What to expect from the Egyptian parliamentary elections

What to expect from the Egyptian parliamentary elections
Comment: Next week's parliamentary elections in Egypt will bring in a rubber-stamp parliament that has little to offer to Egyptians, writes Mohamed ElMeshad.
5 min read
16 Oct, 2015
Egypt's parliamentary elections will start on October 18, with low turnout expected [AFP]

There’s something both familiar and also odd about the upcoming Egyptian parliamentary elections.

With the first round of voting on the parliamentary elections set for October 18, the run-up to the campaigns contain many of the same old hallmarks: street signs, media exposure, promises of personal favours (mostly in districts with higher rates of poverty), and the revolving door of new yet banal alliances.

     The feeling around Egypt is that the prospect for the coming Egyptian Parliament being at all effective or transformative is slim

However, there is no real election buzz.

In Cairo, where one can always count on a lively political debate in cafes or public transportation, all I have been getting were shrugs and dismissive statements.

The feeling around Egypt is that the prospect for the coming Egyptian Parliament being at all effective or transformative is slim, to say the least.

This feeling was reinforced when the President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi mentioned that he was apprehensive of the powers allotted to the parliament by the 2014 Constitution.

To be fair, political life has not been given any room to mature over the past four years. With turmoil and instability abound, most secular political parties were not able to mobilise or build mass support.

Hopes that the Egyptian parliament will be a vehicle for change and populist leadership have been reduced for many reasons.

There is a serious lack of leadership on the part of nearly the entire political establishment in Egypt.

All indications point to the probability that the coming parliament will revert to being an arena where individuals gain political immunity and other perks, and in return attempt to offer sporadic perks to their constituents to maintain a high profile and ensure reelection.

The first post-revolution parliament included candidates who stood for more nuanced and diverse values. Today, all signs indicate that the new parliament won’t be as diverse or legitimate as its predecessor.

In the previous parliament, the pro-revolution candidates were well known, the different Islamist-candidates were clear about what they represented, the candidates that represented the old way of doing things were also represented.

If a voter was especially curious about important issues such as economic perspectives, stance on social issues and government performance, it was relatively easy to understand this from a candidate.

Egypt's democratic representation is further than ever

     The Muslim Brotherhood, which has been one of the most consistent parties in the last few parliamentary elections, is no longer allowed to run for elections

It is worth noting that a significant portion of the 2012 parliament comprised of young and leading voices from the 2011 uprising.

Voters were given more definite options than now. The lines were clearly drawn between past and present, progressive and conservative, secular and religious, left and right. They had actual choices to make, even if ultimately this parliament did not bear much fruit.

At the moment, the January 25 Revolution and its symbols have been publicly maligned and are no longer politically viable for the most part while many of them are in jail. The revolutionary fervor that sparked the formation of many political parties has simmered before it was ever able to mature.

The Muslim Brotherhood, which has been one of the most consistent parties in the last few parliamentary elections, is no longer allowed to run for elections.

The new political parties and alliances that have formed came together more so to ensure winning coalitions, rather than any kind of ideological front.

A prominent political talk show host confided to me that so far, the only political party that has provided him with a political platform for debate on air was the Free Egyptians Party [FEP].

"The rest of these parties and coalitions literally have nothing of substance to offer," he said.

The FEP was formed and funded after the January 25th Revolution by one of Egypt’s wealthiest individuals, media tycoon Naguib Sawiris.

The majority of the other groups contesting seats in parliament are otherwise engaged in a competition of nationalist and political grandstanding to see who could gather the most votes, while chanting the most jingoistic slogans.

The Deputy Head of the Social Democrat party, Ihab ElKharrat, said that the winners of the coming elections would "be liked by the current government… the government cheerleaders will win the majority of the parliament seats… along with a minority of thinkers with true solutions [to the country's problems]".

ElKharrat did not seem too upbeat with the prospects of his party to win their 77 seats. He may be right.

Accordingly, the electoral coalitions and parties that formed do not have much to offer besides candidates who know how to win elections, rather than on any sort of platform.

Coalitions and parties such as "For the Love of Egypt" (one of the better funded ones) and the "Independence current" have all been publicly engaged in open tug-of-wars attempting to attract the brightest names to their sides.

The FEP has also been choosing candidates based first on their ability to win. A trip to the website of "For the Love of Egypt", which is pro-regime, will show you links to their candidate listings, but not a shred of evidence as to what it is they hope to achieve. 

Electoral lists will only constitute less than one third of the parliament, while the rest will be individually contested seats. Across the country, individuals who achieved prominence, many under Mubarak's National Democratic Party, are re-entering politics and it is business as usual for them.

However, without the secure backing of a "ruling party", they are throwing their weight behind supporting the regime and the security forces.

Encouragingly, the High Elections committee has rejected the candidacy of former head of the NDP policies committee, and steel tycoon Ahmed Ezz, after having been accused of helping corrupt the country's business and political life.

The sight of Ezz in parliament again would have been all too clear an indication that the Mubarak years will return in full-force. 

Mohamed ElMeshad is a journalist and a PhD candidate at SOAS, focused 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.