• December 16, 2005
  • 6 minutes read

Experts ponder implications following election

Experts ponder implications following election

EGYPT: Experts ponder implications following election

Muslim Brotherhood supporters demonstrate outside a polling station in Alexandria, saying they were not allowed to cast votes. 
– Last week saw the end of the third and final round of Egypt’s tense parliamentary elections, during which 12 people were killed amid attempts by state security to prevent voters from casting ballots.

Despite widespread reports of election-tampering and vote-rigging, the banned, but tolerated, Muslim Brotherhood Islamic organisation won 88 out of the 444 elected seats in the popular assembly in a surprise string of electoral victories.

“It was a massive surprise for everyone,” said one resident of the low-income Imbaba district of the capital, where two brotherhood candidates savaged respective opponents in the first round of voting. “Hundreds of brotherhood members and their supporters gathered in the streets, singing and chanting.”

After the brotherhood captured 47 seats in the initial round, beginning on 8 November, the group went on to pick up another 41 in the following two rounds, bringing its total parliamentary representation up to 88. The Islamic group, which must field candidates as independents, due its lack of official recognition, had only 15 seats in the outgoing assembly.

Along with a small handful of other secular opposition parties, the opposition bloc in parliament will now occupy almost 100 seats, up from only 40 in the last parliament.

The ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), meanwhile will control 315 seats, compared to a previous 388.

The unexpected gains by the Islamist opposition came despite widespread election violations reported, as would-be voters were prevented in many districts from entering polling stations. This was particularly the case in areas disposed towards opposition candidates.

A violent end

Government efforts aimed at disrupting the voting process reached a crescendo on 7 December, the final day of third-round voting, when polling stations in some areas were reportedly cordoned off by state security forces.

According to numerous reports, much of them carried on Arabic-language satellite news channels, protests by angry voters erupted in several cities, prompting police to respond by firing tear gas and rubber bullets into crowds.

“Security forces fired live rounds at voters, used tear gas and impeded voters from entering polling stations outright,” said Abdel Moneim Abul Futouh, a prominent member of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The ensuing violence resulted in the death of eight people, bringing the total number of election-related deaths to 12.

Journalists covering the vote were also reportedly subject to harassment by state security forces. International press-freedom watchdog Reporters without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) noted “over a dozen cases in which journalists have been assaulted, detained or prevented from working” over the course of the three-round election.

“The ruling NDP and security forces ordered supporters to beat and harass voters and journalists,” CPJ noted in a press release issued on the last day of voting. “Harassment has increased as members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood movement… have gained seats.”

“Journalists covering these events were assaulted by security forces who confiscated tapes and equipment, and briefly detained several reporters,” the rights group noted.

In one case, a journalist for an opposition weekly was reportedly kidnapped and beaten.

Monitoring groups and local NGOs decried the tactics, with London-based human-rights watchdog Amnesty International urging Cairo to launch an investigation into police violence.

Change in trend?

Protesting against what they claimed were rigged elections, hundreds of opposition supporters also gathered in front of an administrative court in downtown Cairo on 13 December, calling for the resignation of the minister of interior.

Despite widespread criticisms, however, some policy watchers suggest that the heated parliamentary contest was actually better than most, given the high number of seats won by opposition candidates.

“It was a step in the right direction, even though there were a lot of violations by state security,” Cairo-based analyst Khaled Sewelam told IRIN. “It was a democratic transformation, albeit a tightly controlled one.”

On 13 December, president and long-time NDP head Hosni Mubarak appointed 10 more parliamentarians, as is stipulated by the national constitution. Although the appointments included five women and five Coptic Christians, some activists decried the move as “artificial,” given the fact that only one Copt and four women won elected seats.

[See: Activists call appointments of women, minorities “fig-leaf”]

Foregone conclusion

The continued NDP majority in parliament means that the ruling party will maintain its grip on legislative and constitutional initiatives. Nevertheless, some observers suggest that the opposition – particularly the Muslim Brotherhood – will enjoy an enhanced capacity to hold NDP policies to account.

“The brotherhood will act like a bloc, and follow a careful, well-planned strategy for challenging the NDP in parliament,” said Sewelam. “It will pick certain issues, such as official corruption, and will be better poised to question ministers.”

“This could ultimately serve to delay the lawmaking process,” he added.

The Muslim Brotherhood leadership has announced a tripartite agenda, the main elements of which are constitutional reform, including limiting the term of the presidency and eliminating the 25-year old emergency law; educational reform, such as improving the conditions of the country’s teachers; and economic policy, which will address workers’ issues and shy away from the ruling party’s more free-market oriented strategies.

“They will generally try to secure benefits for the disadvantaged,” noted Sewelam. “They want to appear as defenders of populist policies” in the hope of maintaining their grass roots appeal, he explained.

In the meantime, observers are waiting to see what happens at the opening of the new parliamentary session early next year.