All quiet on the Egyptian political front

compared to the bustle of activity that took place in 2011 and 2012, the political arena is almost non-existent.

H.A. Hellyer

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Politics is not dead in Egypt – on the contrary. But political parties are certainly not in the healthiest of positions.

Political life in Egypt is quiet right now. Indeed, compared to the bustle of activity that took place in 2011 and 2012, the political arena is almost non-existent. At the same time, parliamentary elections are just around the corner – and preliminary signs for how that event is to turn out are rather odd, to say the least.

It’s not that there are no politics in Egypt – that in itself would be a return to the 2010, pre-January 25 situation. Indeed, Egyptians are deeply politicized, far more than they have been in recent history. That genie is well and truly out of the bottle – but to what end, as Egypt waits for its parliamentary elections?

Or rather, Egypt waits to wait for its parliamentary elections. The date for those elections has not been set, and no-one seems to have a handle on quite when it will be. The presidency indicated earlier in July via an interview with newspaper editors that elections were due to take place within a few months. However, no date was actually set – and no date is likely to be announced for some time.

Various parts of the Cairo intelligentsia speculate the soonest date for those elections will be in November – it’s dubious it would be logistically possible to do it any sooner, given the remaining procedures that have to be followed, including the campaign period for the candidates and party lists.

Utterly confusing

But even a November start does not mean a November finish – the process of voting could take many weeks, even stretching into the new year. Indeed, it is not beyond probability that the first post-Tantawi parliament will not begin to sit and engage in legislative activity until well into 2015 – some three years since the last one was dismissed.

Politics is not dead in Egypt – on the contrary. But political parties are certainly not in the healthiest of positions

H.A. Hellyer

What is that parliament likely to look like? Some aspects of that are clear – but most of it remains utterly confusing. The make up of parliament will include 20 percent of seats reserved for party lists (based on a “winner takes all” system), 75 percent for individual candidates, and 5 percent to be appointed by the presidency. It’s a system that is likely to pass muster as far as the judiciary goes (being based on a law crafted by the former interim president and Supreme Court justice, Adly Mansour) – but it’s also a system that most political parties rejected, quite vehemently.

The reason for that is clear – this parliamentary law is not likely to result in a parliament that genuinely represents Egyptian public opinion. Nor is it likely to strengthen the development of political parties. Rather, due to the individual candidate portion that will predominate, the parliament will represent those networks that can financially afford to push forward candidates – in all likelihood, the same networks that underpinned the National Democratic Party of Hosni Mubarak.

Within the party-list portion, a few more interesting complications arise. Firstly, there will be quotas within those lists – for women and for Copts. As such, the Nour Party, which was the second largest party in parliament last time, can expect to have a rather awkward obstacle to overcome. It’s not clear if the ultra-conservative Salafi party will be able to find women from within its ranks to stand as candidates – let alone Coptic Christians.

Emerging coalitions

Secondly, the coalitions that are emerging between the political parties are staggeringly confusing. One alliance headed by Amr Moussa, the head of the 2013 constitutional assembly and strong advocate of President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, apparently includes parties that have taken diametrically opposed positions on policies promulgated by Sisi. (One says apparently, because different sources from the same party are also unclear about which way their party is heading.)

Another alliance, being formed by Ahmad Shafiq, Mubarak’s last prime minister, is rumored to be mulling over the inclusion of political forces that were set up precisely to further the revolution that drove Mubarak from power.

It remains unclear how these alliances will all turn out – some of the dust will doubtlessly settle after the summer break has been completed, but it is likely that a key consideration for those conglomerations of political forces will be less ideological and far more pragmatic. Or, to put it another way, there will be a new focus on political survival.

Rather than band together with political forces that push forward similar policies, parties may very well make their choices on far more basic concerns – to ensure their parties exist in the strongest possible fashion after the election. That, in and of itself, is more collateral damage emanating from this parliamentary election law, at a time when political parties remain severely underdeveloped.

Politics is not dead in Egypt – on the contrary. But political parties are certainly not in the healthiest of positions, at a time, unfortunately, where strong political parties are most needed, to play a key role in establishing checks and balances on authority. It’s a role that few seem capable of playing.

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.

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