Why the pessimism over Egypt’s parliamentary election?

The lack of interest has been compared to the enthusiasm of the 2011 election that followed the Jan. 25 revolution

Sonia Farid
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While interpretations of the low turnout in the first stage of Egypt’s 2015 parliamentary election have so far varied, pessimism about the upcoming parliament seems prevalent. The lack of interest has been compared to the enthusiasm of the 2011 election that followed the Jan. 25 revolution. Analysts wonder whether the pessimism is about the upcoming parliament in particular, or the post-revolution democratic process as a whole.

It all started with the new electoral law that favored independent candidates to party lists, says H.A. Hellyer, since this arrangement gave little room for parties to play a role in the political scene, and took parliamentary elections back to the era of former President Hosni Mubarak.

The law, wrote Hellyer, “emboldens the preponderance of the following forces, which will often overlap: Proponents of big business interests; representatives of the same rural and urban networks that underpinned Mubarak’s National Democratic Party; and hard-core (as opposed to less staunch) supporters of the current presidency of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.”

Chances for reform are thus limited, and parliament becomes just another phase of the roadmap drawn after the toppling of the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013. “There is little reason to believe that the legislature can be a genuine check or balance. When it comes to security sector reform, human rights issues, political improvements, judicial restructuring and social justice, none of these are likely to become an issue for the political forces in this parliament,” Hellyer wrote.

Nathan J. Brown, professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University, says the parliament is likely to have “a lackluster future,” and even if some candidates are seen as independent, their chances at winning are meager.

“In Egypt’s constricted political environment, with civil society cowed or contained, demonstrations harshly restricted and most organizations monitored, those parties that do exist complain that they cannot mobilize potential followers properly for electoral competition,” Brown wrote. The result, he added, would be a parliament that does very little to oppose or monitor the government.

Brown cited the number of decrees issued by the president and which, according to the constitution, have to be referred to parliament for approval or revocation. “The constitutional language is fairly strict. Unless they find a loophole - and they may- it is hard to imagine deputies following any path other than ignominious surrender to political realities and approving them all.” That is why, Brown adds, parliament will end up stripped of its power to legislate, and the government will find little resistance to laws it wants to pass.

Professor of political science Hassan Nafaa said the new parliament will be “colorless, tasteless and odorless,” since it would not have a variety of political factions as parliaments are supposed to. “Most influential political parties boycotted the elections, while the ones that participated... do not enjoy any leverage,” he said.


“As for individuals, they are either not known at all, or known to have been loyalists of the Mubarak regime.” Because of this, Nafaa added, the coming parliament will be weak, and its members will not have the expertise required in the legislating process.

Political analyst Abdullah al-Sinnawi says the parliament is bound to be “deformed,” since it will not be representative of the Egyptian people. “The electoral law, based on which this parliament will be formed, was drafted by the state without consulting different political factions,” he said. “This parliament will be stripped of its political personality.”
Sinnawi added: “Almost all the candidates have no political or legal background. How, then, are they expected to issue legislation?” The only hope, he says, might be in the 5 percent that the president has the right to appoint.

Political opposition

The condition of the Egyptian opposition is also seen as a major source of pessimism. “There is almost no opposition in the political scene in Egypt, and this will be reflected in the parliament,” said Youssri al-Azabawi, an expert at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies.

“Revolutionary youths who emerged following the Jan. 25 revolution only form an electronic opposition bloc, because of the restrictions imposed by the protest law and recent accusations of treason leveled at them.”

Azabawi said it was also impossible for factions that oppose the current regime to form a coalition and run as one bloc: “For example, the Muslim Brotherhood cannot ally with the April 6 Youth Movement or the Revolutionary Socialists. They have totally different ideologies.”

Political analyst and former MP Wahid Abdel Maguid says several political parties are incapable of taking part in the elections: “Besides already suffering from internal divisions, most known political parties are vying for being in the limelight, and few of them really care about the public interest.”

He added: “This parliament will be a replica of the previous ones, which were mainly comprised of a combination of businessmen and regime loyalists. This means that the parliament will not play a real part in actual democratic transition.”

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