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Parliament elections, a closer, more considered look (1)

The NDP has changed and so have the facts on the ground, says the NDP Organizational Secretary, in the first of a series of articles looking into Egypt's political future

Ahmed Ezz , Friday 24 Dec 2010
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This is an invitation to take a closer look at the recent parliamentary elections. The details will reveal why the National Democratic Party (NDP) won a large number of the seats, and the reasons why the opposition and the banned Muslim Brotherhood were defeated in a number of districts. Perhaps the fast pace of balloting in 222 districts taking place on the same day made it difficult for the media to look further than the results. What happened deserves more pensive and diligent contemplation for a better understanding of the bigger picture.

The first task is to compare Egypt 2010 with Egypt in 2005. While any party needs organisational skills to encourage voters to support its candidates in any elections, this is not the only deciding factor in victory. This is especially true if we are talking about a majority government party, which means that a large part of the ballots is also a vote of confidence on what the incumbent government has achieved or failed to do. That is a major deciding factor in balloting.

The 2010 parliamentary elections took place in an Egypt which was doing much better than in 2005, even though the opposition and some media – which play the role of opposition – are belittling the progress. They attempt to promote a sense that Egypt is deteriorating not progressing, although the government is implementing a presidential election platform by numbers, which is perhaps the first time in any Arab state.

It is true that we did not achieve all our goals, but we did accomplish a high degree of progress under the current tenure of President Mubarak. We reached the highest average growth rates in 40 years, the highest real increase in public spending, and the highest amount of public revenue. Meanwhile, our non-oil exports more than doubled, foreign investment rose by seven fold, we created four million job opportunities in five years, and the average income increased by between LE7,700 and LE15,500.

The salaries of civil servant increased by 100 per cent, the salaries of 1.5 million teachers rose by 100-200 per cent, the income of close to 300 doctors employed by the Ministry of Health rose from LE630 to LE1,380. Meanwhile, the average rise in wages for rural workers in some governorates in the Delta came close to 100 per cent. Labour in the construction sector rose by an average of 80 per cent, as for daily labourers in this sector their monthly income rose on average from around LE250 in 2005 to more than LE700 in 2010.

Overall, the standard of living for the Egyptian middle class has risen, as witnessed by 1.6 million students in private schools and their numbers are rising by 20 per cent a year. One million Egyptian bought new cars over the past five years (80 per cent of these cars cost less than LE75,000), and permits for residential buildings rose by more than 10 per cent in 2009 alone. There are 39 private, joint and foreign banks in Egypt with more than 3,400 branches across the country. These banks, along with businesses in the fields of communications, computers, engineering consultancy and construction, provide thousands of job opportunities for the middle class, which means an increase in income.

This went hand in hand with the government maintaining an unequivocal predisposition towards the underprivilaged and low-income strata; we spend one fifth of our public revenues on the salaries of five million government employs, and one third of revenues on subsidies and social security. We issued 1.4 million new booklets for subsidised food, the citizen’s share of subsidies rose from LE680 to LE1,300 in five years, and we established 300,000 housing units for the youth. We overhauled 169 public hospitals and 1,826 basic health centers. These are all investments which primarily serve the underprivilaged Egyptian citizen, and are mainly funded by taxes which are mostly collected from higher income strata. While we do need to exert more effort in this domain, this does not detract from what has been achieved.

The infrastructure is better; some LE60 billion were spent on potable water projects over the past five years. This did not go to waste and the citizenry felt the difference it made to their lives. We added an extra 33 per cent to the capacity of the sewage network and completed an aerial map of the country to create residential areas in villages. Electricity reached 900 villages and their environs in the past four years, while 377,000 families living in areas of informal housing were legally connected to the electricity grid.

All these indicators may not resound in a media which is focused on urbanised areas or the suburbs of the capital, but they make a difference to the lives of millions in rural regions. Egypt’s rural areas form the largest voter bloc in Egypt, making up 72 per cent of electoral districts. The party’s Policy Committee, which studies the conditions of the citizenry and drafts appropriate policies for the government to implement, knows well that these factors make a difference in the life of a farmer who for the first time in perhaps 30 years finds the state has a system for planned urban expansion, which allows him to build his home close to his fields. This is the same farmer who benefited from a real increase in his income over the past five years, except perhaps in 2009 as a result of the government’s policies regulating the import of agricultural crops.

These developments made a difference in the lives of the people who felt tangible improvement in the supply of potable water and sewage systems, and the hundreds of thousands in local governments who greatly benefited from overhauling the wage system. In May, 2008, the minimum rate of bonuses for around three million local government employees rose from 25 per cent to 75 per cent, in addition to the 30 per cent which all civil servants received that year. This addressed the imbalance which existed for years, giving civil servants in local administrations the same salaries as their peers working in national government departments.

In elections, this strata represents a large sector of the electorate. Some of them punitively voted against the party in 2005, but in 2010 conditions were better. It is true that we still have a long way to go to achieve the ambitions of the Egyptian citizenry, and we are not saying there’s nothing more to be done, or claim that what progress was made is enough. But improvements in any society are measured comparatively. What was achieved cannot be denied and was certain to influence ballots. And this is what made a difference in the 2010 elections in comparison to those of 2005, despite efforts by other forces seeking to instill despair in the hearts of the people. They tried to trick them into thinking that the transformations in their lives are unreal.

Ahmed Ezz is the Organizational Secretary of the National Democratic Party, and the man behind the sweeping win by the ruling party in the recent parliamentary elections.

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