Despite massive demonstrations and significant violence, Egypt’s ruling Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) has vowed that parliamentary elections — the first since the ouster of former president Hosni Mubarak on 11 February — will be held Monday as scheduled.
In a press conference Thursday, 24 November, SCAF member Major General Mokhtar El-Molla underlined that “the elections should be held on time on 28 November because this is the first step towards democratic rule."
El-Molla indicated that the Ministry of Interior and the SCAF have devised a comprehensive plan for safeguarding the upcoming elections against possible violent acts. “We also hope that ordinary Egyptians and youth movements of the January 25 Revolution will play a role in securing these elections,” said El-Molla, indicating that “these movements announced before that they will form 'popular committees' to safeguard the elections against violent clashes and we hope this will be true.”
Joining forces with SCAF members, Judge Abdel-Moez Ibrahim, chairman of the Supreme Electoral Commission in charge of supervising the elections, said “We are ready to conduct the elections under any circumstances."
Egyptians living abroad began voting on 24 November after registering to vote early this month.
The announcements of Judge Ibrahim and SCAF officials came after Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, SCAF’s chairman, said 22 November that “elections will be held on time.” Tantawi’s deputy, Lieutenant General Sami Anan, met with representatives of major political forces and some potential presidential candidates, after which they also stressed that elections should be held on time.
These announcements were highly welcomed by Islamist forces who pressured for holding elections next Monday as scheduled. The Muslim Brotherhood, the largest organised political force in Egypt, said “it will never accept delaying the elections under any circumstances.” Its political arm — the Freedom and Justice Party — refused to join the 22 November million-man demonstration in Tahrir Square, arguing that it would not serve the democratic transition.
The Brotherhood also decided to stay away from participating in Friday's 25 November Tahrir Square demonstration held under the title “The Friday of the Last Chance.” Brotherhood leaders also rejected the idea that SCAF should cede power to a civilian presidential council. “This could cause chaos, not to mention that it is illogical at this critical stage,” said a Brotherhood statement.
Political analysts agree that Islamist forces led by the Muslim Brotherhood are the ones most keen that the elections be held on time. “They believe they will get the majority of seats in these elections, and that attempts aimed at delaying this election are in fact aimed at delaying their victory,” said Al-Ahram political analyst Amr El-Shobki.
The Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party is part of a “Democratic Alliance” that includes some 30 political forces and movements. The leader of Al-Ghad (Tomorrow) Party, political activist Ayman Nour, said “in light of Brotherhood’s stance against the Friday demonstrations and support of SCAF, the party is probing the possibility of withdrawing from the Alliance."
The Aljazeera channel alleged today “that Minister of Interior Mansour El-Eissawi told SCAF that the recent bloody clashes in Tahrir Square and Mohamed Mahmoud Street were depressing to security forces and weakened their morale." Aljazeera’s story, however, was quickly refuted by SCAF and Judge Ibrahim’s announcements.
For their part, most non-Islamist parties announced that they are ready to contest the first stage of the elections on 28 November. The liberal Free Egyptians Party founded by business tycoon Naguib Sawiris said “it will participate in the 25 November demonstration, but it is determined to contest the election on Monday at the same time.”
The liberal-oriented Wafd Party stepped up its election campaigns on television, with none of the party’s leaders showing any sign of boycotting the election. The Wafd’s chairman, El-Sayed El-Badawi, was a participant in the crisis meeting with Anan on 22 November.
The diehards of ousted president Hosni Mubarak’s defunct National Democratic Party (NDP) decided to organise a large conference in front of the mosque of Amr Ibn Al-As in Old Cairo under the title “Please Save Egypt.”
More than 50 candidates, mostly belonging to NDP offshoot parties, said on 24 November that “their conference is aimed to alert citizens to the dangers of organising one-million man demonstrations at Tahrir Square and that the vast majority of silent Egyptians should voice their support for holding elections on time.”
The conference is also aimed to give its support to the army and police forces, “because these are the two pillars of stability in Egypt”.
Ordinary people on the street, however, have strong doubts that the army and police forces will be able to ensure the safety of voters and the security of polling stations. “I wonder how after the clashes on Tahrir Square forced the police to disappear from the streets that there will be security forces available to ensure the safety of voters?” asked one observer.
There is no doubt that judges in charge of supervising the elections have strong fears that they will not able to do so in the absence of security.
Judge Okasha believes that “Tomorrow’s demonstration will be key in determining whether the election will be held on time or not.” “Some believe that this is another Friday of Rage, forcing the ruling military junta to cede power just like the first one forced Mubarak to step down and postponing the election indefinitely,” he said.