Egypt’s old and new political parties overcame an initial test Monday evening, as the extended window of registration for the upcoming parliamentary election closed.
After months of constant negotiations, consultations and coalition jostling, Egyptian political parties have submitted their paper work to the Higher Commission of Elections.
If all goes well, 47 political parties, the vast majority of which were formed in the aftermath of the January 25 Revolution, will compete in the first post-Mubarak parliamentary elections set to start on 28 November.
Most of the parties have aligned themselves with one of four main electoral blocs, covering the political spectrum from left to right. The parties finished all necessary bureaucratic paperwork by the Monday deadline, readying themselves for the three-week long battle for the polls.
The first major electoral coalition which will compete in the November contest is the liberal/left-of-centre Egyptian Bloc.
The Bloc is made up of the Free Egyptians party, the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, and the Mubarak-era leftist opposition Tagammu Party.
The liberal formation will run 233 candidates in unified electoral lists, to contest for seats in 64 electoral districts.
The ratio of candidates within the lists will be as follows: 10 per cent for Tagammu, 40 per cent for the Egyptian Social Democratic Party and 50 per cent for the Free Egyptians.
The second major electoral coalition is the Islamist Alliance, led by the Salafist Nour Party.
The Alliance includes four main parties: the Nour Party, the Asala (Authenticity Party), the Salafist Current, and the Construction and Development Party, the political arm of Al-Jamaa Al-Islamiya.
All four parties will be running on unified lists, under the banner of the Nour Party.
Emad Abdel Ghafour, the head of the Nour Party, told Ahram Online that the Islamist Alliance will be able to compete strongly in all electoral districts across the country. The Salafist Current, which is strong in Alexandria and the Nile Delta region, will give the alliance a fair shot at picking up seats in the north of country, while Al-Jamaa Al-Islamiya will strengthen the Alliance’s chances at winning seats in Upper Egypt where it enjoys widespread support.
Abdel Ghafour denied allegations that the Islamist Alliance is directed against the Muslim Brotherhood-led Democratic Alliance. Rather, he believes that the participation of his Islamist Alliance in the election will enrich political life in Egypt, and that no one political party or alliance can rule the country by itself in the next phase.
He added that the Islamist Alliance will divide seats it wins among the different members of the Nour list based on two criteria: the relative political weight of each party and how much it contributes to the success of the overall list.
The third major electoral coalition which will compete in the November contest will be the Revolution Continues, which represents an electoral alliance between activists and various socialists.
The Revolution Continues, whose members have been busy organising street protests since the ouster of president Hosni Mubarak, scrambled to put together lists of candidates in the closing days of registration, but managed to successfully meet the Monday deadline.
Among the electoral coalition’s members are the Socialist Popular Alliance Party, the Egyptian Socialist Party, Egypt Freedom, Equality and Development, the liberal Egyptian Current and the Revolution Youth Coalition.
The left-leaning alliance will field 300 candidates in 33 electoral districts: 250 on unified electoral lists and 50 for independent seats.
Meanwhile, the Muslim Brotherhood-led Democratic Alliance has completed all paper work and is set to compete for every single seat in Parliament.
The Democratic Alliance brings together 12 parties under the leadership of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) and is competing in 67 electoral districts around the country.
The Brotherhood’s two main partners in the coalition are the liberal Ghad Party and the Nasserist-leaning Al-Karama (Dignity) Party.
The Democratic Alliance awarded FJP members 70 per cent of the overall slots on the unified lists it plans to run in the elections.
Moreover, the Brotherhood affiliated FJP candidates will make up 90 per cent of candidates the Democratic Alliance plans to field for the one-third of Parliament’s seats reserved for independents.
The contours of the political debates that will most likely dominate everyday discussions in the coming month have also begun to take shape.
For example, the Muslim Brotherhood has decided to use its age-old religious slogan "Islam is the solution" as its main campaign logo to rally the faithful.
Salafists grouped under the banner of the Nour Party have made it clear to everyone that they intend to use any seats they win in Parliament to push for the implementation of Sharia law (Islamic jurisprudence).
To shore up their "Islamist” credentials, candidates both from the Brotherhood and the Salafist alliances have been calling for the implementation of a number of socially conservative laws, such as ones which would prevent European tourists from wearing bathing suits on beaches.
Islamists of all sorts have hit the streets hard to provide a disparate assortment of community services to poor people struggling with low wages and rising inflation, as a means of beefing up their support across a wide segment of society.
Muslim Brotherhood volunteers have set up neighbourhood food markets where they sell vegetables and fruits at below market prices to poor people in order to combat price hikes of basic foodstuffs.
In impoverished areas in Cairo, for example, Brotherhood volunteers work street corners, offering staple food items such as potatoes, at the total price of 5 kilograms for LE 8, and also selling meat at half the market price to those who cannot afford the expensive source of protein.
In Alexandria, the second largest city in Egypt, Salafist volunteers from the Nour party have taken to the streets to organise traffic in highly congested parts of the city.
To combat an out-of-control garbage crisis in the coastal city, as in the rest of the country, Salafist doctors have been knocking on doors to raise consciousness among people about the negative health consequences of piling up one’s trash on the city’s pavements and streets.
Meanwhile, counting on endless amount of donations from rich supporters, the Muslim Brotherhood, taking a page from US-style election campaigns, is running buses on the “campaign trail” in cities such as Suez, to distribute information about its candidates.
Member groups and candidates of the liberal Egyptian Bloc have made it clear that they will run electoral campaigns that call for a modern civil state, and they will fight hard against the Islamists’ plans to create a theocratic one.
Samir Fayad, a leading member of Tagammu, told Ahram Online that the Egyptian Bloc will be able to expose the hollowness of the Islamist campaign slogan “Islam is the solution” as the election battle unfolds in the coming weeks.
Fayad also criticised the Islamists as “relics from the middle ages”, and asserted that the liberal/left Bloc will take Egypt in what he described as the “right direction.”
Mohamed Abu El-Ghar, the head of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, also directed his wrath against Islamists who use religion to attain their political goals.
Speaking in the industrial area of Helwan, south of Cairo, shortly after Salafist leader Yasser Burhamy finished quoting the Quran to supporters in the neighbourhood, El-Ghar told potential voters that his party and the Egyptian Bloc will fight against a religion-based state and will focus on issues of social equality such as free quality healthcare for all citizens and a decent education system.
Meanwhile, the Revolution Continues candidates will be campaigning on an electoral programme that will also focus on the redistribution of wealth, an end to military rule as well as all the repressive measures of the Mubarak years, such as the emergency law.
Islamist, liberal and leftist forces, however, will not be the only competitors in this historic contest, as hundreds of mid-level members of the former ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) have surreptitiously re-established themselves in the post-January Revolution. Members of the NDP have reinvented themselves in the post-Mubarak era by forming new political parties with revolution-friendly names – one count puts them at eight out of the official 47 registered parties.
For example, the Unity Party, which was formed by Hossam Badrawy, one of the last heads of Mubarak’s NDP party, has fielded 100 candidates to run in the elections.
Two political parties, the liberal Wafd and the Islamist Wasat parties, both with decent prospects of picking up seats in the polls, have opted out of participation in any of the major coalitions, deciding instead to run on their own.
Wasat, which split from the Muslim Brotherhood in 1999, flirted with both the Brotherhood's Democratic Alliance and the Salafist’s coalition in recent months, deciding at the end, however, to go solo. Party leaders have stated that they will manage enough candidates to compete in the majority of electoral districts.
The Wafd Party, Egypt’s oldest liberal party, pulled out of the Brotherhood’s Democratic Alliance a little over three weeks ago, and announced that it will run on its historic record.
Still, in a seemingly bizarre turn of events, the Wafd has recruited a number of former NDP notables to shore up its candidate list and electioneering budget.
Analysts at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies expect that the more than 6,700 candidates (the total number of applicants as of Saturday) competing for both the lower house (454 seats) and upper house (264) of Parliament will spend a record amount of cash in the electioneering process which officially starts on Tuesday.
Candidates will most likely spend LE20 billion ($3.3 billion) on their campaigns, according to these same analysts, compared to the LE7 billion ($1.2 billion) that candidates spent in the last Mubarak-era vote in late 2010.