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After the elections
After the electionsMohamed Sid-Ahmed analyses the results of Egypt’s parliamentary elections   The ruling National Democratic Party succeeded in retaining a two-thirds majority in the People’s Assembly, but failed in what was essentially the first test for its democratic reform programme. The question now is whether it will use its success to alleviate its failure or w
Friday, December 16,2005 00:00
by (Al-Ahram Weekly )

After the elections
Mohamed Sid-Ahmed analyses the results of Egypt’s parliamentary elections


The ruling National Democratic Party succeeded in retaining a two-thirds majority in the People’s Assembly, but failed in what was essentially the first test for its democratic reform programme. The question now is whether it will use its success to alleviate its failure or whether the long overdue democratic reforms we have been promised will remain an elusive mirage.

While its success in securing a comfortable majority in parliament means that the NDP does not need the support of any other party to get its bills passed and its policies implemented, the price of success has been exorbitant. Scores of court actions moving for the nullity of the elections have been filed against the government, one of the most prominent of which was brought by national specialised council member Mahmoud Abdel-Latif El-Sawi. In his statement of claim, El-Sawi cited several reasons entailing a judgement of nullity, first and foremost that allowing members of an illegal party, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), to run invalidated the whole process. Moreover, he added, electoral lists were fraudulent, vote-buying was rampant and the casting and counting of ballots were conducted in a highly irregular manner. All these factors contributed to the fallacy of the results: of the 432 contested seats, the NDP won 311, the independents 112 (88 of the winning candidates in this category are affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood), the Wafd six, the Tagammu two and Al-Ghad Party one. With only 100 of the former 444 members of parliament re-elected, the 3:4 ratio of change means that Egypt’s new legislative assembly will be very different from previous ones.

The elections were the most violent in Egypt’s history. In many constituencies, the areas around polling stations resembled battlefields, where violent clashes broke out between security forces and frustrated voters prevented from reaching ballot boxes. Tear gas and rubber bullets were used to disperse crowds of voters, resulting in 11 casualties and over 1,000 wounded. Commenting on the violations that marred the elections, Washington, which considers Egypt its main ally in the Arab world, said they give rise to "serious concerns about the path of political reform in Egypt and send wrong signals of Egypt’s commitment to democracy and freedom".

In previous elections, MB candidates concealed their political identity when campaigning and, once elected, used their parliamentary immunity to avoid arrest. This time, they made no secret of their party affiliation from the start, in defiance of the government ban on their organisation’s participation in political life. The MB got over four times as many votes as they got in previous elections. On the other hand, only one Copt was elected to the People’s Assembly. Of course, the president is entitled to appoint 10 members to parliament, and he can use this privilege to include a number of Copts and women, both categories being very under-represented. He has actually named five Copts, three of whom are women, but will this satisfy the Copts after the victories scored by the MB in the elections?

Both the National Democratic Party and the MB are representative of middle-class interests, each from a different vantage point. Can the various sections of the middle class find some sort of common ground on which to build a new party? Can they come up with a formula that is not a simple prolongation of either the MB or the NDP, but a political body to which both would contribute? A grouping along the lines of the Wasat Party, which would include not only forces from both right and left, but also secular forces extending from the liberal right to the centre-left? What would be the relationship in future of the MB with an alliance grouping the secular parties, both left and right? Will such an alliance collapse under the pressure of the ruling party on the one hand and the MB on the other? Or will it collapse under the pressure of inner struggles inside the NDP itself, between reformists and conservatives? Will a new generation take over with the renewal of the People’s Assembly?

The judiciary, charged under the constitution with supervisory powers over the election process, absolved itself of what it claimed were rigged results of parliamentary elections, and issued declarations criticising the police for failing to prevent violence during voting and allowing thugs to intimidate voters and block access to voting stations. Moreover, the Judges’ Club has threatened to study the issue of boycotting any future elections beginning from a meeting to be held tomorrow.

The vice-president of the Court of Cassation declared that the independence of the judiciary from the executive branch is the cornerstone of democracy, because it guarantees free and fair elections. But his words fell on deaf ears, and intimidation tactics were systematically used against judges to prevent them from reporting the violations they witnessed at first hand.

An implicit deal links the various protagonists together, whether they like it or not. The very fact that MB candidates were allowed to stand in the elections, albeit as individuals, carries the tacit message that doors are being opened for exchange of views over practical problems rather than over the outlook to society as a whole. The issue is not only raised locally, but also on the regional and global levels, as in the case of Erdogan’s policies in Turkey.

The status of the MB is ambiguous, and will remain so as long as they are recognised only tacitly. Their freedom of movement is curtailed, their sovereignty limited and if they have an interest in remedying this situation, so too does the government, if only to remove them as a social and political threat.

The NDP did not exploit its non-recognition of the MB as a legal organisation to prohibit it from participating in the elections. This proves that accommodation is possible and that the historically strained relationship between the state and the MB can be improved.

At this point in time, the dissolution of the two parties is not a realistic option. However, until such time as it becomes feasible, an intermediary third party, acceptable to both and not the mere prolongation of either, must come into being. Otherwise the whole system is in danger of collapsing. We are looking at a long period of arduous negotiations which could degenerate into bloody confrontations.

It has been decided to consolidate the change in the composition of the People’s Assembly with a limited cabinet reshuffle. The main task now before the NDP is to normalise its relationship with the judiciary and to take concrete measures to correct the mistakes that have soured relations between the administrative and judicial branches of government. For the MB, it is to convince the various sections of society whose confidence they have succeeded in winning that they have decided to renounce the use of violence once and for all.

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