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Egypt’s Ruling Party Rattled by Impressive Opposition Gains
Egypt’s Ruling Party Rattled by Impressive Opposition Gains
Partial results from Egypt’s month-long parliamentary elections reveal large gains for the powerful but banned Muslim Brotherhood opposition movement; however, the ruling National Democratic Party retains a two-thirds majority.
Tuesday, December 13,2005 00:00
by Ikhwan web

Egypt: Election 2005: Egypt’s Ruling Party Rattled by Impressive Opposition Gains 
Partial results from Egypt’s month-long parliamentary elections reveal large gains for the powerful but banned Muslim Brotherhood opposition movement; however, the ruling National Democratic Party retains a two-thirds majority.     

Global Insight Perspective    
Significance Despite the best efforts of the Egyptian government - through a campaign of blatant violence and intimidation - in preventing the Muslim Brotherhood’s (MB) inexorable rise, the movement has increased its parliamentary tally almost sixfold. The results so far confirm the MB’s status as the country’s most powerful opposition force.
Implications The Egyptian government under past leaders, as well as under President Hosni Mubarak, has forcibly repressed the MB despite the group’s considerable grassroots influence. Repression and autocracy may well be emblematic of the Egyptian regime, but the country’s small and hesitant steps toward ’democracy’ have exposed an Islamic resurgence at the expense of the ruling regime’s dwindling credibility.
Outlook Mubarak’s overwhelming constitutional power provides ample room for the president to dissolve parliament should the government feel excessively, or even moderately, threatened by the MB’s new-found political clout. However, given that the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) retains a crucial two-thirds majority in the legislature, it certainly continues to have the upper hand in driving through any further constitutional changes or, if need be, stiffening emergency laws.

Democracy, Mubarak Style

Earlier in the year - when parliament approved the ruling regime-inspired amendments that allowed for Egypt’s first directly contested multi-candidate presidential elections - Mubarak trumpeted the constitutional changes as the first step in the pursuit of ’irrevocable’ political reforms. His language was tailored to soothe international pressure, which was building following calls from the U.S. administration for Egypt to lead the way for freedom in the wider region. Looking out from his presidential balcony over the last few weeks, Mubarak would have noticed that his fancy words of freedom were not being well received by his overzealous security apparatus on the streets. Parliamentary elections may now be over, but at least 11 Egyptians have been killed in the process and many hundreds more imprisoned, as the ruling establishment felt impelled to preserve its diminishing authority at all expense (see Egypt: 8 December 2005: Election 2005: Violence Mars Egyptian Polls, Claims 11 Lives).

Unsurprisingly, the NDP has maintained its grip on power following the three-phase parliamentary polls. Leading party stalwarts and close Mubarak allies all managed to secure their seats in the Majlis al-Sha’ab (People’s Assembly), although NDP support was split between the official candidates for the party and affiliated independents who are expected to join ranks once the new chamber meets for its opening session. Results from the Egyptian electoral commission showed the NDP and its allies winning 324 seats in the 444-seat parliament. Although the party will be satisfied at having crossed the crucial two-thirds threshold, the victory is far short of the 404 seats it gained in 2000. Egypt’s secular opposition failed to impress, owing to its fragmentation and lack of political penetration at street level. Furthermore, only four women and one Coptic Christian have won seats.

A Force to be Reckoned With

As the Arab world’s most populous country, Egypt’s influence has historically extended beyond its immediate borders - whether as the leading instigator of Arab nationalism in the 1950s and 1960s, or as the originator of one-party rule that continues to blight a large proportion of the Middle East. If we follow the logic that what transpires politically in Egypt is fast accommodated among neighbouring states, the rise of political Islam in the form of the MB may cause significant ruptures in the longer term. The MB has spawned a variety of Islamic movements throughout the region and its success in Egypt is bound to resonate across Arab frontiers. A number of Arab regimes are bound to feel the pressure in the process.

With the MB officially banned in Egypt owing to its religious foundations, the movement was forced into running candidates as independents. However, with 77 years of social and welfare-provision experience, the possibility of MB candidates failing to secure any substantial popular support was always unlikely. What remained to be determined was the extent of MB gains; according to the partial results, it has thus far mustered 88 parliamentary seats - almost six times the number of deputies it had in the previous chamber. More importantly, the movement can claim to have won some 20% of seats, despite having fielded less than 50% of the maximum 444 candidates it was permitted.

MB officials sought to play down their gains, citing government anxiety over having to face real parliamentary opposition for the first time. ’Our goal was participation, not victory’, said MB spokesman Essam al-Eryan. Such reservations are understandable, given the less-than-amiable relations between the government and the MB. Ahead of the polls, the Mubarak regime certainly loosened the shackles on the MB, but the gradual rise of the movement appeared to have taken the administration by surprise. Midway through the polls, government tactics changed radically, with hundreds of arrests sanctioned against the movement in an effort to stifle its progress. The difficulty for the government remains the credibility gap in Egyptian politics. ’The [ruling] National Democratic Party is only an offshoot of the regime, while the Brothers [MB] are a real political force’, Mustafa Kamel, from the American University in Cairo, the Egyptian capital, told Agence France-Presse (AFP). With other political parties gradually waning in the face of stiff regime repression, the NDP-MB battle lines are being drawn.

Outlook and Implications

Fruitful political liberalisation remains a distant prospect. Pulses will be beating rapidly within NDP headquarters, with government officials busily calculating the implications of a strong MB showing. In a not-too-distant former era, government advisors would perhaps have advised Mubarak to simply dismiss the gains and dissolve parliament pending further elections - but such levels of autocracy have little place in the new reform-minded regional environment. The U.S. administration, for one, would find it unacceptable to bar the rise of the MB while promoting democracy and liberty elsewhere. However, the movement’s impressive rise presents considerable challenges to both the Egyptian administration and foreign governments. The latter in particular are now caught between supporting democratic processes in the Middle East, which the Egyptian example has clearly demonstrated would enhance the role and power of Islamic movements, or preserving the status quo of reliable but autocratic leaders. Irrespective of what the Egyptian government may contend, the future - in Egypt at least - is looking very Islamist.
 
 

tags: parliamentary elections / politics / rigged elections / MB Vs. NDP / democracy / Egypt /
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