Egypt's farcical parliamentary elections

Egypt's farcical parliamentary elections
Comment: Egypt's elections are coming to a close, but questions remain over political diversity and the banishment of the 25 January revolutionaries, writes Mohamed ElMeshad.
5 min read
10 Dec, 2015
The official figures put voting turnout in parliamentary elections at 28 per cent [Anadolu]
Another marathon of Egyptian elections comes to a close with the end of the run-offs in the second round of elections.

Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi called it "the third claim to democracy" - as it was the third, and final step in a transition to full democracy according to the president's roadmap. The first two were the Constitutional referendum and the presidential election.

Something seems distinctly off this time around. Unlike some of the electoral competitions of recent memory - and there have been quite a few - it has not been the most popular of affairs.

If democracy could be defined simply by the procedures of voting and counting, then Egypt should win a democracy award for holding two rounds of nation-wide elections each year since 2010.

However, being democratic requires a level of institution-building that Egypt still needs to achieve, as evidenced by these elections.

The seemingly low voter turnout was an indication that belief in parliament's ability to achieve profound change is limited.

The level of disinterest during these parliamentary elections was palpable. Election updates were littered with adjectives such as "limited participation" and "vacant voting centres". Most of the candidates who had participated in the 2012 parliament after the revolution did not stand this time around.

Ultimately, the 2012 elections produced a parliament that was far from stable, controversial at times and ultimately dissolved by the judiciary - yet MPs and constituents alike were engaged and expressive. That parliament was nowhere near ideal, but the activity it garnered at the very least, meant that it could have helped pave the way for a more pluralist democratic institution.
     These latest elections also exhibited some of the most blatant examples of voter-buying in recent memory

The religious zealotry that dominated the house was met by an equally fervent, albeit outnumbered, secular opposition that would not be silent.

There was a lot of uncertainty, but glimmers of hope for a true potential for change still lingered from the 25 January revolution. Apathy is a word that came to mind this time around.

These latest elections also exhibited some of the most blatant examples of voter-buying in recent memory, many in plain sight and caught on video.

The majority of the successful political alliances and parties that formed for these elections were arranged around varying degrees of political conservatism and support for the current government - and the president, specifically.

This year's most successful coalition was named For the Love of Egypt. Its only discernible platform was that they supported the government - and quite literally offered nothing else to voters besides government jingoism.

Understandably, this coalition is an alliance of many political parties, and so coming up with a single platform would be difficult. But they did not even produce a general guideline of policy principles. Yet they won every one of the 120 parliamentary seats specified for "electoral lists".

These seats represent around a third of the parliament, and they are won based on vote for a political party or coalition, rather than for individual candidates; meaning they are being voted for their principles, not the personalities.

However, the lack of a campaigning platform was not unique to For the Love of Egypt - the only party to produce anything resembling a platform was the Free Egyptians Party, spearheaded by the telecom billionaire, Naguib Sawiris.

The leader of the For the Love of Egypt coalition, Sameh Saif Alyazal, doubled down on his group's principles by calling for the formation of an umbrella coalition that included his original coalition within parliament. It was ot be named "the State Supporting Coalition".

These developments promise to create a parliament consisting of a vortex of state-supporting coalitions as Alyazal claims to already have 400 signatories for his initiative.
     The parliament, as such, looks like it will be very thin on dissenting voices, which seemed unthinkable after the 25 January revolution


The parliament, as such, looks like it will be very thin on dissenting voices, which seemed unthinkable after the 25 January revolution produced a kind of pluralistic social dialogue, the like of which we have never seen here.

While Egypt may be facing a real terrorist threat, let us not forget that Mubarak cited this same threat to maintain a state of emergency for more than 30 years.

One of the scariest thoughts regarding this parliament is the feasibility that as an MP, Tawfiq Okasha - a talkshow host and one of the fiercest opponents of the 25 January revolution - is seeking to be one step removed from the presidency, running for the position of parliamentary speaker.

And he may actually succeed.

For almost half a decade, he has been using his own television station to mirror his own political positions, conspiracy theories and propping up his allies while fomenting hatred - and at times violence - against his enemies, who happen to be anyone involved with the 25 January revolution.

"Dr" Okasha claims to have a PhD from Lake Bradenton International University. The reason why one will have not heard of this university is that it doesn't exist.

Despite defiantly displaying his diploma on his daily political talkshow, the US Department of Education does not have any records of the university.

Seeing Okasha at the helm of parliament will undoubtedly be too much for many Egyptians to bear. The sheer surrealism of it all will drive many into a tailspin of disbelief and/or despair.

The first few sessions of parliament will be a foretaste of what to expect. The MPs' first task will be to vote on more than a dozen laws put forth by the president.

Mohamed ElMeshad is a journalist and a PhD candidate at SOAS, focusing on the political economy of the media. He extensively worked in Egypt, Bahrain, West Africa, the UK and US. Recently, he contributed to the Committee to Protect Journalists' book,
Attacks on the Press (2015).

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.