In April 2019, a number of constitutional amendments were adopted to provide for the re-establishment of the Egyptian upper house of parliament or Senate, which had previously existed as the Shura Council but which was annulled by the drafters of the 2014 Constitution.
Articles 248 and 249 of the amended 2014 Constitution set forth the powers of the body. Article 248 indicated that the Senate was charged with the responsibility to “study and propose what it deems to be important for consolidating the foundations of democracy, supporting social peace and the basic foundations of society and its higher values, rights, freedoms and public duties, deepening the democratic system and expanding its reach.”
Article 249 stipulated that its opinion was be taken with regard to proposals to amend one or more articles of the Constitution, the general plan for social and economic development, peace and alliance treaties and all treaties related to sovereignty rights, and draft laws complementing the constitution that are referred to it by the president of the Republic or by the House of Representatives, and any issues that the president of the Republic refers to the House related to the general policy of the state or its policies.”
The law governing the Senate, Law 141 of 2020 issued in July 2020, stipulates that the Senate should consist of 300 members, two-thirds of whom are to be elected by direct and secret balloting, and the remaining third are to be appointed by the president of the republic, provided that at least 10 per cent of the total number of seats is allocated to women. The elected seats are to be divided equally between an individual first-past-the-post system (FPP) and a closed-list system, with 100 seats included in the individual FPP system and 100 seats in the closed-list system, while ensuring the right of parties and independents to run in each.
The Senate elections were held in two rounds, at home and abroad, on 9-12 August for the first round and 6-9 September for the second round. 786 candidates ran for the individual seats, of whom 512 ran as independents.
274 candidates ran as the representatives of 24 political parties, divided as follows: Mustaqbal Watan Party (92 candidates), Homat Al-Watan Party (54 candidates), Al-Wafd Party (22 candidates), Congress Party (18 candidates). Al-Nur Party (17 candidates), the Egyptian National Movement (13 candidates), the Republican People’s Party (seven candidates), Egyptian Liberation (seven candidates), Sons of Egypt (six candidates), Democratic Generation (five candidates), Al-Ghad (five candidates), Egypt, the Nationalist (four candidates), Egyptian Social Democratic (four candidates), Islah and Ennahda (three candidates), Baladi Egypt (three candidates), Future Egypt (three candidates), Al-Arabi for Justice and Equality (two candidates), the Egyptians (two candidates), Sawt Al-Shaab (two candidates), Human Rights and Citizenship (one candidate), Tagammu (one candidate), Al-Reyada (one candidate), Al-Ittihad (one candidate) and Al-Ahrar (one candidate).
One list, the National List for Egypt, ran candidates for the 100 seats under the closed-list system. The list included candidates from 11 parties divided as followers: Mustaqbal Watan Party (65 candidates), the Republican People’s Party (11 candidates), the Al-Wafd Party (six candidates) and the Homat Al-Watan Party (four candidates). The rest of the list was divided between the remaining parties as follows: Modern Egypt (three candidates), Tagammu (three candidates), the Egyptian Social Democratic Movement (two), the National Movement (two), the Conference (two), Egyptian Freedom (one) and Reform and Development (one).
The elections resulted in the Mustaqbal Watan Party winning 153 seats (65 list, 88 individual), making it the majority party in the Senate, followed by the Republican People’s Party with 17 seats (11 list, six individual) and the Al-Wafd Party (six seats on the list). Independents got six seats under the individual system. The rest of the party seats, all of them under the list system, were distributed among the parties as follows: Homat Al-Watan (four), Tagammu (three), Modern Egypt (three), Egyptian Social Democratic (two), the National Movement (two), Conference (two), Egyptian Freedom (one) and Reform and Development (one).
Of the appointed members, these were divided into 78 independent members and 22 party members. The list of appointed members included representatives of Al-Azhar, the Coptic Church, professional unions, chambers of commerce, the media and government agencies. With regard to women, the new Senate includes 40 women, 20 of whom succeeded in entering on the national list, and 20 other women who were appointed. All the women candidates who ran for the individual seats (89) failed to win. As for the Copts, the Senate includes 24 Coptic members, 14 of whom are there through the national list (of whom eight are women), three through individual elections, and seven by appointment (including two women).
The Senate elections did not see widespread public participation, as only 14 per cent of electors participated in the first round and about 10 per cent in the second round, which is consistent with the low participation rates seen for the Shura Council elections in previous years. This can be attributed to the elitist and advisory nature of the Senate and also to global and domestic conditions related to the Covid-19 pandemic and its economic and social consequences.
Nonetheless, the Senate elections and the subsequent appointment of a third of the body’s members give some important indicators about future developments in Egyptian politics, especially with regard to the role of political parties. These developments are expected to become clearer with the holding of the House of Representatives elections in the coming weeks. Already the campaigns for the elections to the House of Representatives have reached a high momentum, and competition levels are high between the candidates in many electoral districts.
Since the former ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) was dissolved in 2011, and despite the establishment of a large number of political parties in the period following, Egyptian political life has been characterised by a noticeable absence of strong political parties that can act as effective channels of communication, representation, and negotiation between citizens and the state.
Despite all the flaws that marred the political party experience in Egypt after its re-establishment during the rule of former president Anwar Al-Sadat, the system of restricted political pluralism under a hegemonic political party provided important mechanisms for the representation of different social groups within parliament and created important communication and negotiation channels between society and state in Egypt, providing a great deal of stability to the political system under Al-Sadat and his successor former president Hosni Mubarak.
Furthermore, the parliamentary elections during the rule of Mubarak, despite their deficiencies, represented an important arena for competition and negotiation between influential social forces, whose inclusion was important for the stability of the political process.
The parliamentary elections in 2015 were the lowest point for party politics in Egypt. Independent candidates came in the lead with a total of 325 seats, representing 57 per cent of the total number of seats contested. Candidates representing the political parties won 243 seats, which represented 43 per cent of the total seats in parliament. These 243 seats were distributed among 19 parties, which gave independents a comparative advantage as they constituted the largest single bloc. Moreover, the 2015 parliament witnessed a lot of tension between its members in its first years, with many MPs changing their party affiliations, and many parties undergoing internal conflicts that affected their ability to perform their oversight and legislative roles.
In the light of the results of the recent Senate elections and the preliminary features of the House of Representatives elections, it is expected that the Egyptian political arena will now witness the re-establishment of a dominant political party with a parliamentary majority, geographical spread, strong internal organisation and the ability to represent influential social groups. This should enable it to act as an important channel of communication and negotiation between the society and the state.
The experience of previous years has shown that the existence of a political party elite capable of representing the interests of societal forces to decision-makers, on the one hand, and of supporting state policies at the societal level, on the other, represents a source of stability for the political system. The missing link remains the ability to find a balance between a strong majority party, on the one hand, and effective opposition parties able to compete with it peacefully, on the other.
*The writer is head of the Egyptian Studies Unit at the Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 29 October, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly