People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 52

December 26, 2010



Egypt Parliamentary Polls


Yohannan Chemerapally


IT was a foregone conclusion that Egypt’s long ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) presided over by president Hosni Mubarak would once again win a thumping majority in the elections that concluded in early December. Ever since the NDP was founded in 1978, it has been consistently winning over two-thirds of the seats in parliament. This time, the NDP completely swept the board, decimating the opposition. After the NDP won 209 of the 221 seats in the first round of elections, the main opposition parties decided to officially withdraw from the second round. The turnout was said to be extremely low, even by Egyptian standards. Only one out of ten of eligible voters is said to have cast their ballots although the government is claiming a higher turnout. Many opposition supporters who bothered to turn out for the polls, according to reports, were prevented from exercising their ballots.


The biggest loser in this year’s elections has been the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) which despite boycott calls from some opposition parties and prominent Egyptian leaders like Mohammed ElBaradei, decided to contest. In the first round, it failed to win a single seat. In the last elections, the party had won most of the seats it was allowed to contest. On December 1, the MB along with the secular Wafd Party announced that they would not be participating in the second round of elections. The MB in a statement said that the elections were marked by “fraud, terrorism and violence carried out by the police and thugs”. The Obama administration has issued a statement saying that it “was disappointed” by “the numerous irregularities of the poll”.




According to Egyptian human rights groups, the elections saw a number of violations, including vote rigging, violence and obstructions against opposition candidates. The Egyptian government has criticised Washington for its interference in the “internal affairs” of Egypt. The Obama administration had initially called on Egypt to hold “a fair and free election” and allow international observers to monitor the polls. A senior Egyptian foreign ministry official was quoted as saying that “it is as if the United States has turned into a caretaker of how Egyptian society should conduct its own policies”. Washington has now accepted the results of the flawed elections without much of a murmur.  Egypt, along with Israel, is among the largest recipient of American aid. But as the Egyptians went to the polls, the gap between the rich and the poor has only widened further. 12 million of Egypt’s poor live on less than $1 a day.    


The electoral decimation of the MB could have a long term impact on Egyptian politics. The MB was the biggest opposition bloc in the last parliament, having won 88 seats in the 2005 elections. Most observers had said that the MB would have won many more seats if it was allowed to put up more candidates by the authorities. The elections of 2005 were relatively freer. The Egyptian government, like other government in the region, was under pressure from the Bush administration to embrace multi-party elections. One of the reasons, George W Bush had given to justify the Iraq invasion, was to spread democracy in the region. His secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, had famously said in a 2005 speech in Cairo that for 60 years the US had “pursued stability at the expense of democracy in the Middle East and we achieved neither”. But after the victory of Hamas in the only fair and free elections held in the region, Washington has apparently had a change of mind on the issue. The Hamas in Palestine is considered an offshoot of the MB. The Obama administration seems to be keen only on expanding the “circle of democracy” to Latin America and East Asia, to isolate countries like Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia and China.   


Electoral results in Egypt have not been necessarily a reflection of popular will. Less than a quarter of the population turned out to vote in the last elections. Stringent electoral laws have ensured that a genuine opposition party is not allowed to challenge the monopoly of the NDP. In the elections held five years ago, the country’s largest opposition party—the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) was allowed to field their candidates in a larger number of seats. The MB still remains formally banned but is allowed to put up candidates without the party tag.




This time, most of the candidates put up by the MB were not allowed to register by country’s Higher Election Commission, handpicked by the government. During the 2005 elections, the elections were held under judicial supervision. But after a series of amendments of the Egyptian constitution, this year’s elections were held without judicial supervision. This fact, according to the opposition and independent observers, facilitated widespread electoral malpractices, which benefited the ruling party. The vote was shortened from three days to one, making it difficult to monitor electoral skulduggery. In the run-up to the elections, the Egyptian minister of state for legal and parliamentary affairs, Moufid Shehab, had predicted on several occasions that the MB would come a cropper in the elections. The NDP spokesman had said that there was no need for the Party “to rig elections” as it is “very strong”.


The MB wilting under government threats had scaled down the number of seats they wanted to contest to 135. In 2005, they had nominated 205. The Election authorities finally allowed the candidature of only 107 MB candidates despite the strength of the national assembly being increased to 508. A court in Alexandria had ordered that ten MB candidates who were debarred by the High Elections Commission should be allowed to contest. The Election Commission took no notice of the court order. 64 seats are now reserved for women. According to the MB spokesman, thousands of their workers and supporters were detained before the elections there were restrictions on the freedom of assembly. There were numerous clashes involving the MB and the police, many of them bloody with the authorities using rubber bullets. “We try to campaign in the streets, we get pushed into alleys. After we’re pushed into the alleys the police are waiting there to beat us”, a MB member of the outgoing parliament told an American newspaper. The Egyptian security establishment justifies its actions on the ground that the MB uses religious slogans like “Islam is the solution” to mobilise its supporters.


Most independent observers are of the view that the MB continues to be the most resilient party in Egypt despite having to function in a legal and political limbo for the last six decades. It is described as the world’s most influential Islamist party. In parliament, the party had played the role of a responsible opposition raising issues of concern to the ordinary man on the street. The MB led the opposition in the demands for the repeal of the draconian Emergency laws which have been in place since the assassination of president Anwar Sadat in 1981. The law allows the state to routinely arrest dissenters and political opponents. Most observers of the Egyptian political scene are united in their view that genuine democracy can only be achieved with the participation of the MB. The engineered results of the parliamentary elections may not augur well for the future, especially as the country seems to be on the cusp of a generational change of guard.


Presidential elections are scheduled to be held in early 2011. President Mubarak, who is 82 and ailing, has not yet announced his candidature for an unprecedented sixth term in office. The buzz in Egypt is that he is keeping his seat warm for his businessman son Gamal Mubarak. As Egyptians on the street joke, Egypt has been enjoying “Eid Mubarak” for the last thirty years continuously and could very well enjoy another thirty years of the same, if the transition blueprint is implemented. The 2005 constitutional amendments make it difficult for a non-NDP candidate to seriously make a bid for the presidency. Mohammed ElBaradei who was being viewed as a credible challenger has been virtually silenced by a barrage of innuendos in the state controlled media. According to Egyptian and Arab commentators, the results of the 2010 elections will make it easier for the NDP to foist Gamal on the presidency. The new national assembly is already being described as “Gamal’s parliament”.