In search of a parliamentary alliance

Gamal Essam El-Din , Sunday 15 Jan 2012

Following a three-part electoral process, Egypt has elected a new People’s Assembly, with two thirds of its seats dominated by Islamists

An Egyptian man casts his vote at a polling center during the second day of the third round of the elections for Egypt's parliament, in Qalyobeia (Photo:AP)


After more than a month and half of polling, Egypt has elected a new People’s Assembly (parliament’s lower house). The last stage in the three-part electoral process to elect Egypt’s first post-Mubarak legislature ended on 11 January, and as the dust settles, Islamists look to dominate two thirds of its seats.

The Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm, said it has secured almost 230 seats – or around 46 per cent of the 508 seat total – in the three stages. The FJP’s 230 seats are the result of a 203-seat gain in the first and second stages and 27-seat gain in the third stage. This tally, however, leaves the FJP short of the 255-seat minimum (or 50 per cent plus one) necessary to secure a majority in the Assembly.

The Salafist Nour Party – the second largest Islamist force – has gained around 121 seats, or almost 23 per cent. According to Nour officials, the party won 111 seats in the first two stages, and 10 in the third stage.

Two other Islamist parties – the moderate Wasat Party and the Reconstruction and Development Party, the political wing of Al-Jamaa Al-Islamiya, widely held responsible for the assassination of president Anwar El-Sadat in 1981, landed 11 and 15 seats respectively, or 2.5 per cent. 

The Asala (Authenticity), another Salafist party, were awarded around five seats.

What’s more, the Islamists could increase their 70 per cent hold on parliament’s lower house to 75 per cent after a series of by-elections are held in several districts in the next few days. According to statistics released by the Supreme Electoral Commission (SEC), the judicial body in charge of monitoring the polls, the competition for the 37 remaining seats – initially delayed for various reasons – will be held this week (on 14-15 and 17-18 January).

But even if the FJP manage to gain several seats in the by-elections, it would remain short of the required 255-seat majority. This, as emphasized by FJP Secretary-General Saad El-Katatni, will force the party to forge an alliance or coalition with other political parties. The liberal Wafd Party is expected to be the FJP’s major political partner in the forthcoming Assembly.

Though no exact electoral figures regarding Wafd gains have been published, semi-official figures suggest that the party received 43-45 seats (or around 9 per cent). For their part, FJP officials have announced that they approached the Wafd with an eye to forming a parliamentary alliance. Were this to happen, the alliance would command more than 275 seats or 55 per cent.

During a visit to the Assembly’s administrative offices last week, El-Katatni said a meeting between the two parties could be held this week to discuss such an alliance.

Hussein Ibrahim, a veteran Muslim Brotherhood MP and chairman of the FJP’s Alexandria office, told Ahram Online, “The alliance between the FJP and the Wafd could include coordination on the matter of naming a parliamentary speaker, his two deputies and the chairpersons of the Assembly’s 18 committees.”

It is widely believed that the FJP aims to win the speaker’s post in return for refraining from fielding candidates for the posts of the two deputies. FJP members might also head at least 8 committees, while members of other parties compete for chairing the remaining 10 committees.

Prior to elections, the FJP, the Wafd and 43 other political parties – including the Salafist Nour party – had formed “the Democratic Alliance.”  The alliance, however, was disrupted ahead of the start of polls, when the Wafd accused the FJP of monopolising the electoral lists. El-Sayed El-Badawi, chairman of the Wafd, however, affirmed, “The Wafd would remain loyal to political alliances with the FJP and other parties.” El-Badawi said on 13 January that the Wafd and FJP are signatories of a document that was drafted last September titled “The Document on Constitutional Principles.”

According to the Wafd chairman, the FJP alliance could include implementing the aforementioned principles, especially with regard to selecting members of the constituent assembly, naming the speaker of parliament, its two deputies and chairpersons of parliament’s 18 committees.

The last few days have witnessed the arrival of a flurry of US delegations coming to Cairo to hold meetings with FJP officials. These included Jeffrey Feltman, US assistant secretary for Near East Affairs; William Burns, an assistant US deputy secretary of state, and Jimmy Carter, former president of the United States (1976-1980). All of these were keen to visit the offices of the FJP and Muslim Brotherhood in west Cairo’s Manial Al-Roda district.

American officials said they were keen to explore FJP’s positions on several strategic matters, including: Egypt’s long-term strategic relationship with the United States, the upkeep of the 1979 Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty, the religious ambitions of the group (i.e. whether they would oversee a theocracy like Iran’s Islamists or a secular state with an Islamic background like Turkey) and how much they would hold to the values of democracy, religious tolerance and respect of human rights.

In their meetings with American officials, FJP seniors were keen to state that they will not use political power to impose a religious state. The FJP has been keen to distance itself thus far from the Salafists, but the two groups could grow closer following the drafting of a new constitution and presidential elections.

The FJP and Nour Party could potentially work hand in hand to impose a stricter censorship on the press and literary works. In past weeks, FJP lawyers filed a case against liberal businessman Naguib Sawiris, accusing him of insulting Islam.

The results of the three-stage polls also show that the liberal Egyptian Bloc – an alliance including the Free Egyptians Party, the Egypt Social Democratic Party and the leftist Tagammu Party– gained around 40 seats, or around 8.5 per cent.

Other secular forces such as the independents, the leftist Revolution Continues coalition and remnants of ousted President Hosni Mubarak’s defunct ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) also gained between 35 and 40 per cent, around 8 per cent.

Liberals and Islamists, however, have the upper hand. Of the FJP’s winners, around 30 were former members of Muslim Brotherhood deputies in 2005-2010’s People’s Assembly, and some of them are expected to hold key positions in parliament. Topping this list is FJP’s secretary-general Saad El-Katatni who is expected to become the Assembly’s speaker; Sobhi Saleh (expected to chair the constitutional and legislative affairs committee), Ashraf Badreddin (expected to chair the budget committee); Hussein Ibrahim (expected to chair the industrial committee), Akram El-Shaer (expected to chair the health committee) and Al-Azhar cleric Sayed Askar (expected to chair the religious affairs committee).

Other leading figures in the FJP’s democratic alliance are also expected to hold strategic posts. Foremost among these is Al-Ahram political analyst Wahid Abdel-Meguid (expected to chair the foreign affairs committee) and director of Al-Sawi Cultural Wheel Mohamed El-Sawy (expected to chair the culture, tourism and media committee).

The Assembly also includes another batch of prominent figures who are expected to contribute to creating a vibrant and lively parliamentary life. These include famous journalist Mostafa Bakri, Al-Ahram political analyst Amr El-Shobaki, chairman of the Adl (Justice) Party Mostafa Al-Naggar, the former US Carnegie Institute political analyst Amr Hamzawy, El-Badri Farhgali, a former member of the leftist Tagammu party, and Hamdi El-Fakharani, a contractor who gained notoriety after he won a court verdict in favour of disrupting the vast housing community of Madinaty.

The list also includes Anwar Essmat El-Sadat, chairman of the liberal Reform and Development Party and Mostafa Rashwan, chairman of the Social Justice Party.

The remnants of the NDP are estimated to have gained 20 seats: five belonging to the Horreya Party while the remaining were won by the Egyptian Citizen Party and the Ittihad Party.


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