Egypt elections: Hosni Mubarak awaits his managed landslide

Egypt elections: Hosni Mubarak awaits his managed landslide

 Egyptians wishing to stand in the general election on 28 November must file an application by Sunday, the interior ministry said last week. What with threats of a boycott and government bans, it is not clear which of the various opposition parties will be competing. The only certainty is that President Hosni Mubarak’s National Democratic party (NDP) will field 508 candidates, one for each seat in parliament.

In the absence of any competition the ruling party had no difficulty in winning 95% of the seats up for renewal in the council elections of April 2008. No one seems to doubt that the all-powerful organisation will again win a sizeable majority.

Oddly enough, the NDP’s prime concern is to make a reasonable amount of room for opposition parties in parliament. It needs political stability as it prepares for the tricky job of finding a successor for the ailing president.

Since it was established by Anwar El Sadat in 1978, the NDP has never bothered with ideology. Its purpose is to perpetuate the regime by weaving a web of patronage, offering in exchange to voice the concerns of various lobbies. To rule it needs to win at least two-thirds of the seats in parliament, if necessary by rigging the vote. But it cannot dispense with popular approval. “Campaigns are dominated by various cliques. In upper Egypt it is the tribal organisation that counts most,” said Osama Soraya, editor-in-chief of al-Ahram and an NDP sympathiser. “In this part of the country the party cannot impose a candidate without prior negotiation.”

With 3 million members, the party suffers recurrent infighting. A primaries process ended on 28 October. “This gave militants some hope of a fair deal for promotion inside the party,” Soraya said. It remains to be seen whether the run-off – with 9,000 members competing for 508 tickets – will restore order.

The regime has reasserted the political ban on the Muslim Brotherhood. This was the only opposition party to make any real impact in 2005, winning 88 seats, but it has little chance of repeating this success. Since 10 October, when it said it would be fielding candidates, the regime has stepped up the pace of arrests.

“The NDP has done a deal with the opposition parties,” claims the political observer Ammar Ali Hassan. “It will give them seats in the future parliament in exchange for a commitment not to upset the NDP’s plans for the transfer of power. Nor must they spoil the show by boycotting the election, but rather demonstrate how vibrant our political life is.”

Soraya said: “A society that wants to evolve must maintain its growth rate and prevent at all costs religious extremists and other anarchist groups from gaining power, even if they represent the majority in the street.” It is a matter of waiting for Egyptians to mature sufficiently to meet the NDP’s standards, it seems.

Soraya concludes: “If necessary, democracy could easily wait another 20 years. We are not in any hurry.”