure for the government to abolish the law and allow peaceful assembly on the streets.

Some observers pin their hopes on the Salafists to oppose the government in parliament. The Salafists are the only Islamists in parliament after the Muslim Broth­erhood was almost wiped out of Egypt’s political life.

The Brotherhood, which used to be Egypt’s largest Islamist move­ment, is reeling from the effects of a crackdown by the authorities since the army’s July 2013 overthrow of Muhammad Morsi, the movement’s party chief who became president in June 2012. Morsi is in jail facing charges of inciting murder and es­pionage. Almost all movement and party activists are also imprisoned and face similar charges. Brother­hood members and backers large­ly boycotted the parliamentary elections and refused to back the Salafists, accusing them of support­ing Morsi’s overthrow by the army.

“The Salafists and the leftists have less than 3% of the seats of parliament,” Fahmi said. “Can these two groups influence deci­sion-making in the legislature with less than 3% of its seats? I really do not think so.”

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