Egypt’s political factions are preparing their supporters for a second round of voting in the post-Mubarak democratic parliamentary elections scheduled to take place on December 14th and 15th. According to the Egyptian Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics, approximately 18.8 million Egyptians from Giza, Ismailiya, Sharqiya, Menoufiya, Suez, Beheira, Beni Suef, Aswan, and Sohag will have the opportunity to cast their ballots. In the wake of the unexpected domination by Islamist parties in the first round, the tri-polar political contest between the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), the Islamists, and the liberal parties will undoubtedly intensify and could possibly lead to localized violence in the second round.
The Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), derived from the Muslim Brotherhood and the clear front-runner in this year’s elections, has come under considerable scrutiny from liberals for its religious ideology and for violating the law banning campaigning ahead of voting. Yet, the surprising electoral gains by the Salafis’ Nour Party exemplify the distinct trend towards a more Islamist Egypt. The Salafis have vowed to follow a conservative path that many in Egypt fear would have a negative effect on foreign investment and tourism, and could severly impact the rights of women, minorities, and secular Egyptians by imposing a narrowly defined version of Sharia. Given the demographic of the governorates in the second round of elections, this trend is likely to continue. During the runoff phase last week, high tensions and even reports of threats of physical violence against FJP campaigners illustrated the divisions between the Islamist parties.
Liberal and leftist parties, still reeling from the last round’s poor showing, have learned from the FJP’s strategies and seek to take a more aggressive approach this time around. One prominent liberal coalition, the Egyptian Bloc, has increased its door to door campaigning and plans to increase its presence at the polling stations to monitor suspicious activity and provide a counterbalance to the Nour and FJP organizers who may try to influence voters or judges. The Bloc has also stated it will campaign directly to voters at the polls despite the ban on this type of political activity. Some liberal parties have also decided to work with remnant politicians from Mubarak’s now defunct National Democratic Party (NDP) – otherwise known as felool – to boost their standing and name recognition. Others, like the Revolution Continues, however, have rejected this strategy, preferring to lose than to reinstate any part of the former regime.
At the center of all the political maneuvering stands the SCAF and now its newly appointed advisory council and Ganzouri cabinet. Although the SCAF has expanded the powers of interim prime minister Kamal al-Ganzouri to hold full executive authority except in issues related to military and judicial affairs until the presidential elections, the SCAF has carefully chosen the man least likely to buck its authority. Ganzouri’s appointment of Police General Mohamed Ibrahim – the man responsible for the controversial clearing of Sudanese protesters from Mohandeseen in December 2005 – as Minister of Interior raises some alarm that strong-arm tactics may be used to quell protests that could arise over a number of issues ranging from the campaigning issue to the formation of the constituent assembly. Many Egyptians view the advisory council, a body in which the FJP declined to participate, as a fig leaf for unpopular SCAF initiatives aimed to preserve its power and authority.
The current context for the second round of elections clearly points to a highly charged climate. Will competition turn violent if rival political parties clash in front of polling stations? Will the security forces, still acting with impunity as seen in the response to protests in November, take matters into their own hands? If violence disrupts the voting process, how could that affect the results? The relatively peaceful first round may have cleared the way for the gloves to come off in the second – literally. Egyptians will find out the answers to these questions for certain on Wednesday.
Tarek Radwan is an Egyptian human rights activist specializing in international law and conflict resolution. He has worked for Human Rights Watch’s MENA division and the United Nations mission (UNAMID) in Darfur as a Human Rights Officer. He currently provides consulting services on civilian protection and Middle East issues.
Photo Credit: Associated Press