On March 31, the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center hosted a discussion on Egyptian elections, voting behavior, and the country’s political climate. The roundtable discussion entitled “To Vote or Not to Vote: Egypt’s Diverse Electorate,” featured Hariri Center Nonresident Fellow Sarah El Sirgany, Associate Professor of Law at Texas A&M University Sahar F. Aziz, and Project Officer at the Danish Egyptian Dialogue Institute Reem Awny Abu-Zaid (via videoconference). The discussion was moderated by Hariri Center Deputy Director Mirette F. Mabrouk.


Abu-Zaid attributed an apparent lack of political will to hold parliamentary elections to economic priorities and the absence of international pressure on the Egyptian government. The elections, which were scheduled to begin on March 21, 2015, were postponed following a Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) ruling, which found two articles of the law unconstitutional. Still, Abu-Zaid explained that there have been positive developments following the SCC ruling, such as the inclusion of political parties in the electoral law redrafting process. However, she also highlighted the many challenges that Egyptian political parties face, chief of which is a lack of public support. She argued that political parties should not be judged as political institutions within the current political climate in Egypt, but rather as movements based on the personalities of high profile figures whose ideologies have not yet been integrated into the unstable political environment.  Interestingly, Abu-Zaid added that a state-supported national party could emerge and consolidate support in the interim.

Aziz offered a legalistic analysis of the SCC ruling. She outlined the two parts of the electoral law that the SCC found unconstitutional, which included seat allotment and district re-delineation. However, she noted that the electoral law remains problematic for several reasons. The law affords a majority of seats—420 out of 567—to individuals. This could give the SCC grounds to dissolve the parliament based on claims of misrepresentation, as occurred in 2012 when the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated parliament was dissolved. In addition, the quota system for party lists is highly restrictive on political parties and could be challenged on the basis of unequal political competition. These remaining problems within the electoral law exacerbate the uncertainty around the timeline for holding elections.

Turning to the current mood of Egypt’s electorate, Sirgany outlined the position of different elements within the electorate toward the parliamentary elections. Sirgany explained that after the summer of 2013, some secular parties seemed to agree that even if they did not achieve the results they had hoped for, participation in the political process was ultimately more beneficial than stepping back from the process. However, the killing of activist Shaimaa al Sabbagh in January this year led many parties to boycott the parliamentary elections. Sirgany explained that many parties feel they have no alternatives to participation or boycott. However, she argued that the lack of popular interest in elections combined with boycotts could destabilize the political environment further by throwing into question the legitimacy of the political process.

Ultimately, the new networks of political parties that have emerged since 2011 remain untested. The development of the electorate and political parties remains unclear in the face of a polarized and restricted political environment. Nevertheless, Egyptians’ increased interest in politics is significant, even if it does not translate into participation.