Elections are changing Egypt’s political map
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.”