First Round of Egyptian Parliamentary Elections

First Round of Egyptian Parliamentary Elections 
By Judith Latham
The first round of Egypt’s much anticipated parliamentary elections got underway last week.  And while the voting proved inconclusive in many constituencies, Ayman Nour, the politician mounting the strongest challenge to President Hosni Mubarak in September’s presidential poll, lost his parliamentary seat to a member of Mr. Mubarak’s ruling party. 

Ayman Nour, head of Al-Ghad Party, right, shakes hands with Mohammed Mahdi Akef, leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest and oldest Islamic group
Only 31 parliamentary races were decided in the first round, and the majority of districts produced no outright winner.  But, according to results announced this week, the Muslim Brotherhood more than doubled its legislative representation in the runoff.  

Muslim Brotherhood supreme leader, Mohammed Mahdi Akef (r) with the Islamist group’s sole female candidate, Makarem Eldery
Egyptian journalist Mona Eltahawy, a columnist for the London-based pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat, called Ayman Nour’s defeat the clearest illustration of the hollowness of the Egyptian government’s promises of democratic reform.  Speaking with host Judith Latham of VOA News Now’s International Press Club, Ms. Eltahawy said that intimidation, vote buying, and rigging of ballot boxes characterized the first round of elections.  She added that she expects the next two rounds of parliamentary elections in Egypt to be just as disappointing as the first one because the government in Cairo is threatened more by liberal democrats, such as Ayman Nour, than it is by the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, which has fielded candidates as independents.

In the presidential election President Mubarak won a fifth term but with less than one-quarter of voters turning out and opponents charging the results were rigged
Nadia Bilbassy, senior correspondent with al-Arabiya television, was equally disappointed in the outcome of the first round of parliamentary elections. She cited low voter participation as a sign of the public’s apathy.  Despite the recent constitutional amendment allowing opposition parties to participate in elections, Ms. Bilbassy said she expects the ruling National Democratic Party to win the overwhelming majority of seats.

That’s important, Mona Eltahawy noted, because President Mubarak has stipulated that a party must have at least 5 percent of its members in Parliament to be able to nominate a presidential candidate.  And she described Egypt as being “awash in rumors” that in the next presidential election in 2011 Mr. Mubarak will choose his son Gamal as his successor.

Nonetheless, Nadia Bilbassy said she welcomes the “regional” implications of Egypt’s parliamentary elections under an amended constitution.  And she thinks it may set a precedent for other Arab countries that change is coming and no one can stop it.

Next week the parliamentary elections move to other parts of Egypt, including Alexandria.  Nationwide voting is expected to conclude by December 7, and the new Egyptian parliament is scheduled to convene for the first time a week later