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Lax security stirs up pessimism over Egypt’s parliamentary elections

Egypt is in dire need of a new parliament to push forward the transitional period, but considering the protracted security vacuum, parliamentary elections might turn out to be a step backward

Sherif Tarek , Wednesday 2 Nov 2011
polling station
More riots to come? Egyptian anti-riot policemen block the way in front of a polling station in El-Dakahlia, Egypt, during 2010 elections. (File Photo: AP)
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The eagerly-awaited parliamentary elections will finally give the answer to the question of which of Egypt’s plethora of new revolutionary parties will win a larger piece of the pie. They may all lose out, though, as there is wide concern that the deteriorating security situation on the street might scare constituents into voting for the old regime through the new parties they established and are hiding behind.

Since the popular uprising that toppled autocratic president Hosni Mubarak and brought him before the court of law, along with the deposed regime’s oligarchy, security has been nowhere near stable across the nation. Sadly, it seems highly unlikely to get any better ahead or during elections.

Within less than three weeks in October – nearly a month before the first post-revolution parliamentary elections slated for 28 November – a couple of tragic incidents occured, reflecting upcoming fierce competition for the ballot card.  

On 9 October, 25 Christians were cruelly killed after a Coptic peaceful march was attacked by armed thugs and military forces. By the end of the month a police officer who is said to be emotionally disturbed sprayed a motorist and two of his friends with bullets after his car collided with theirs.

Because the police and military forces are unable – many say unwilling – to maintain law and order on the streets, it is broadly conjectured that the remnants of the overthrown regime will seek to capitalise on the security vacuum to rig elections.

It is already expected that figures of the now-defunct National Democratic Party (NDP) will use intimidation tactics on election day. It would not be the first time for them to stoop to violence.

The notorious NDP routinely resorted to hiring thugs and stark forgery in order to orchestrate elections in its own favour. This is one of the ways they kept a stranglehold on parliament throughout Mubarak’s 30-year era. In the 2010 elections, weeks before the revolt, Mubarak’s party went a bit too far.

NDP hooligans chased off pro-opposition voters while others blatantly played with ballot boxes with no one able to stop them. This granted the then ruling party a clean sweep and completely ruled out the opposition. The flagrant intimidation tactics were among the reasons the revolution broke out.

Last year’s farce was plotted by NDP secretary general and corrupt steel magnate Ahmed Ezz. The ex-drummer was among those who were brought to justice in the wake of the revolt, while the NDP-dominated parliament was dissolved in response to the demands of the January 25 Revolution.

For a while after the uprising it was thought the NDP is forever gone. But much to the dissidents’ disillusion, Mubarak’s people are set for a return in the imminent re-elections.

“You are meant to fight,” the veteran journalist and prominent TV presenter, Hamdy Kandeel, addressed the revolutionaries through his show recently. “The military council and its government are not in a hurry to [politically] isolate the remnants of the elapsed epoch, and now they got stronger.”

On paper, the NDP members should have turned into political outcasts after the revolution. According to the disenfranchisement law, which is yet to be ratified, none of them would be eligible to run for any elections or take up governmental positions, for they ruined political life throughout Mubarak’s tenure. That is not the case in the real world, though.

Refusing to be politically exiled, NDP figures established a host of new political parties to hide behind and still participate in elections, such as Nahdet Masr (Egypt’s Renaissance), El-Mowaten El-Masri (The Egyptian Citizen) and Misr El-Hadisa (Modern Egypt).

“The remnants are taking part in elections across the nation,” Kandeel said, “They are eyeing list and single-winner seats as some of them have mingled with other parties’ lists, including Wafd, who instigated the 1919 Revolution and now is working against the [January] 25 Revolution.”

Some revolutionary forces, including the 6 of April Youth Movement, have been trying to blow the whistle on the NDP candidates and ensure that the public knows who they are. The youth movement published a list, for example, of ex-NDP members in efforts to enlighten voters and ostracising ex-regime remnants from the political landscape.

Such awareness campaigns are expected to pay dividends, but at the same time to further push the NDPs towards intimidation tactics and forgery.

“You [revolutionaries] are meant to fight, although you don’t want to. You haven’t wanted to since the revolution when you kept repeating ‘peaceful, peaceful,’ even though your blood spilled on 28 January and during attacks from thugs riding camels and mules [in the Battle of the Camel].

“You have abided by the law, toppled Mubarak gracefully and brought culprits before the court without vendetta. We will keep saying ‘peaceful, peaceful’ during the elections, but if Mubarak’s henchmen want to use force and raise their weapons, then it’s a preordained fight, though we are unarmed.

“And all of this will be a result of the military council’s easing up [on security during elections],” Kandeel predicted.

Fouad Allam, a former Major General, indeed, expects mayhem during elections, saying law enforcers must come down hard on lawbreakers to keep things under control. He told Ahram Online: “The security status is terrible and I believe the elections could witness incidents we don’t want to see.

“There are a lot of political struggles going on and all forces are working for their own respective interests and not for the country’s. Some candidates, of course, will opt for physical aggression; for many years intimidation and money have been playing a big role in elections - and that is not going to change overnight.

“What might dissuade this kind of behaviour is strictness; the authorities need to enforce the law by the book, this is the only solution to avoid turbulences and casualties. So far, that's not happening.

“For instance, some candidates have postures illegally stuck and hung on the wall and no actions were taken against them.”

For his side, political professor Amr Hamzawy, also speculated elections will be “bloody,” because of lack of security and the presence of numerous troublemakers on the streets, which he reportedly blamed on the police’s “deliberate lax.”

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