How much longer until Egypt’s parliamentary elections?

Egypt was due to have a parliamentary election soon, but once again it faces further delays

H.A. Hellyer
H.A. Hellyer
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Egypt last had a full legislature combined with a civilian executive in February 2011. Back then after having lost popular legitimacy and effective control of the country, Mubarak was pushed from power, and parliament was then dismissed.

Since then, there have been legislatures, and there have been elected executives - but never both at the same time. Mursi came close, as he did enjoy the existence of the upper house of parliament, coinciding with his presidency - but not a full legislature.

March and April in 2015 were hitherto packaged as a landmark when there would be, for the first time in more than four years, a functioning legislative along with an elected executive. Cases brought to the Supreme Constitutional Court, however, meant that a series of challenges were heard against the legal regime that elections were meant to be held under.

The court rejected several challenges - crucially, the court has upheld the constitutionality of the electoral law and political rights law, which many political forces have convincingly argued will result in a fragmented and disproportionate parliament. As it is, that parliament debut will be yet further delayed.

The method of division for constituencies, which was to be governed by a presidential decree passed in 2014, was deemed unconstitutional. It’s not a small thing. Effectively, it means a delay in parliamentary elections - and that delay could easily stretch to the autumn or the winter, as a result of the hot summer months, Ramadan, and vacation periods.

One could argue that this would probably not bother the sitting executive. Indeed, many analysts speculate the former military officer has little patience for formal politics, having gone straight from the ministry of defense to the presidency, with virtually no time in between.

At the best of times, parliaments can be perplexing for an executive branch to work with - and Egypt’s parliament is unlikely to be an example of the best of times.

However, that is not the point. The current political dispensation is based on the road-map imposed by the military on the July 3, 2013 - and while that road-map has proven to be quite elastic in implementation since then, it does have certain elements built into it.

One of them is parliamentary elections - until that is carried out, there will be no opportunity for the Egyptian state to claim internationally that it has managed to fulfil even what it considers to be its transition to democracy.

To put it another way - the executive may not be keen to have parliamentary elections, but it knows it has to have them. For many months, the presidency has been essentially advertising those elections in international engagements - and delays have been persistent.

The delaying of them now misses what was supposed to be an important symbolic milestone in advance of the economic conference in Sharm al-Sheikh later this month. That poses a difficult image control issue for the authorities to handle - one it didn’t want to have to deal with.

Of course, the authorities could easily package this as evidence that the judiciary is, indeed, independent, and the new political dispensation is committed to the rule of law. Yesterday’s ruling does not prove that assertion in the slightest - nevertheless, on one level, it’s irrelevant.

There has been no checks or balances on the executive throughout the post-Mursi period

The final result is the same: no parliament, and the continuation of the executive enjoying legislative authority without any checks or balances.

There are, however, two other things to keep in mind as this is pondered over. The first is that this is yet more evidence that the notion that Mubarak’s Egypt of 2010 has simply reasserted itself, and Egypt has come full circle is a simplification that does not really aid in much analysis. 2015 is not 2010 - and the regime of Hosni Mubarak is quite different from the emerging political dispensation of today.

That is not to say it may be a better dispensation. Indeed, in many ways, it is demonstrably worse. But it is also quite different. There are different elements at play in 2015, and the relationships between those elements are also different.

If that is not correctly and appropriately understood, any proper analysis of what is happening - as well as what may yet come to pass - will be deeply flawed.

The second thing to note, which is a comparison to the past - when then president Mohammed Mursi was ruling without a proper legislative check on his power, suggestions were made in some quarters to ameliorate that state of affairs until a legislature could be elected into office.

That ranged from a presidential council of sorts - or a legislative appointed committee made up of senior political and legal figures - and so forth. These were good suggestions, coming from a good place - seeking consensus and accountability at a time when Egypt needed it, and could have used it to push forward.

They were, as we know, ignored. The silence now, in contrast, is quite poignant. There has been no checks or balances on the executive throughout the post-Mursi period - and it is not clear that even the next parliament will be able to play a sufficient role in that regard.

Well beyond the parliamentary elections - whenever they happen - the need for effective accountability of the executive, regardless of who it happens to be, will remain a key challenge for Egypt.


Dr. H.A. Hellyer, non-resident fellow at the Brookings Institution, the Royal United Services Institute, and the Harvard University Kennedy School, previously held senior posts at Gallup and Warwick University. Follow him on Twitter at @hahellyer.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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