• December 3, 2005
  • 5 minutes read

Experts see Egyptian political transition evolving in next year or two

Experts see Egyptian political transition evolving in next year or two

Experts see Egyptian political transition evolving in next year or two  
 A three-member panel of leading experts on Egyptian politics were of mixed minds about what the recent Egyptian parliamentary elections portend. But two Egyptian members of the panel predicted some type of political transition in Egypt in the next year or two as the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak comes to terms with how to deal with the increasingly powerful Muslim Brotherhood, the main Islamic political group in Egypt.

Emad Shahin, professor of political science at the American University in Cairo and a visiting professor at Georgetown University in Washington, said that Mubarak tolerated the political ascent of the Brotherhood this year because an “explosive situation in Egypt could erupt at any time,” and too much government suppression could have backfired.

In a panel discussion on “Post-Elections Egypt” held at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on Friday, Shahin said there are still two views in the NDP about whether to crack down or try to accommodate the Brotherhood.

The new Egyptian Parliament will have to decide the presidential succession issue, and Mubarak may agree to legalize various opposition political parties if they will support him on the succession issue, Shahin said.

At some point, the United States may have to devise a policy based on moderate Islamists taking power in Egypt, he added. Amr Hamzawy, an Egyptian political scientist, senior associate at Carnegie and columnist for Al-Ahram and Al Sharq al-Awsat, said he was inclined to believe the NDP will try to woo leftist, unionist and secular political parties to counter the Brotherhood, and that the next two years will reveal whether a more Islamic political platform will emerge in Egypt.

“The dynamics of the NDP remain as interesting as the dynamics of the Muslim Brotherhood,” Hamzawy said.

While the parliamentary elections may mark a new stage in Egyptian politics, with 20 to 25 percent of the seats in the new assembly for the first time held by opposition groups, the NDP-led assembly will continue to control perceptions of Egyptian constitutional reforms, Hamzawy said.

Egypt is now a “bi-polar system” with no political center, he said.

The Brotherhood strategy of creating a united opposition front to the NDP was not a positive development for Egypt because this led to various parties trying to hide their major ideological differences, Hamzawy said. This tactic relieved the major parties from serious campaigning, and it raises questions about whether the new assembly will be able to continue or not, he said.

Secular opposition parties will be left out, Hamzawy said, and while the Brotherhood tried to establish a national consensus for the elections, many of the opposition parties cannot reach such a consensus because of their fundamental differences.

The political future of Egypt will depend on the interaction between the NDP and the Brotherhood, Hamzawy predicted.

One rumor in Egypt is that Gamal Mubarak, the son of the President, may try to form a new political party, Hamzawy said.

Asked by KUNA if they saw any scenario in the next few years in which the Mubaraks might cede power for the greater good of Egypt, Hamzawy and Michele Dunne, who edits the Arab Reform Bulletin at Carnegie and teaches Arabic at Georgetown University, said no. Shahin said it could possibly happen in 2010 if the key parties can agree on a “transitional presidential candidate” whose main mission would be to write a new constitution.

Dunne noted that the latest round of Egyptian parliamentary elections were marked by three new elements: the establishment of a so-called independent election commission which actually was headed by the Egyptian Ministry of Justice; the use of election monitors, including many trained by non-governmental organizations and funded internationally, including by the United States; and the activism of Egyptian judges, who were mobilized and much more vocal than during past Egyptian elections.

As a result, “It was much more difficult to rig these elections, which led to the strong success of the Muslim Brotherhood,” Dunne said.

Some elements of past Egyptian elections that returned during the latest round included candidates hiring thugs to intimidate voters who were not their supporters; clashes breaking out; increasing accusations that security forces were surrounding polling places, especially in areas of strong Brotherhood support, and especially during the third and final round of voting on Thursday; and vote buying by ruling party candidates, Dunne claimed.

Dunne agreed that the new Egyptian assembly, which is to be seated on December 13, may not last its full five years because “many lawsuits” have been launched, with more to come, and election monitors have documented abuses this time. The Egyptian parliament could be dismissed as occurred in 1990 when the Egyptian Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional, Dunne said. (end) rm.