The Margins of the Egyptian Elections

The Margins of the Egyptian Elections
Abdel Wahab Badrakhan    

The Egyptian reservations with respect to one of the clauses of “the Declaration of Bahrain” at the conclusion of the “The Forum for the Future, the Development of Democracy in the Arab World” were an indication that Cairo has overcome the heavy pressure ordeal it was subjected to during the past two years to drive it to start political reform. Following the completion of the Presidential elections as planned, and the opening of the Parliamentary elections streched over 6 weeks, the authority and the ruling party affirm that voting in both ballots is voting for reform. This means that the guaranteed winning of the national party by more than two thirds of the People’s Council seats will be a support and an approval of “the reform journey”. The latter has practically started to amend article 76 of the Constitution, thus canceled the referendum on a single candidate for presidency and opened the door to competition therein.

But the Egyptian reservation in Manama addressed the issue of spending foreign aids granted to the civil society organizations. It stipulated that these non-governmental organizations should be “licensed”. This brings back the debate to square one. The conflict is not over the validity of the licensing but over the norms that govern granting or obstructing it. There is no doubt that many participating countries in the “Forum for Future” share Egypt’s reservations, but these countries left for Egypt the issue of handling the confrontation with the Americans and Europeans.

The fact is that the wave of roaring protests that Egypt witnessed wouldn’t have taken place hadn’t the unlicensed organizations imposed themselves in the street and created a new reality that called on changes in the security and political performance. These changes quickly reflected on the parliamentary elections: on the one hand,  the “Kifaya” movement established a work trend that confused the authority with its peaceful nonviolent cachet. On the other hand, this authority was forced to implicitly accept the “Muslim Brotherhood” group, which is legally banned in the framework of the electoral contest.

Despite the official efforts exerted, and what seemed to be “concessions” by the authority, the elections, presidential and parliamentary, did not muster more than 25% of the registered voters. The latter do not represent, in any case, all those who are entitled to vote. This fact points out to a chronic and deep-rooted confidence crisis in the relation between citizens and the ballot boxes. Therefore, the upcoming phase may swiftly go back to the same crisis, as long as the intended change is still remote. This is unless the next government and ruling party foresee the protest movements through a clear and publicized reform program, coupled with a scheduled program to complete new or amended laws. It is generally agreed that the next stage is a transitory one.

One of the main laws that should be amended is the election law because in its present form, it was and still is aimed at securing the victory of the ruling party candidates and maintaining its control over the two thirds of the Parliament’s seats, thus, controlling the legislative action. Whereas the leaders of the ruling party sate that the present elections are the last ones to take place according to this law, the expected results will not lead to a major change in the composition of the Council called on to run the transitory phase, materialize and endorse reforms.

But the new feature of the upcoming Council is  the increased number of members who represent the “Muslim Brotherhood” group and a retreat of those representing other parties in the opposition. Although the ruling party and the “Brotherhood” deny any parliamentary understanding between them, the debate surfaced, especially in the media, regarding the future intention of the authority with respect to the legal situation of the “group”. It could not remain banned, while enjoying the second largest parliamentary bloc following the ruling party. It is not possible to continue chasing its followers when it has its own MPs in the Parliament. This obstacle should no longer be overlooked, but it is possible to say that the Arab and Islamic worlds are expecting from Egypt a solution thereto that could be a prototype to be replicated abroad.

The Egyptian reservations in Manama are understandable and legal, but they may not be enough to convince others that the internal political game has become totally sound. The reforms are still at the very beginning. In addition, “the democracy of the ruling party” sustains the skepticism regarding a rationed diversity, in which the licensed parties do not enjoy more than the right to exist.