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Egypt's polls to kick off amid unrest and division

First stage of Egypt's parliamentary polls - set to begin Monday despite political unrest - will feature several fierce contests between longstanding rivals

Gamal Essam El-Din , Sunday 27 Nov 2011
Egyptians to vote in first elections post 25 January revolution (Photo by: Reuters)
Egyptians to vote in first elections post 25 January revolution (Photo by: Reuters)
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Egypt’s first post-Mubarak parliamentary polls open Monday amid severe political divisions and street protests against the ruling Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) and its embattled government.

The first stage of elections, which will last until 5 December, includes nine governorates: Cairo, Alexandria, Fayyum, Assiut, Luxor, the Red Sea, Port Said, Damietta and Kafr El-Sheikh. Of the 168 seats up for grabs in the first round, 56 will go to independents and 112 to candidates running on party lists.

Supreme Electoral Commission (SEC) Chairman Abdel-Moez Ibrahim announced on 26 November that the opening round would be supervised by more than 4,500 judges mandated with overseeing polling stations countrywide.

“The SEC is opposed to any kind of international monitoring of the Egyptian elections,” clarified Ibrahim. “We informed the SCAF that this was against Egypt’s national sovereignty and could never be accepted, but if foreign monitors and media want to participate in supervising the voting process, let them do so without any constraints."

For his part, SCAF head Field-Marshal Hussein Tantawi stressed that “security and army forces have devised a plan for safeguarding polling stations against any violent act.” He went on to predict that that ordinary Egyptians “would play the greatest role in protecting polling stations and turning out in big numbers, because this is the only path to democratization and civilian rule.”

According to Ibrahim, more than 100,000 Egyptian expatriates living abroad had cast ballots in recent days, out of a total of 350,000 who had registered to vote at Egyptian embassies and consulates worldwide.

Although the SEC has not provided figures for the total number of candidates contesting the first round, unofficial estimates suggest that 2,362 independents and 193 party-based candidates would be fighting it out for the 168 seats.

Eligible voters in the first round account for some 35 per cent of the total number of Egypt’s registered voters, estimated at 50 million.

Cairo and Alexandria are expected to see the most fiercely contested electoral showdowns. Cairo is due to elect 54 MPs – 18 independents and 36 party-based – out of an estimated total of 1,539 candidates.

Alexandria, meanwhile, long viewed as an Islamist stronghold, will elect 24 MPs – eight independents and 16 party-based. In Egypt’s second city, 418 independents and 33 party-list candidates will compete for seats in the assembly.

Polls will also be hotly contested in the governorate of Port Said, where 103 independents and 13 party-list candidates – of almost all political stripes – will compete for available seats.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), along with Salafist parties and the older secular parties, all hope to secure seats in Cairo and Alexandria.

Electoral campaigning by Islamist forces, however, has been negatively affected by the recent flurry of protests against military rule in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. The Islamists’ decision not to take part in the protests has reportedly cost them some credibility among certain segments of the voting public.

That leaders of Islamist and Salafist parties have issued fatwas instructing Muslims not to vote for liberal candidates – who they have denounced as “unbelievers” – has also reportedly adversely affected their electoral prospects. “There were numerous press reports that Islamist candidates had violated the law against using religious electoral slogans, but we never received any official complaint on this issue,” said the SEC’s Ibrahim.

He added that the current Tahrir Square protests had led Islamist forces, led by the Brotherhood’s FJP, to exert pressure on the SCAF to hold elections – which they are widely expected to sweep – on schedule and without delay.

Cairo’s various electoral districts will see many new faces competing for a place in the incoming parliament. The district that includes the south Cairo areas of Helwan and Maadi is the largest, with 132 independents and 130 party-based candidates competing for 12 seats (two for independents and ten for parties).

The most prominent independent candidates in this district include leftist journalist Mostafa Bakri and human rights activist Nasser Amin. Party-based lists, meanwhile, include Ziad El-Oleimi, candidate for the liberal-oriented Egyptian Bloc; Akmal Qortam for the newly-licensed Conservative Party; and the Wafd Party’s Mahmoud El-Sakka.

In the district that includes east Cairo’s Nasr City and Heliopolis, meanwhile, candidates include Asmaa Mahfouz, former member of the April 6 youth movement, and political analyst Amr Hamzawy, a founder of the liberal-oriented Egypt Freedom Party.

In Cairo’s Qasr El-Nil district, which includes the flashpoint Tahrir Square, Gamila Ismail, ex-wife of opposition leader Ayman Nour, will stand as an independent. She is opposed by, among others, Wafd Party member Nihal Ahdi, who is running on an independent ticket.

The battle for Qasr El-Nil’s party-based seats will pit the FJP-led Democratic Alliance against the Egyptian Bloc, the Wafd Party and the Reform and Development Party, along with the Salafists and Nasserists. Democratic Alliance candidates include Al-Ahram political analyst Wahid Abdel-Meguid and former Brotherhood MP Gamal Hanafi. Their competitors, meanwhile, include Coptic tycoon Rami Lakah for the Reform and Development Party, and actress Tayseer Fahmi for the “Revolution Continues” alliance.

In North Cairo’s El-Sahel district, meanwhile, Al-Ahram analyst Emad Gad will run for the Egyptian Social Democratic Party.

In Alexandria, the FJP is fielding a handful of prominent former MPs, such as Sobhi Saleh, Hamdi Hassan and Hussein Ibrahim. One of the most hotly-contested races, however, will be that between reformist judge Mahmoud El-Khodeiri and construction magnate Tarek Talaat Mostafa, once a leading member of Mubarak’s now-defunct National Democratic Party.

Port Said, in which around 300 candidates will vie for only six seats, will also feature a number of prominent personalities. These include George Ishak, founder of the Kefaya pro-democracy movement; former MP El-Badri Farghali of the leftist Tagammu Party; and former Brotherhood MP Akram El-Shaer for the FJP.

In Damietta, where twelve seats are up for grabs, the battle between former NDP deputies and new challengers is also expected to be fierce. FJP candidates in Damietta include former MPs Saber Abdel-Sadek and Mohamed Kosbah. The Wasat Party, meanwhile, is fielding its deputy chairman, Essam Sultan. Former NDP candidates for the district include Gamal El-Zeiny and Omran Megahed.

In Kafr El-Sheikh, where 18 seats are being contested, stiff competition is expected between former MP Mohamed Abdel-Alim and Brotherhood candidates in the Fiwa district.

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