Every time Egyptian parliamentary elections are held, we hear loud noises from some political and research circles abroad. The foreign media and research hype around the Egyptian elections is usually characterised by generalised criticism and by the use of the same descriptions of the political situation in the country without a change in positions.
But it is important to see that new developments are happening in the process currently taking place to elect members of the House of Representatives, the lower house of Egypt’s parliament, for the next four years because these show that there are new dynamics on the ground on which it will be possible to build a renewed, and not static, democratic path.
The first round in the balloting for the House of Representatives was held last Saturday and Sunday (24 and 25 October), and the second round is to take place abroad from 4 to 6 November and inside Egypt from 7 to 8 November. The result of the first round is to be declared by 30 November and that of the second round is to be declared by 14 December.
Voters cast their ballots in 10,240 polling stations in 14 governorates in the first round and in 10,292 in 13 governorates in the second. The polls are being supervised by 11,000 judges, and the local and foreign media, human-rights organisations, and candidate representatives are free to monitor the elections. The candidates are competing for 568 seats in the House of Representatives, 284 of which will be elected through a single-representative system in 143 electoral districts and a similar number through a closed-list system, while the president will appoint 28 members, bringing the total number of MPs to 596.
The Egyptian multi-party experience suffered a severe setback during the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood, where the failure lay not only in failing to eject Mohamed Morsi, the former president, earlier, but also in the party system that the Political Islam trend sought to confiscate and its failure to challenge the Muslim Brotherhood, leaving the majority of the Egyptian people unrepresented. It was against this background of a loss of confidence that the massive uprising against the Brotherhood and the Islamist-majority parliament took place on 30 June 2013.
Yet, the Western academy and its well-known research centres did not leave space for a different reading of the popular revolution against the Islamists, and its traditional accusations of wasting opportunities for democratic transformation began to appear, depending on a traditional way of reading the situation that was devoid of depth and sober analysis. Egyptian think tanks may also be partly responsible in one way or another for this wide gap with influential Western research centres.
The prejudices against the political transition in Egypt, which expected, unfairly, the failure of the transitional authority, and then, after his assumption of power, President-elect Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s rule to last only for several months, relied on failed theorising and on views that were detached from reality and were promoted by a group of fugitives belonging intellectually and organisationally to the Muslim Brotherhood.
These fugitives now live in Western capitals and continue to mouth their absurdities in circles linked to suspect financing networks. The shallowness of such theses, and the absence of a broader vision of the transformations that were dictated by real popular will and not made or fabricated as some have insisted, have led to false descriptions of the system of government in Egypt and the promotion of such false views in government circles in Western capitals.
Against this background, the current elections to the House of Representatives deserve serious reflection on several levels and for a number of reasons.
The first is the establishment of a broad coalition, the first of its kind, that includes the electoral alliance of 12 parties, in addition to what is called the “Coordination of the Youth and Political Parties”. The coalition seeks to ensure the election of the largest possible number of parties to the next parliament. The strongest party, the Future of the Nation Party, did not run in the elections alone, as many had expected, with the aim of gaining an overwhelming majority of the seats, but instead negotiated with newer medium-sized and smaller parties, and with older parties such as the Al-Wafd Party and the Tagammu Party, to prepare a unified list without any prior political commitments after its list put forward candidates for seats in the House of Representatives.
The advantage of the list system is that it expresses a greater realism on the part of parties that know very well that their presence at the grassroots level is limited, meaning that electoral alliances must be established to reduce the chances of repeating the scenario of the now-dissolved former ruling National Democratic Party’s overall control, which was one of the main causes of the revolution against former president Hosni Mubarak.
The second is that it is necessary to differentiate between the 2015 and 2020 elections and not to deal with all Egyptian elections in the same way, appealing to the same kind of traditional criticisms that have been going on for years about the change in the country after the 30 June Revolution. Many new faces have appeared on the National List for Egypt, including from a wide range of political forces on the right and left of the current ruling bloc, and the percentage of new figures on the main list has reached more than half of the faces that won on the former For the Love of Egypt list, which did not include the same broad political spectrum as on the new one.
The leaders of the new list consider that their vision is based on building a vehicle that will enable newer or older political parties to enter parliament. The National List for Egypt has entered candidates for four constituencies using the list system (50 per cent of the seats), and the Independents Alliance is competing in the Cairo and Central Delta constituencies. The Nidaa Masr list is competing in the West Delta and Upper Egypt constituencies.
The expansion of electoral districts has contributed to the emergence of a broad electoral alliance between 12 parties that does not entail any commitment to specific positions or policies in parliament. This experiment is a step on the road to the significant representation of parties of different strengths. In elections to come in the coming years, we can thus look forward to seeing a balanced parliamentary life based on the presence of a dominant majority party and the reasonable representation of other parties, meaning that the phenomenon of independent candidates will recede such that the parties controlling the majority of the seats in parliament are a true bridge between state and society.
The third reason has to do with changing the quota system from a transitional to a permanent status by the amendment of the Constitution in 2019 to guarantee women 25 per cent of the seats in the House of Representatives instead of just “adequate representation.” That percentage translates to 142 of the 568 seats. The quota system also guarantees the satisfactory representation of young people, Christians, workers, farmers, Egyptians abroad and people with disabilities, so that such positive quotas make up 38.4 per cent of the seats in the House of Representatives, which is responsible for legislation, oversight and ratification of the formation of the government, and the state budget.
The positive developments in the elections that are currently taking place confirm that there is a real desire in the country to attain good parliamentary practices in the coming years, and that there is a tendency to ensure that large numbers of young people, chosen very carefully from within their respective parties, can make a qualitative leap in terms of their legislative performance.
The Egyptian public is more than ever eager in the light of the many challenges facing the various classes to be effectively represented in the House of Representatives and for MPs to play their roles effectively in monitoring the work of the government and in passing further reforms.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 29 October, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly