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Election is true test of political
Election is true test of political Egypt’s parliamentary elections, the first stage of which started on Wednesday, are regarded by many as the true test of a series of political reforms introduced by President Hosni Mubarak last summer. The key question is whether these elections will be more fair and transparent, and less predictable in their outcome compared to Egypt’s recent
Sunday, November 13,2005 00:00
by Ikhwan web

Election is true test of political

Egypt’s parliamentary elections, the first stage of which started on Wednesday, are regarded by many as the true test of a series of political reforms introduced by President Hosni Mubarak last summer.

The key question is whether these elections will be more fair and transparent, and less predictable in their outcome compared to Egypt’s recent presidential elections. In last September’s presidential elections, Mubarak made it almost impossible for any candidate in Egypt’s first multiparty presidential elections to get more than five per cent of the vote. According to a new presidential elections law, introduced earlier this year, political parties must have at least 5 per cent representation in parliament to be eligible to put forward a presidential candidate. Independents, not affiliated with a legal political party, need 250 signatures from lawmakers and city council members, most of whom belong to the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP). Unsurprisingly, Mubarak won 88 per cent of the vote, while his two main opponents won under 10 per cent combined. Public indifference about Mubarak’s political reforms was translated into a low turnout, which didn’t exceed 23 per cent.


Many hope that voting in this month’s parliamentary elections will be different and that Egypt may just be entering the democratic club, no matter how modest and late that might be. There are already several signs that the competition will be fierce between the ruling NDP and the opposition. Significantly, leaders from 10 of Egypt’s major opposition political groups have recently agreed to put aside their differences and join forces in a new coalition to contest the polls. The grouping includes the leftist Tagammu and Nasserite parties; the banned Muslim Brotherhood; the liberal Al Wafd party; and the anti-Mubarak movement Kifaya (Enough). Everybody will be interested, however, in watching the performance of the Muslim Brotherhood. For the past decade, the Muslim Brotherhood has been gaining ground in Egyptian politics for two main reasons: first, by distancing itself from the violence that swept the country in the early 1990s. It stayed out of the armed conflict between the government and the militant Islamic groups Al Jama’a Al Islamiya (Islamic group) and Tanzim Al Jihad (jihad organisation). After two bloody and costly confrontations with the Nasser regime in 1954 and in 1965-1966, in which the organisation lost some of its historic leaders, the Muslim Brotherhood learnt how to survive and spread its message peacefully, demonstrating its awareness of the realities of power relations, which govern Egyptian state and society.


Second, by monopolising the domestic factors which played an important role in the eruption of violence, i.e. widespread corruption, social injustice, rising unemployment and congested, poor and underdeveloped slums. Harsh conditions by the IMF and the World Bank and a slow but unpopular privatisation have also increased the appeal of the Muslim Brotherhood’s message. Taking advantage of the public discontent with the government’s policies, it pledged to provide a viable replacement for the Mubarak regime. That was accompanied by building a wide social network that provided valuable social services for the poor and the needy. This included establishing public clinics, schools and charities. The increasing popularity of the Islamist group has made it the key target of repeated government crackdowns. Recent political reforms, however, have emboldened it. The group, which has been long denied legal status as a party, is making its most overt drive yet for political influence in this month’s parliamentary election. The Muslim Brotherhood has fielded some 130 candidates across Egypt for parliament’s 454 seats. It hopes to win up to 70 seats, a significant increase over its current 15 lawmakers. That would be quite a test for the popularity of political Islam in the most populated and most important Arab country. As the world’s largest and most influential Islamic movement, everybody will be interested in watching how the Muslim Brotherhood will do in the political process. Nobody will be more interested, however, than the US government, which has been recently sending signals that it is willing to abandon its long standing policy of supporting Arab autocrats and work with moderate Islamists should they come to power by democratic means. 
 


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