At least a dozen leading businessmen are contesting Egypt’s parliamentary elections. Members of official business associations are generally standing on the pro-government Mostaqbal Watan Party’s ticket, while others are unaffiliated entrepreneurs running as independents.
A study by Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies (ACPSS) concluded that businessmen began to covet parliamentary seats in the early 1990s, Egypt decided to switch to a fully-fledged market economy.
“In the 1995 parliament at least 20 high-profile businessmen were able to win seats, with some chairing influential committees in the People’s Assembly and Shura Council. The numbers increased with the 2000 and 2005 elections. For businessmen a seat in parliament was seen as very important, securing them immunity, political clout and speedy access to loans. They were able to widen the scope of their business interests, and promote legislation that served the market economy,” said the study.
Mohamed Abul-Enein, owner of the ceramics Cleopatra Group, is running in the constituency of Giza and Dokki as an independent against journalist and political Islam researcher Abdel-Rehim Ali, Mostaqbal Watan Party candidate Riad Montasser, and independent Ahmed Mansour, son of the controversial chairman of Zamalek Sporting Club, MP Mortada Mansour.
Figures announced by Giza’s General Election Committee on Sunday showed Abul-Enein and his closest challenger Zaki Abbas Abdel-Zaher, running for Mostakbal Watan Party, won the two seats of Giza and Dokki.
Abul-Enein was one of the first generation of businessmen to join parliament. In 1995, when he was a member of the influential Egyptian-US Businessmen’s Council, he was appointed as an MP by then president Hosni Mubarak.
In 2000 Abul-Enein, then a leading member of Mubarak’s now defunct ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), moved from being an appointed to an elected MP, winning the Giza district. He was made chairman of parliament’s Housing Committee and later chairman of the Industrial Committee.
Akmal Qortam, chairman of the Conservatives Party and head of the Sahara oil group, is standing in the south Cairo district of Maadi. Qortam first joined parliament in 2010 as an NDP candidate in Maadi. He retained his seat in the 2015 elections. The Conservatives Party refused to join the Mostaqbal Watan-led National List and is standing on his party’s ticket.
Qortam likes to describe the Conservatives as an opposition force, and has accused Mostaqbal Watan of exploiting its majority in parliament to pass “election laws” that will strip the opposition of any say in politics. Among the challengers Qortam is facing in Maadi is Ahmed Al-Tayibi, the Mostaqbal Watan candidate.
In East Cairo’s Nasr City and Heliopolis district a battle is raging among three Mostaqbal Watan candidates: Ahmed Al-Sallab, chairman of Al-Sallab group, Amr Al-Sonbati, chairman of Heliopolis Sporting Club, and Tarek Shoukri, head of the Real Estate Chamber at the Egyptian General Federation of Industries.
Al-Sallab, who joined parliament for the first time in 2015, is the son of late businessman and MP Mustafa Al-Sallab, the founder of Al-Sallab group. A member of the American Chamber of Commerce, he is battling against 52 candidates, including Medhat Al-Sherif, an independent who swept the polls in 2015.
“Businessmen and the private sector are now the driving force behind Egypt’s economy and so it important that they seek to have a say in politics and the legislative process,” Al-Sallab said during a public rally.
The Nasr City and Heliopolis district is seen as a prime example of the way wealth can be used to secure a parliamentary seat. Last week Mostaqbal Watan was forced to deny that its candidates were effectively buying votes. “We select candidates on the basis of their popularity on the street, not because they have money,” the statement said. “The most important thing to stress is that membership of Mostaqbal Watan is given to honest businessmen who are committed to the party’s principles, who made their money by open and fair practices and who have contributed to socio-economic development projects.”
Hossam Al-Khouli, deputy chairman of Mostaqbal Watan, admitted in a TV interview with Sada Al-Balad satellite channel on 24 October that “the party receives money from businessmen to run in parliamentary elections.
“We receive donations from those who wish to run as party list candidates and not as individuals and the money is spent on campaigning. The donations do not exceed LE300,000 per businessman.”
In Cairo’s Abdine district businessman Amir Helal is competing against Mostaqbal Watan candidate Ashraf Hatem, a former minister of health, and former MPs Mohamed Abu Hamed, an independent, and Sherine Ahmed Fouad, the candidate of the Guardians of the Nation Party.
Businessmen are also seeking a foothold in the Red Sea tourist resort of Hurghada where Mohamed Abdel-Maqsoud, an investor who owns a tourist resort, is the Mostaqbal Watan candidate. Abdel-Maqsoud, who was an MP between 2005 and 2010, will be competing against 16 candidates.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 29 October, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly