Come the 28th, Egyptian voters will be called upon to choose 508 members of parliament from among a record 5,121 competing candidates, averaging a little over 10 contenders per parliamentary seat. The forthcoming parliament will include, for the first time, 64 new seats reserved for women. The president, bringing the total number of seats to 518, appoints ten additional members.
It goes without saying that the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) will retain its large majority in parliament.
Come 28 November (an run-offs a week later), what Egyptian election watchers – both at home and abroad – will be focusing on is not whether the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) will retain its overwhelming parliamentary majority, which seems to go without saying. Rather, the betting will be on how the Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s biggest opposition party, will fare. The Brotherhood held 88 seats in the outgoing parliament, a record number that the ruling NDP is determined to cut down, drastically.
Egypt elections watchers, seeking to identify the most significant encounters in the coming poll might find it useful to turn their eyes towards constituencies where 1) government ministers versus strong MB contenders; 2) business tycoons, running on the NDP ticket or as independents, again versus strong NDP candidates; 3) Prominent political figures – in the ruling party or opposition – facing business tycoons.
Alexandria: the mother of all electoral battles
Government ministers are battling it out with Muslim Brotherhood candidates in 10 constituencies. Foremost among these is Alexandria’s Al-Raml district, which looks to be the 2010 elections “mother of all battles”. Crossing swords in this highly heterogeneous district (ranging from upper middle class to assorted sections of the urban poor) are former governor of Alexandria and Minister of Local Development, Abdel-Salam Mahgoub, for the NDP, and the Muslim Brotherhood’s incumbent MP, Sobhi Saleh, a popular lawyer whose Friday sermons attract thousands. Mahgoub, who was a high-ranking intelligence officer prior to his gubernatorial appointment, is equally a very popular figure among Alexandrians. He takes pride in having overseen sweeping urban renewal projects during his term as governor of Egypt’s second largest city (1995-2006). These projects, he says, restored to Alexandria its old moniker as “the bride of the Mediterranean”.
The Brotherhood’s Saleh insists, nevertheless, that he is more than ready and able to face up to Mahgoub. A sweeping 117,000 votes won him his seat in the outgoing parliament, and he is confident he will win it back this time around, despite the NDP’s powerful protagonist.
The Muslim Brotherhood has fielded nine candidates in Alexandria, six of whom are deputies in the outgoing 2005-2010 People's Assembly: Hamdi Hassan, Hussein Ibrahim, Saber Abul-Fotouh, Mohamed Mostafa, El-Mohamedi El-Sayed and Sobhi Saleh. New Brotherhood contenders are Mahmoud Attiya and Abdel-Mohsen Mostafa, in addition to women’s quota candidate, Boshra El-Samni.
A different category of electoral confrontation is taking place in the Alexandria district of Mina Al-Bassal, where the incumbent, Muslim Brotherhood MP, Hussein Ibrahim (who has held his parliamentary seat since 2000) will fight it out with NDP business tycoon Mohamed Rashad Othman, son of the once notorious self-made multi-millionaire Rashad. The elder Othman rose from the very humble beginnings of a dockhand to a position of great wealth and influence under the late President Anwar Sadat, with whom he was closely associated. After Sadat’s death, charges were brought against Othman, who was accused of amassing a fortune of several hundred million pounds through dealing in drugs and grabbing state lands. He was sentenced to a prison term of seven years. The elder Othman, who was a leading figure in the NDP in Alexandria and a member of parliament, came to symbolize the corruption associated with the early economic “open door” policy launched by Sadat.
Other business tycoons running on the NDP ticket in Alexandria include Mohamed El-Moselhi, chairman of Al-Ittihad Al-Sakandri football club and the owner of a shipping company; Ahmed Khairy, the owner of tourism and shipping concerns; Hosni Khalil, the owner of a large construction company; and Tarek Talaat Mostafa, chairman of the outgoing parliament's housing committee and brother of businessman Hisham Talaat Mostafa, currently serving 15 years in prison for murder.
Capital hot spots:
In Cairo, the middle class districts of Heliopolis and Nasr City are witness to yet another fierce contest between the Brotherhood and the ruling party. Minister of Petroleum and NDP candidate Sameh Fahmi is fighting it out with Minal Abul-Hassan, the wife of a leading Brotherhood official. Fahim counts on the votes of large numbers of workers in oil companies located in Nasr City, while Abul-Hassan draws upon the support of Islamist leaning professionals and Brotherhood-affiliated students of Al-Azhar university.
The downtown Cairo constituency of district of Kasr El-Nil is also witness to an exciting confrontation between the NDP candidate Hisham Mustafa Khalil, son of a former prime minister, and Gameela Ismail, a prominent political activist, TV presenter and ex-wife of Ayman Nour, the leader of the Ghad Party, who ran against President Hosni Mubarak in the 2005 presidential elections. In the district of Shubra, business tycoon Rami Lakah is running on the ticket of the Wafd Party against the NDP’s Fadi El-Habshi, a former senior officer of the State Security Service.
Veteran NDP figures running in Cairo include Hamdi El-Sayed, chairman of the Doctors Syndicate, running in El-Nozha district; Talaat El-Qawwas, a businessman, running in the downtown district of Abdeen. Two NDP candidates are certain winners. They are Fathi Sorour, speaker of the People's Assembly, running in his traditional south Cairo district of El-Sayeda Zeinab; and Zakaria Azmi, presidential chief of staff, running in east Cairo's district of Zeitoun.
Several fierce battles are also being fought between NDP and non-Brotherhood opposition candidates. Ragab Hilal Hemeida, the candidate of El-Ghad party and an MP since 1995, will vie for the “workers” seat in the downtown district of Abdeen, running against NDP's Mohsen Fawzi. Alaa Abdel-Moneim, a strong Wafd party candidate and an MP since 2005 is facing up to the NDP’s Ahmed Shiha. Another strong Wafd candidate is Taher abu Zeid, a one time renowned football star, running against the NDP’s Ali Radwan.
A fierce battle is being waged in the south Cairo industrial suburb of Helwan, where the NDP’s Sayed Mashaal, minister of military production is facing off with Mustafa Bakri, the fiery editor of the weekly Al-Osbou’. Both Bakri and Mashaal held seats in the outgoing parliament, having run in two separate constituencies, but had to face up this time around due to 2008 boundary changes, which did away with Bakri’s 15 May constituency.
In the adjacent suburb of Maadi, the NDP’s Mohamed El-Morshedi, a construction magnate and NDP's candidate, is competing for the “professionals'” seat, while Hussein Megawer, chairman of the General Egyptian Federation of Trade Unions (GEFTU) and parliament's workforce committee, will be running for the “workers'” seat, also on behalf of the NDP.
Shebin El-Qom, in the Delta governorate of Menufiya, is the site of yet another significant confrontation between the NDP and the Muslim Brotherhood. The NDP’s Amin Mubarak, cousin to President Mubarak and the former chairman of parliament’s Industry and Energy Committee is engaged in a fierce battle with Brotherhood firebrand, Ragab Abu Zeid. Mubarak held the Shebin El-Qom seat for some two decades, only to lose it to Abu Zeid in the 2005 election.
Also in Menoufiya, three brothers from the Sadat family will be competing in the district of Tala. Businessmen Effat and Zein El-Sadat, cousins to the late President Anwar El-Sadat, are contesting the “professionals” seat, the first as an NDP candidate, and the second as an independent. Contesting the “workers” seat in the same constituency, is former MP and businessman Mohamed El-Sadat, another cousin to President Sadat, running as an independent against the NDP’s Fakhri Tayel, also a businessman.
Eyes are also turned to the Delta city of Kafr El-Zayat, where the NDP is represented by Mohamed El-Baradei, cousin to the celebrated former International Atomic Energy Agency director of the same name who, in recent months, came to be considered as a major figure of opposition to the regime and a possible contender for the Egyptian presidency. The NDP candidate, also son to the Governor of Damietta, Fat’hi El-Baradei, is a member of the influential Policies Committee, headed by President Mubarak’s son, Gamal. He was an NDP member of parliament during 1995-2000, and is engaged in a heated contest with Hosni El-Qeiey, who held the constituency’s seat in the outgoing parliament and enjoys a strong clan base in Kafr El-Zayat and its rural environs.
Also in Kafr El-Zayat, Amin Radi, a former senior air force commander and deputy chairman of the outgoing parliament's foreign affairs committee, is the NDP's candidate for the “workers” seat in the constituency. Radi will face Hassanein El-Shura, a very popular Muslim Brotherhood MP since 2000.
In the constituency of Diarb Negm, in the Delta governorate of Sharqiya, the ruling party is running two strong candidates, one against the other. These are Mustafa El-Said, former Economy Minister and chairman of the outgoing parliament's committee of economic affairs, engaged in fierce battle with business tycoon Talaat El-Sewedy. The contest between the two is taking the shape of an ongoing vendetta. El-Said, who held the constituency’s seat in parliament for nearly two decades, lost it to El-Sewedy in 2000, only to win it back in 2005.
In Upper Egypt, Moufir Fakhri Abdel-Nour, secretary-general of the Wafd party and a Coptic businessman is engaged in a ferocious battle with the NDP’s veteran MP, Khalifa Radwan over the seat for Girga, in the southern governorate of Sohag.