October 16, 2015

So where is the Egyptian opposition?

Print worker rolls an election poster

Political observers had expected a much stronger public response to Egypt’s forthcoming parlia­mentary elections. But from what we have seen, these elections are moving with a large section of the Egyptian populace barely paying attention.
Wandering through Cairo or any other Egyptian city, there are few visible signs of the election. There is not much talk of it in the media. Even among those who are concerned with the elections, they are careful to deal with this calmly, which has led to views that this is because the results are a foregone conclusion and that the pro-regime “For the Love of Egypt” alliance will definitely triumph.
The electoral scene has been overcome by a general desire for calm, which has led to a declining interest in these elections already been postponed more than once. This postponement aimed to ensure a more politi­cally diverse parliament than the previous Islamist-dominated parliament.
From the expected results, it is clear that these civil political parties are relieved by the decline of the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies, with the Salafist al-Nour Party the only clear Islamist party taking part in the elections.
The passivity that has characterised Egyptian politics recently, and which is not commensu­rate with the actual importance of these elections, did not come out of the blue.
There are clear reasons for this, not least because it is difficult to get excited about the political parties on offer and their election manifestos, as well as the rush of so-called “independent” candi­dates to declare their support for the government and announce their “backing” of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
This demonstrates the lack of any true political opposition in Egypt. Even the Islamist trend, as represented by al-Nour Party, rushed to announce its support for Sisi, which has completely voided the elections of any vitality or competition.
When rival political parties competing over votes essentially share the same political outlook, that inevitably leads to tepid elections with low voter turnout, as is the expectation in Egypt.
But such a situation often leads to an inert parliament that will blindly back the ruling authori­ties. While there are some advantages to this, there are also political disadvantages down the road with such a parliament likely failing to carry out its most impor­tant duties: overseeing and enacting legislation; holding the government accountable; and, in short, making up for the absence of the previous parliament.
The new constitution gives Egypt’s parliament broad powers. Most polls indicate that the new parliament will be made up of different political blocs, with no single electoral coalition securing an outright majority, even if all the political parties share the same political outlook that is supportive of Sisi.
But a weak or toothless parlia­ment will create a false image in the minds of many Egyptians, who will say the regime is seeking to reproduce the Hosni Mubarak administration, which was brought down by popular protest. But it was precisely this political system and the political uprising against it that led to Egypt’s new constitution that limits the power of the president and seeks to avoid many of these dangerous pitfalls.
However, Egypt’s political parties have failed to take advantage of this new era, relying on the politics of the past and ultimately failing to secure popular support. The new parliament might be made up of different parties but these will all likely share the same outlook.

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