Egypt‘s Parliamentary Elections:
|Monday, February 28,2005 00:00|
|By Ikhwan web|
Egypt‘s Parliamentary Elections:
But the triumph of the National Democratic Party is not unalloyed. Its official candidates, in fact, did not do well; of those 388, only about 175 were actually elected as NDP candidates; the other 213 ran as independents, then joined the NDP on their victory. (In most cases they were longtime members of the ruling party who had been passed over as official candidates.) This pattern is a familiar one in Egypt: most “independents” turn out to be backers of the government party who simply did not win the party’s endorsement. But the fact that the NDP’s own official candidates actually won fewer than half the seats is unprecedented.
Though the legal opposition parties will be better represented in this Parliament than the last one, with some 16 or 17 seats, the real opposition force in the new Parliament will be a group totally excluded from the last one: the Muslim Brotherhood. Technically illegal and barred from running as a party, and with its traditional legal party ally, the Socialist Labor Party, excluded from this election, the Brotherhood ran its candidates as independents and managed to elect 17 of them, equaling or outstripping the seats won by the legal parties. Another two independents elected are Islamists outside the Brotherhood, and the Brotherhood candidates were believed running strong in an Alexandria constituency where the elections were suspended; those two seats will be filled in a by-election later.
So, though these elections did not produce as pluralist a People’s Assembly as some of the elections of the 1980s — in 1987 the National Democrats won only 69.3% of the vote — they have demonstrated what looks like a genuine weakness in the ruling party’s official strength, with independents outpolling the official candidates even though the independents were themselves supporters of the government. And the return of the Muslim Brotherhood to Parliament with a significant bloc of MPs also returns that group to something like political legitimacy, even if that “legitimacy” is still, technically, illegal.
This Dossier looks at the results of Egypt’s 2000 Parliamentary elections.
That Egypt is not a Western-style pluralist democracy is obvious to all, but that its elections do provide some genuine competition and some readable results is also widely acknowledged. This year’s elections have been generally considered fairer than the ones in 1995, when even the government itself seemed embarrassed at some of the results; the decision on July 8 by the Supreme Constitutional Court that only the judiciary may supervise the elections (instead of the police and Interior Ministry, as in the past) eliminated at least some of the more apparent abuses. (See the Dossier, “Egypt’s Highly Political Summer”, in The Estimate for July 28, 2000.) There were still complaints of police intervention outside the polling places to keep Islamists or opposition supporters from reaching the polls, and the judicial observers emphasized that their authority was only valid inside the polling places. So while the elections were fairer than those of 1995, they were by no means a model by international standards.
Adding to the changes this year was the decision to hold the election in three phases, with certain governorates voting in the first phase, and so on, and with each phase having an preliminary vote and a runoff vote, so that there were actually six different polling dates. (See “The Election Schedule” in the Dossier “Egypt’s Parliamentary Campaign Begins” in The Estimate for September 22, 2000.)
Nor were the 2000 elections as bloody as 1995, when by some counts 87 people died and as many as 1,500 were wounded. (There are lower estimates as well.) This year only about 10 people were reportedly killed in electoral violence and about 60 injured. These mostly occurred in a handful of specific localities where opposition supporters and the police clashed, with each blaming the other for starting the fracas.
In the much-criticized 1995 elections, the ruling National Democratic Party won some 97% of the seats (it held about 94% by the end of that Parliament’s term this year, after appointments and by-elections slightly shaved its total). As noted in the introduction, this year’s preliminary official results show the National Democrats winning about 85% of the total seats. But, as will be seen in the box below (“Results”), more than half of the 388 seats won by the National Democratic Party were won either by party members without the party’s official endorsement, or by independents who joined the party after their victory.
In fact, even the semi-official Egyptian press has recognized that the ruling party did not do as well as it might have hoped. Thus Al-Ahram on November 16 ran items calling attention to the victories won by sitting Cabinet officials, heads of Parliamentary committees, and the like. Normally the victory of longstanding party officials would not be news, but in each of the rounds of this three-round election, some of the party’s stalwarts went down to defeat, either to opposition candidates or, more commonly, to challengers from within the ruling party’s ranks.
That seems to suggest a certain disillusionment with the party as an organization, but at the same time a recognition that in a system such as Egypt’s, one can accomplish much more by being a member of the government party than of the opposition. As a result, many voters seem to have turned to members of the ruling party who were not its official candidates.
It is probably easy to make too much of this: a significant number of independents have won in previous elections and then joined the NDP, these victories usually reflecting local rivalries or local issues rather than splits in the party at the national level. But the scale of the official NDP candidates being bested by unofficial NDP candidates was much higher than usual.
Back to the 1980s?
It is sometimes tempting to carry Egyptian political analyses too far. It is important to remember that even in the relatively pluralist Parliament of 1987, when the NDP overall vote fell below 70% for the only time, the opposition never had the power to bloc legislation. It is also important to keep in mind that the People’s Assembly itself is not that powerful. If not exactly a rubber-stamp, it lacks power in many key areas, and the ruling party is dominated from the executive, not from the legislature. Such crucial items as the defense budget are not even debated. Authority in Egypt rests with the strong Presidency, and President Mubarak (Profile ) has never had to face a rival candidate, since the President is nominated by the People’s Assembly and then approved in a national referendum.
That said, the shifts in the Parliamentary makeup are not entirely cosmetic. Egypt’s opposition parties, and the vigorous if sometimes scurrilous opposition newspapers, provide a sort of social safety valve for Egyptian society. While the government still cracks down from time to time on the opposition press (the suspension of Al-Sha‘b, the Labor Party/Muslim Brotherhood newspaper, being the most visible case this year), there is far more room for public airing of criticism of the government than in such closed societies as Iraq or Syria (though the latter is showing some signs of relaxation).
There is also considerable leeway for criticism, either in Parliament or in the opposition press, of government officials, always excepting the President himself. And with a larger opposition contingent in Parliament, government ministers will likely find themselves questioned more intensely than in the last, overwhelmingly NDP-dominated Parliament.
The most visible change in the new Parliament (which meets December 13) will be the presence of 17 members of the Muslim Brotherhood. (See the Box, below.) The last Parliament had only one Muslim Brother, elected independently because the Brotherhood boycotted recent elections. This time the Brotherhood representation is as large as the rest of the opposition parties (which unlike the Brotherhood are legal) put together. This will have no impact on legislation of course, but it will give the Brotherhood a legally acknowledged voice. (A fuller discussion of Egypt’s Parliamentary history may be found in the two-part Dossier on “Egypt’s People’s Assembly Elections” in The Estimate for October 27 and November 10, 1995.)
The Brotherhood was the largest single opposition bloc in Parliament in the chambers elected in 1984 and 1987, the high points of pluralism in the Mubarak years. It is once again the largest single opposition bloc. Does this mean a return to the more open politics of the late 1980s?
That is harder to predict. The early 1990s were marked by a persistent radical Islamist insurgency and a wave of assassinations of government officials which led to a tightening of security measures, a crackdown on moderate Islamists (especially the Brotherhood), and a closing of some of the windows the government had allowed to be opened in the late 1980s.
The insurgency is more or less eradicated now, except in a few rural areas, and the Egyptian economy has been performing better, though it still has major problems. Egypt’s middle class is becoming richer, and that is often a force for political liberalization.
But this is also the year of the arrest of Sa‘d al-Din Ibrahim, and one must remember that it was not the government which changed the electoral system for the 2000 elections, but the Supreme Constitutional Court. Egypt’s independent judiciary has long been a force for political liberalization; in 1990, it ruled the sitting Parliament unconstitutional, and this year it threw out Interior Ministry supervision of elections. That was the doing of the court, not the government (and the government sometimes ignores court decisions).
The figures shown here are based on the preliminary results after the runoff in the third phase of voting, as announced by Interior Minister Habib al-‘Adli on November 15, with some details taken from Egyptian and other regional press analyses.
The Egyptian People’s Assembly has 454 members, 444 of whom are directly elected in two-member constituencies throughout the country, and 10 of whom are appointed by the President. (The President usually uses his appointments to increase representation of women, Copts, or opposition groups who do not do well in the elections.)
Of the 444 seats up for election, preliminary results were announced for 442 of them; one two-member constituency in Alexandria had its elections stopped and will have to hold a by-election to fill the seats. The numbers listed here are preliminary.
On the parties, see the box, “The Parties” in the Dossier “Egypt’s Parliamentary Campaign Begins”, in The Estimate, September 22, 2000. The results as announced by ‘Adli were as follows:
National Democratic Party: 388 seats. But by one count, only 175 of these seats were won by the ruling party’s official candidates; the other 213 were either members of the NDP running as independents (against official NDP candidates) or independents who announced after winning that they would join the NDP. Thus while the NDP controls the overwhelming majority, a majority within that majority got there by defeating the party’s own official candidates.
Independents: 37 seats. After the “independents” who joined the NDP are excluded, some 37 independents of other types won. Of these, 17 were openly candidates of the Muslim Brotherhood. The others are estimated to include two non-Brotherhood Islamists, five Nasserites, and the balance are independents of unstated allegiance.
Wafd Party: seven seats. The Wafd held six seats in the old assembly.
Al-Tagammu‘ Party (Progressive National Unionist Rally): six seats. The leftist Tagammu‘ had five seats in the outgoing People’s Assembly.
Nasserist Party: three seats. In addition four or five of the independents are allied with the Nasserist Party, which held one seat in the outgoing Parliament.
Ahrar: The right-liberal Ahrar Party won one seat, the same as it held in the outgoing Parliament.
The official results as stated here are perhaps somewhat misleading, since the 17 members elected by the legal opposition parties are equaled in number by the 17 Muslim Brotherhood candidates, who while listed as independents because the Brotherhood is not a legal party, will form a key opposition voting bloc. The other opposition parties vary in their attitudes towards the government: the Tagammu‘, the longstanding left-wing party, has become increasingly supportive of the government because it is staunchly secularist.
The Society of the Muslim Brothers (Al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun) is not a legal party in Egypt, but is one of the few political organizations which has a nationwide infrastructure and the ability to rally support. In the 1980s, it first formed an electoral alliance with the Wafd Party, and then with the Socialist Labor Party. In the 1984 elections the Wafd-Brotherhood alliance won 58 seats, most of which were Brotherhood. In 1987, allied with Socialist Labor, the alliance took 78 seats, 36 of them belonging to the Brotherhood. The Brotherhood effectively took over a major wing of Labor (as the party is usually called for short), and controlled its newspaper, al-Sha’b.
Though the Brotherhood used to elect a number of members of Parliament through its legal party allies, a series of boycotts excluded it from the last Parliament (actually, one Brotherhood supporter was elected as an independent and did serve). Meanwhile, the government has regularly cracked down on Brotherhood operations in several areas, regularly arresting activists, and manipulating the rules of professional syndicates to force the Brotherhood out of leadership positions.
Meanwhile, the Brotherhood has faced internal challenges from younger Islamists, who clearly feel the organization has been dominated by an old guard leadership. The Brotherhood’s Supreme Guide, Mustafa Mashhur, is 81. The Deputy Supreme Guide, Ma’mun al-Hudaybi, is the group’s 79-year-old spokesman and a son of a former Supreme Guide. Another key leader is Sayf al-Islam Hasan al-Banna’, son of the movement’s founder. These elderly leaders have mostly been activists since the 1930s or 1940s, and are seen as out of step by many younger leaders. This has led to some tension between the Brotherhood’s Guidance Council, led by the old guard, and the Political Bureau, led by younger Islamist activists.
Meanwhile, the government has often focused its crackdowns on the younger leadership. And a group of these younger leaders sought to establish a political party of their own, Al-Wasat (the center), without success, but this led to a number of resignations from the Brotherhood proper. Official government media were happily announcing the virtual demise of the Brotherhood in recent years.
This year, the government went a step further. When Al-Sha’b, the Labor Party paper, led the attack on the novel A Banquet for Seaweed earlier this year, splits in the party were encouraged by the government and ultimately Al-Sha‘b was suspended from publishing and the Party itself “frozen” because of internal leadership disputes. (On this see the Dossier, “Egypt’s Culture Wars Lead to Crackdown on the Labor Party” in The Estimate, June 2, 2000.)
That seemed to augur ill for the Brotherhood this year: the Labor Party had been its legal route to Parliament since the late 1980s. But the Brotherhood rebounded by running independents in large numbers. When its elderly Secretary General, Ibrahim Sharaf, died this year, it brought out large numbers for his funeral. It also announced a list of candidates which included a woman and a Coptic Christian.
The Brotherhood still faced considerable difficulties in this election. Its supporters say that in many areas they were prevented by police from entering the polling places. (The judicial supervision of the polls was limited to the actual polling stations, not the exterior.) Most of the violence that did take place this time came from clashes between Islamists and police in certain towns. Still, the Brotherhood managed to elect 17 of its candidates, and there are another two Islamists who were elected who are not from the Brotherhood. This puts an Islamist bloc back in Parliament for the first time in some years, and while not as strong as the blocs which emerged from the 1984 and 1987 elections, it is likely to make for some lively questioning of government ministers in the new Parliament. And the Brotherhood, however aging, has shown that reports of its demise have been greatly exaggerated by the government media.