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Egyptian election posters

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

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The SCAF’s newly appointed advisory council issued its first statement on December 11 and affirmed that only the parliament has the right to select the members of a committee that will draft the new constitution. SCAF member Major General Mukhtar al-Mullah suggested last week that the advisory council would provide input on the committee’s members.

1) Ongoing labor protests outside of the Planning Ministry have forced the Prime Minister Ganzouri’s cabinet to relocate from its temporary office in the planning Ministry to the Investment Ministry. Workers from the Damietta-based fertilizer factory MOPCO have been staging a protest outside of the Planning Ministry to demand that the factory be reopened. [al-Ahram, English, 12/12/2011]

2) Field Marshal Tantawi paid a visit to Tahrir Square on December 12 with the purported aim of ensuring the flow of traffic around the square. Hundreds of protesters are still camped out in the area next to the administrative Mogamaa building, where they are demanding a transfer of power to civilian leaders. [al-Ahram, English, 12/12/2011]

ADVISORY COUNCIL:

3) The SCAF issued a statement on December 12 insisting that the advisory council’s mandate will be limited to expressing opinions and consulting on national affairs, and its role will end with the election of a new president. [al-Masry al-Youm, Arabic, 12/12/2011]

4) The SCAF’s newly appointed advisory council issued its first statement on December 11 and affirmed that only the parliament has the right to select the members of a committee that will draft the new constitution. SCAF member Major General Mukhtar al-Mullah suggested last week that the advisory council would provide input on the committee’s members. [al-Ahram, English, 12/12/2011]

ISLAMISTS:

5) The Salafi Nour party will seek to enforce a ban on beach tourism and serving alcohol to Egyptians and foreign nationals, according to the party’s spokesman, Nader Bakar, who also said that the party plans to establish a chain of hotels in compliance with Islamic Law. [al-Ahram, English, 12/12/2011]

6) The Brotherhood is developing a “renaissance project” that will include short-, mid- and long-term visions for reforming administrative structures, the educational and healthcare systems and revitalizing the economy. Deputy General Guide Khairat al-Shater, who is spearheading the project, said that the Brotherhood is consulting with advisors from Turkey, Malaysia, South Africa and Singapore. [al-Masry al-Youm, English, 12/12/2011]

PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION:

7) An independent campaign supporting the presidential candidacy of Field Marshal Tantawi has been collecting signatures in several provinces and in Cairo’s Ramses Square. [al-Masry al-Youm, Arabic, 12/12/2011]

U.S. POLICY:

8) Senator John Kerry expressed support for the SCAF’s role in “protecting” the transition and called attention to the deteriorating economy, saying, “There is a need for an infusion of cash into the Egyptian governing process.” Kerry also visited the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party headquarters and met with the party’s leaders, who assured him that the party will respect Egypt’s international treaties and would not seek major changes to the constitution or investment laws.   [The Daily News Egypt, English, 12/12/2011] [al-Ahram, English, 12/12/2011]

NGO FUNDING:

9) A fact-finding commission appointed by the Justice Ministry to investigate the financing of Egyptian NGOs reported that over 300 civil society organizations have received foreign funding over the past six years. The commission was tasked with investigating NGOs that may have received funding through illegal channels or are operating without the required licenses. The ministry is examining all sources of foreign funding, not just the United States. [al-Masry al-Youm, English, 12/12/2011]

ECONOMY:

10) Egypt’s stock index dropped the most in nearly three weeks after Prime Minister Kamal Ganzouri stated that austerity measures may be required to reverse the economic slowdown. [Bloomberg, English, 12/12/2011]

11) The Egyptian pound fell to its lowest level in nearly seven years, as the central bank appears to be allowing the currency to weaken gradually since it broke the 6 pound to the dollar barrier at the end of November. [Reuters, English, 12/12/2011]

Photo Credit: Reuters

Egyptian NGO assistance

Non-Egyptian activists and policy wonks are too heavily focused on the electoral politics of the Islamist Freedom and Justice and Nour parties. Many are still trying to come to terms with the fact that the Arab awakening has indeed elevated a variety of voices, some of which are less appealing to Western audiences than others. But in addition to energizing the political arena, the Arab awakening has had an equally significant, but less visible consequence: reactivating Egyptian civil society. Egyptian activists and public policy advocates attest to how the uprising has provided a much-needed jolt for civil society organizations that were dormant for much of Mubarak's thirty-one year reign. In a new burst of activism, Egypt’s estimated 24,500 civil society groups are currently working to reframe the “how” and what of civic engagement by drafting new legislation like the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) with assistance from the Egyptian American Rule of Law Association (EARLA). If enacted, this vital new law will ensure the free flow of information between media and the newly formed government, an essential feature of the democracy Egypt aspires to become. As Egypt’s transition continues to unfold, watchdog institutions have an important role to play in advancing transparency and freedom of expression.   

Given EARLA’s support for legislation protecting freedom of information, some were confused by the association’s decision to withhold the names of Egyptian civil society organizations with which it works. The decision to withhold this information was meant to shield Egyptian organizations from a harsh legal and regulatory environment, which a study by Peter Gubser has described as “one of the most restrictive in the world.” 

Recently, the interim government has taken several steps to intimidate and increase oversight over Egyptian NGOs, including threats of prosecution for groups that receive allegedly illegal funding from the United States and other foreign donors. The severity of the government’s crackdown on NGO activity became apparent in August, when the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, along with 35 other Egyptian human-rights organizations, issued a complaint to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights condemning the military’s campaign of harassment targeting civil society activists and organizations. On September 14, the cabinet announced that the Justice Ministry would begin investigating 30 NGOs accused of “treason” for receiving foreign funding without being registered with the Social Solidarity Ministry as required by the Law on Associations and Foundations (Law 84 of 2002). On November 16th, the Justice Ministry shared its investigative commission findings and claimed that Qatar, Kuwait, and the U.S. have been attempting to influence the outcome of elections by pumping foreign funds to Egyptian civil society groups. Meanwhile, the state-owned newspaper Al-Akhbar, claimed that local Salafi groups are receiving millions in donations from religious foundations in the Gulf states. 

As if the current legal framework weren’t restrictive enough, the Ministry of Social Solidarity is now working to tighten regulations on foreign assistance for Egyptian NGOs, reportedly preparing amendments to the Law on Associations and Foundations (Law 84 of 2002) that will “tackle loopholes” used by Egyptian NGOs “to obtain foreign funding to serve foreign interests.” In mid-November, Egyptian banks were instructed to report back to the government on the assets and financial transactions of 28 NGOs. Given this pattern of harassment and intimidation, EARLA’s decision to withhold the names of its Egyptian partners seems like a necessary precaution. 

While EARLA’s refusal to disclose the names may seem hypocritical in light of the association’s support for freedom of information, in this case safety trumps transparency. Authoritarian governments have often justified censorship and lack of transparency as necessary measures to protect national security interests. When governments control and restrict information, the result is to consolidate the regime’s power and constrain civil society. But when civil society actors themselves work to control and manage the flow of information, the dynamic is reversed, and watchdog organizations can actually gain power relative to the government by protecting themselves from undue surveillance and interference. Withholding information from the bottom up can have the effect of empowering civil society, which was one of the fundamental goals of the Arab Awakening in Tahrir Square, Alexandria and beyond. 

Yes, it is somewhat ironic that a non-profit group that advocates transparency does not publicize the names of its Egyptian partners. But far greater hypocrisies have left their mark on Egypt’s transition, with much more serious consequences. For example, the United States expressed support for the Egyptian uprising while at the same time allowing the export of U.S-manufactured teargas to the Egyptian government, which unleashed these chemicals on peaceful protesters. We have seen what the Egyptian government is capable of doing to its own people. Until the new constitution and other protective legislation is enacted, the confidentiality of Egyptian NGOs must sometimes be preserved to guarantee a safe space for civic activism.  

Mehrunisa Qayyum is a freelance international development consultant and editor of PitaPolicy, a blog focusing on the political economy of the Middle East and North Africa.

Photo Credit: 3Arabawy

Bread protest in Egypt

Although Egypt’s electoral process has been dominating the headlines this week, it’s important to remain focused on deteriorating economic conditions as the political transition progresses. Egypt’s economic situation is dire, reflecting continued depletion of international reserves, estimated at less than US$20 billion – barely enough to cover 4 months of imports. The continued depletion of international reserves increases depreciation pressures on the Egyptian pound.

Immediate priorities for the interim government should be focused on securing a cushion to supplement the international reserves position. One possible course is to secure a loan from international institutions at a concessional rate and with a long grace period to ease pressures on the pound and avail resources to accommodate higher levels of borrowing needed to finance government spending. More importantly, a loan from the IMF or World Bank would help catalyze additional concessional funds and boost investors' confidence.

On the domestic front, Egypt’s new cabinet and the next parliament will need to focus on restoring stability, both on the political and security fronts to revive natural sources of foreign income, primarily tourism and foreign direct investment.

As the political process continues to unfold, priorities for the new government should be focused on reducing pressures on the budget and reforming public finances. This requires pressing ahead with necessary reforms, such as rationalizing the system of fuel subsidies and mobilizing additional revenues, to create fiscal space to accommodate growing social demands and stimulating the economy.

Efforts to stimulate the economy should be focused on mobilizing support to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Beneficiaries of this measure would be the "necessity entrepreneurs" who are eager to resume or start their business activity to get out of unemployment and earn their living. SMEs account for 75 percent of the economy in Egypt and have suffered long before the revolution from lack of access to credit, and many institutional hurdles that have hampered their activity and made it very difficult for them to survive in a deteriorating business environment that has suffered severe setbacks.

Availing credit in support of SMEs, coupled with institutional support, including production subsidies and tax incentives if necessary, will help grow jobs and stimulate the economy. Stimulating economic activity will help revive consumption and increase the prospects for investment, assuming progress is maintained on the political and security fronts.

In addition, to short-term cash assistance and concessional lending from international institutions, it is important to mobilize pledges that have been made by the international community in support of the political transformation. This requires an action plan from the Egyptian side to match potential financing with specific projects that could help mobilize activity, create jobs, address social concerns and supplement international reserves.

Over the medium-term, economic partnerships in the form of trade and investment relations will help sustain economic development and satisfy the demands for inclusive growth that started the revolution. To that end, a gradual approach of anchoring necessary reforms in strategic sectors that could unleash the potential of bilateral trade and investments will help increase mutual benefits of economic partnership and mobilize political support on both sides of the process towards a broader form of integration and/or free trade agreement.

Investing in stabilizing economies in transition will help support the democratic transformation and unleash their growth potential to address the social concerns of growing young population and reap the benefits of long-lasting growth in the form of higher standards of living and greater integration in the global economy.

Magda Kandil is the executive director of the Egyptian Center for Economic Studies. Previously, she worked with the International Monetary Fund where she held the positions of advisor to the executive director and senior economist.

Photo Credit: Reuters
 

Prime Minister Kamal Ganzouri

SCAF member Mokhtar al-Mullah said that parliament's authority to choose the 100-member assembly that will draft the constitution will be constrained by military-approved "parameters" agreed beforehand. Meanwhile, the SCAF announced the formation of a 30-member civilian advisory council that will advise the military and provide input on the selection of the constitutional committee.

ADVISORY COUNCIL:

1) In a December 8 decree, the SCAF announced the formation of a 30-member civilian advisory council that includes presidential candidates Ayman Nour and Mohamed Salim al-Awa along with Wasat leader Abu Ela Madi, former NAC coordinator Hassan Nafaa, Wafd leader Sayyid al-Badawi, Nour leader Emad Adel Ghaffour, and Free Egyptians leader Naguib Sawiris. The council “will assist the SCAF in all matters of concern to the country and public opinion” until the presidential election, expected no later than the end of June. The council’s first priorities will be to provide input on draft legislation regulating the presidential election and the formation of the 100-member constituent assembly that will draft Egypt’s next charter. The Brotherhood announced that it has withdrawn its two representatives from the council, Mohamed Morsi and Mohamed Yassin, over concerns that the council would encroach on the powers of parliament.  The council is expected to hold its first meeting on Sunday, December 11. [al-Shorouk, Arabic, 12/8/2011] [al-Ahram, English, 12/9/2011] [al-Ahram, English, 12/9/2011] [The Daily News Egypt, English, 12/9/2011]

NEW CABINET:

2) Defending his track record as Hosni Mubarak’s prime minister between 1996 and 1999, newly appointed Prime Minister Kamal Ganzouri said he prioritized the public interest over Mubarak’s agenda. “There were things I did over my four years as prime minister that did not satisfy the president and those around him, even though they were in the public interest,” Ganzouri said. [al-Shorouk, Arabic, 12/9/2011]

3) The presidential powers delegated to Prime Minister Kamal Ganzouri are “only temporary” according to a military source, who said that parliament’s traditional legislative powers will be resotred as soon as the new assembly comes into session. [al-Ahram, English, 12/9/2011]

4) Prime Minister Kamal Ganzouri claimed that protesters denouncing the new cabinet represent “a very small minority.” Protesters are continuing their sit-in outside of the cabinet building for a sixteenth day. [al-Masry al-Youm, English, 12/9/2011]

CONSTITUTION:

5) At a press conference on December 8, SCAF member Mokhtar al-Mullah said that parliament's authority to choose the 100-member assembly that will draft the constitution will be constrained by military-approved "parameters" agreed beforehand. Al-Mullah outlined a new roadmap for drafting the constitution, starting with the formation of a 30-member military-appointed civilian advisory council announced in a separate SCAF decree that will function as an intermediary between the SCAF, parliament and the cabinet. Although the SCAF has offered assurances that the advisory council will represent all political forces, the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party has already withdrawn its representative, citing misgivings about the advisory council’s anticipated intervention in the constitutional process. According to the plan outlined by al-Mullah, these four bodies – three of which were chosen by the SCAF – will need to reach consensus on the composition of the 100-member assembly. [Al Jazeera, English, 12/8/2011] [EgyptSource, English, 12/8/2011] [al-Shorouk, Arabic, 12/8/2011]

6) Saad al-Husseini, a member of the FJP’s Executive Bureau, threatened that the Brotherhood will call people into the streets if the advisory council tries to choose the members of the constitutional assembly, which is the right of parliament. Al-Hussein said that a fairly elected parliament is the only institution that expresses the will of the people. [al-Masry al-Youm, Arabic, 12/9/2011]

ISLAMISTS:

7) A member of the Salafi Nour Party’s supreme committee claimed that democracy is “heresy” because it contradicts the Islamic principle of allegiance, whereby the people are bound to their chosen caliph by unconditional loyalty. Speaking at a rally in Giza, Shaaban Darwsh also called the liberal-oriented Egyptian Bloc a campaign of “Zionism and “Freemasonry” and said, “We must obliterate the liberalism that was introduced by Sadat and Mubarak and reinstate the rule of Islam.” [al-Masry al-Youm, English, 12/9/2011]

8) Kefaya founder and former parliamentary candidate George Ishak demanded that the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis reveal the sources of their campaign funding. In November, an Egyptian government report found that a leading Salafi association, Al-Sunnah al-Mohammadiya, received almost $50 million this year from religious associations in Qatar and Kuwait, but it is unclear whether any of these funds were spent on the campaigns of Salafi parliamentary candidates. [al-Ahram, English, 12/9/2011]

U.S. POLICY:

9) State Department spokesman Mark Toner said that the U.S. has halted tear gas exports to Egypt. According to Toner, there are no current licenses for exporting tear gas canisters to Egypt, and the last shipment of canisters took place a week ago. [al-Masry al-Youm, English, 12/9/2011]

ECONOMY:

10) SCAF member General Mokhtar al-Mullah said that the military has not accepted a $3.2 billion dollar financing package from the IMF because to avoid burdening Egypt’s next government with excessive debt. Al-Mullah said that the government will consider an international loan in cases of “extreme need.” [The Daily News Egypt, English, 12/9/2011]

11) Egypt has negotiated a 25 million-euro grant for development projects with the European Union and World Bank, for projects in five Upper Egyptian governorates over the next four years. [al-Masry al-Youm, English, 12/9/2011]

Photo Credit: Associated Press

Tantawi al-Arabiya

The Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party dominated the run-off voting on December 5-6, winning 34 out of the 52 seats contested. Meanwhile, the SCAF stated that the upcoming parliament will not be representative of the Egyptian people, and that those appointed to write a new constitution will need to be approved by the interim cabinet and an ''advisory council."

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Anti-Tantawi graffiti

Although the SCAF was recently forced to back down from a proposal to exercise oversight over the process of writing Egypt's next constitution, a new statement by General Mokhtar al-Mullah confirms that the SCAF is still intent on manipulating the content of the new charter to protect the interests of the military establishment. At a press conference on December 8, al-Mullah said that parliament's authority to choose the 100-member assembly that will draft the constitution will be constrained by military-approved "parameters" agreed beforehand. Under the interim constitution ratified in March, the People's Assembly was given exclusive control over the composition of the constituent assembly, but now the SCAF is asserting its right to intervene in the selection of the 100-member body. 

As justification for this intervention, al-Mullah pointed to preliminary election results, which suggest that Islamists could occupy as many as 70 percent of the People’s Assembly seats. While al-Mullah acknowledged that "we are seeing free and fair elections," he nonetheless believes that voting under "unstable conditions" will distort the composition of the next parliament.  And an unrepresentative parliament, he argues, cannot wield exclusive control over the constitutional process.

This is just the latest in a series of maneuvers by the SCAF attempting to codify a privileged status for the military in the new system. The SCAF is taking a serious political risk by inserting itself into the constitutional process again, so soon after political forces and protesters in Tahrir Square overwhelmingly repudiated the draft constitutional principles issued by Deputy Prime Minister Ali al-Selmi in late November. The principles – interpreted as a blatant attempt to hardwire the military’s political and economic privileges into Egypt’s legal framework – provoked the massive and violent anti-military protest on November 18 that nearly delayed elections.

When Prime Minister Essam Sharaf's embattled cabinet was forced to resign in late November, the status of the controversial set of draft constitutional it drafted -- which would guarantee the military's political and economic privileges in the new system -- was left in limbo. Critics of the document hoped that the cabinet shakeup had left the proposal dead in the water, and the Muslim Brotherhood issued a stern warning to the new government that anyone intent on resuscitating the principles "would die with them."

But the public outcry doesn’t seem to have deterred the SCAF, and al-Mullah’s statement makes clear that the military is still determined to leave its mark on Egypt’s constitutional design. 

Al-Mullah outlined a new roadmap for drafting the constitution, starting with the formation of a 35-member military-appointed civilian advisory council that will function as an intermediary between the SCAF, parliament and the cabinet. Although the SCAF has offered assurances that the advisory council will represent all political forces, the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party has already withdrawn its representative, citing misgivings about the advisory council’s anticipated intervention in the constitutional process.

According to the plan outlined by al-Mullah, these four bodies – three of which were chosen by the SCAF – will need to reach consensus on the composition of the 100-member assembly: "There will be an agreement beforehand on the form of this constituent assembly between the cabinet, the advisory committee for the military council, and the parliament,” al-Mullah said. The last time the SCAF publicly aired a proposal to manipulate the constitution, protesters brought down the cabinet.  After today’s announcement, will they set their sights on the SCAF?

 

Mara Revkin is the assistant director of the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East and editor of EgyptSource. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Photo Credit: Gigi Ibrahim

 

 

Soldiers restrain voters outside a polling station

Tom Friedman’s column in The New York Times on December 7 supports an argument—that liberal forces in Egypt did less well than Islamists in the first round of elections because their anti-military protests had alienated “some more traditional-minded Egyptian voters, who still cling to the army as a source of stability”—that is emerging as part of the conventional wisdom.  That is certainly a story that the SCAF would like to have told, but my conversations in Egypt last week paint a different picture.  Most Egyptians with whom I spoke did not see supporting Tahrir demonstrators and voting in elections as two opposite choices; in fact, many did both, seeing electing a legislature as a necessary first step in dislodging the military from power.  I think it would be misleading to suggest that the votes that the FJP and Salafis got were protest votes against liberals rather than votes deliberately for the Islamists.

Where Friedman is correct is that the Tahrir protests “hampered the secular reformists in preparing to compete in the first round of elections.”  And there is a specific reason for that.  My observations last week in Port Said suggested that many, perhaps most, voters headed to the polls without knowing for whom they would vote.  Therefore, the last-minute campaigning by parties and individual candidates, however illegal, was absolutely critical.  Having a small army of volunteers deployed around polling places handing out small cards and pamphlets—as well as strategically-placed stations where voters could look up their specific polling place—probably made all the difference to voters befuddled by ballots full of unfamiliar names.

Let me give an example of how Tahrir factored in.  George Ishak, one of the founders of Kefaya, was competing for a seat in Port Said with FJP member Ahram al-Shaer. This was expected to be a hard-fought race and to go to a runoff.  It did not; al-Shaer was one of only a handful of candidates who won outright.  The reason became clear in a conversation I had with one of the principal organizers of Ishak’s campaign, when I noted that in two days of visiting polls I had not come across a single volunteer or candidate agent for Ishak.  The campaign had indeed organized a pool of such volunteers and even obtained official permits for candidate agents.  But when the Tahrir protests broke out a week before elections, they all got on busses and went to Cairo to participate.  Although the Tahrir protests were fizzling by the time the voting started on November 28, the Ishak campaign could not reconvene their volunteers in time.  And so Ishak lost the race.

Thus, I suspect Tahrir’s negative impact on liberal candidates was due more to the fact that they took their eye off the ball and less that public sentiment turned against them.  And it is unlikely that liberals would have been able to rival the Islamists in terms of numbers of volunteers in any case. Let’s see if they figure that out in time for next week’s second round.

The other point from Friedman’s column that needs discussion is his concern that Islamist parties have no idea how to “generate economic growth at a time when the Egyptian economy is sinking.”  Certainly I share his concern about the economy, which is headed straight downhill and might be ripe for a crisis in as little as two months from now.  And he is correct to worry that an Islamist-dominated parliament will scare foreign investors away, as well as many Egyptians.

What Friedman fails to mention, however, is that the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party has by far the most well developed economic platform of any Egyptian political party, and that it is generally market-oriented and business-friendly.  To lump the Brotherhood in with the Salafis and say that both “have been living underground, focused largely on what they were both against and confined in their ideology to platitudes like ‘Islam is the answer,’” is quite unfair.  Unlike the Salafis, the Brotherhood has decades of experience in electoral politics (admittedly not free politics) and has worked harder than any other existing party on its platform, including the economic aspects.  Having met recently with businessmen from the Brotherhood who worked on the platform, I can tell you that they care deeply about the economy and are realistic in their ideas about the need for foreign investment, tourism, etc.

All that said, I still have concerns that the Brotherhood will make poor economic policy decisions or resist good ones, but not because they don’t know any better.  My concern is that they will be buffeted by demands from the population (for public employment and continued fuel subsidies, for example) and will not be as investment and tourism-friendly as they might otherwise be due to pressure from the Salafists.  Those are pressures that any political party coming to power in this environment would face; the question is whether the Brotherhood will be better or worse at handling them than others would have been.

Michele Dunne is the director of the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East and an official observer of the first stage of the parliamentary elections. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Photo Credit: New York Times

 

Prime Minister Ganzouri with Field Marshal Tantawi

The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party claims to have won 34 of the 52 individual seats that were contested in the runoff round on December 5-6, raising the FJP's projected share of parliamentary seats to nearly two thirds. Meanwhile, the SCAF issued a decree on December 7 delegating presidential powers to Prime Minister Kamal Ganzouri, although the decree preserves the council's executive authority over the armed forces and judiciary.

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Islamist Movements on the Rise in Egypt

In retrospect, it’s almost a miracle that last week’s elections went forward as planned with massive turnout and relatively few irregularities, despite predictions of violence and calls for postponing elections after a week of lethal clashes in downtown Cairo and other parts of the country.  While Egyptians are relieved that elections were conducted relatively fairly and peacefully, the sweeping victory of Islamists – whose candidates won a 61 percent majority in the first round – raises new concerns about the policies and ideological positions that will emerge from the next elected parliament.

Egyptians in 9 governorates went out en masse on November 28, not to protest, but rather to cast their votes in the first round of elections since ousting Hosni Mubarak in February. Although the first stage of voting went relatively smoothly, it’s important to recall the broader context of unrest and insecurity in which the electoral process is unfolding. The last 10 days before voting witnessed extreme violence. The army and police used excessive force (tear gas, rubber bullets and live rounds) against civilians protesting in Cairo’s Tahrir square and other governorates against the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and a set of draft constitutional principles that would preserve and possibly enhance the military’s political and economic privileges in the future political system. The ensuing clashes between protesters and security forces resulted in over 40 deaths and more than 2,000 injured, according to the Ministry of Health. As a concession, the SCAF convened a series of emergency meetings with party leaders and presidential candidates and issued the long awaited anti-graft law, accepted the government’s resignation and announced a new timetable for a transfer of power to civilians by the end of June 2012. In addition, the SCAF urged all Egyptians to stand united, confirmed that elections would take place on time and extended the voting period by an extra day to encourage turnout and "avoid overcrowding and security issues."

The two-day polling process on November 28-29 went peacefully with minimal violence, although the process was marred by several irregularities and procedural violations, such as polling stations opening late, insufficient ballot papers and boxes, judges arriving late and party representatives campaigning inside polling centers in violation of a ban on campaigning 48 hours prior to the start of voting. These violations were widely documented by voters and NGOs observing the elections, although the High Electoral Commission has tried to downplay the impact of irregularities on the voting process, which saw a record turnout of  52 percent of the eligible voters.

The stunning success of Islamists – the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) received 36.6 percent of the vote while the Salafi Nour Party won 24.4 percent -- has raised anxieties among Egyptians, mainly the educated middle-class and Coptic Christian community. Results from the first round indicate that the FJP and Nour Party could hold up to 70 percent of the seats in the next parliament, although the final proportion will not be determined until after the third round of voting in January. For liberal parties, which won a disappointing 12.7 percent of the vote under the banner of the Egyptian Bloc coalition, the Islamist landslide is a slap in the face and a jolting wake-up call.

Many analysts expected a win for the FJP even though its Brotherhood-led coalition, the Democratic Alliance, had been troubled by internal disputes and defections in the weeks leading up to the election. While the FJP’s strong showing was widely predicted, the Salafis’ success was a bit of a surprise and shows how deeply rooted the conservative Islamist movement has become in Egyptian society, especially among the less educated lower classes in Cairo and the Delta. The prospect of an Islamist-dominated parliament raises a number of questions:

  • First is regarding the sincerity of the Islamist parties to abiding by democratic principles. The FJP has said that its priorities are ending corruption, reviving the economy and establishing a true democracy in Egypt. Mohamed Badie, the Brotherhood’s Supreme Guide, said the party will work to build an inclusive government and prefers a semi-presidential system based on the French model. Badie also denied making any deals with SCAF. Such statements imply that the FJP will be looking to create a wider coalition in the Parliament and will try to distance itself from the hardline Nour Party. On the other hand, the Salafis have been advocating for stricter moral codes and restrictions on personal freedoms reminiscent of policies backed by Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi establishment. They are among the newcomers to the game in Egyptian politics, and it is unclear exactly how they will play. Having once shunned democracy as inappropriately elevating man-made laws and institutions over Shari’a, Salafis are now choosing to participate in the formal political arena, and their parliamentarians could seek to enshrine conservative Islamist principles in new legislation.
  • Second, is the SCAF genuinely committed to transferring power to the parliament and a civilian president by end of June 2012? So far the ruling military council has been torn between the desire to preserve its political and economic privileges for as long as possible and the challenge of supervising a successful transition to democracy within a limited time frame. Under Article 56 of the Constitutional Declaration, the SCAF will hold the authority of the President and Parliament until elections are held. But on December 7, the SCAF issued a degree delegating presidential authority to newly appointed Prime Minister Kamal Ganzouri, while still retaining power over the armed forces and judiciary. Whether this decision signifies an actual loosening of the SCAF's grip on power remains to be seen, and there are signs that the military is already maneuvering to curb the authority of the next parliament.  in his most recent video interview, SCAF member Major General Mamdouh Shahin stated that the party winning the majority in the Parliament will not have the power to form the government. The statement was perceived as a power-grab by the Islamists, particularly the FJP, whose parliamentarians will likely demand the right to form a coalition government. Even before election results revealed an Islamist majority, the FJP’s head, Mohamed Morsi, stated on November 29 that the new parliament should be empowered to form a government representative of the political forces in the People’s Assembly, rather than a technocratic cabinet appointed by the prime minister. However, the generals’ appointment of Dr. Kamal al-Ganzouri as new Prime Minister confirms the speculation that the SCAF’s preferred scenario is for a technocratic government to hold power at least until the presidential election next summer. In addition, the inevitability of Islamist majority in parliament may make the SCAF even more reluctant to relinquish power, despite assurances that the military will respect the people’s choice.

Egypt is only in the early stages of a long transition that will fundamentally reshape the country’s political landscape. With Islamists rising to the forefront of the political scene, it is unclear to what extent they are prepared to govern and initiate the institutional reforms and economic policies that are badly needed to stabilize the economic situation and create a transparent and accountable government. Furthermore, it is unclear how Islamists will respond if the SCAF continues to resists calls for a transfer of power to civilian leadership by the end of June. While many questions remain unanswered, election results have clearly set the stage for a potential power struggle between the SCAF and Islamists. But the electoral process is just beginning (with four more rounds of voting to go before results for the People’s Assembly are finalized in January), and it is still too early to draw conclusions.  We should allow Islamists in Egypt as well as Tunisia, and Morocco some time to prove trustworthy of the votes that have given them a political mandate.

Ahmed Morsy is a Ph.D. candidate at the School of International Relations, University of St. Andrews. He previously worked on political party development with the National Democratic Institute’s Cairo office and has also worked for the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.

Photo Credit: Al Arabiya