Egyptian Copts, women make record gains in 1st stage of 2015 parliament elections

Gamal Essam El-Din , Saturday 31 Oct 2015

Analysts and advocates say 2014 constitution gave a big push for 'minority' candidates, expect similar gains for women and Copts in the second stage

Sahar Talaat Mostafa
In this Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015 photo, Sahar Talaat Mostafa, a businesswoman and a newly elected parliament member with the For the Love of Egypt list attends a campaign rally in a parade if cars and buses in Alexandria, Egypt (AP)

On top of the biggest winners of the first stage of Egypt's parliamentary elections, held between 17 and 28 October in 14 governorates, are Copts and women.

Official statistics show that out of 110 running as independents and party-based candidates in the first stage, 32 women have succeeded in securing seats in the coming parliament. Statistics also indicate that 16 Egyptian Copts have also won seats.

Mervat Tallawy, former minister of social solidarity and the sitting chairwoman of the National Council for Women (NCW), stressed that the number of 32 seats women winners in the first stage of the elections represents a record.

"Please also note that women were keen to actively participate in the polls and cast their votes," Al-Tallawy told Al-Ahram newspaper 30 October, adding that statistics show that women accounted for 30 per cent of the turnout in the first stage.

The Egyptian Centre for Women's Rights (ECWR), an independent NGO, reported that 308 women had registered as candidates in Egypt's two-stage parliamentary elections, with 110 in the first stage covering 14 governorates and 198 in the second stage covering 13 governorates.

The figure 32 includes 27 winning seats as party-based candidates in the first round, held 17-19 October, and five winning seats as independent candidates in the run-off round, held between 27-29 October," ECWR announced 30 October.

ECWR said the 27 women winning seats in the first round were members of the electoral coalition entitled "For the Love of Egypt," while three of the five who emerged victorious in the run-off round were independents, with two affiliated with two political parties — the Arab Nasserist Party and the right-of-centre Conference Party.

ECWR also indicated that out of the first round's 27 female winners on the "For the Love of Egypt" list, 20 won in the 45-seat North, Middle and South Upper Egypt constituency, while seven won in the 15-seat Nile West Delta constituency.

Five of the women who won as party list candidates were Coptic. Foremost among them are Suzy Adli Nashed, a professor of public economics at Alexandria's Faculty of Law and a former MP appointee in Egypt's abolished Shura Council; Elizabeth Abdel-Messih, director of the Healthcare Department affiliated with Upper Egypt's Assuit Health Directorate; and Mervat Michel, a reporter at an Upper Egypt radio station in Beni Suef governorate.

Topping the list of female winners are Nasserist journalist Nashwa Al-Deeb (Giza), businesswoman Sahar Talaat Mostafa (Alexandria), Amna Noseir, a professor at Al-Azhar University, and Olfat Kamel, a political activist with the Modern Egypt Party.

Tallawy said that though 32 is a record figure, it is still short of the required quota. "Anyway, we expect this figure to increase in the second stage as 198 female candidates will be running in 13 governorates," said Tallawy.

The Egyptian 1956 Constitution gave Egyptian women the right to vote and run for parliament for the first time. In 1957's parliamentary elections, two women — Rawya Atteya and Amina Shukry — were elected, becoming the first female parliamentarians in the Arab world.

Al-Ahram Centre for Strategic and Political Studies (ACPSS), however, indicated that women's representation in Egyptian parliaments in the second half of the 20th century was always low, ranging between 10 and 12 women (or two per cent or 2.5 per cent of the total).

"In 2010, a quota of 64 seats (or 12.7 per cent) was reserved to women, but this quota was quickly abolished after former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak was forced out of power and parliament dissolved in February 2011," said the ACPSS study.

In the last parliamentary elections, held in 2011 and dominated by Islamists, 11 women only (2.2 per cent) were elected, and with most of them as candidates on party lists.

"This big drop was largely due to the fact that Islamist parties refused to place a lot of women candidates on their lists," said the ACPSS study.

In 2005-2010's parliament, women accounted for just two per cent of the total seats, or 2.4 per cent.”

Tallawy and ECWR expect that women will clinch no less than 70 seats (or around 14 per cent) in Egypt's coming parliament. "This will be an unprecedented figure and will be a big push for women's participation in politics in Egypt," said Tallawy.

Tallawy believes that the 2014 constitution, which mandates that political parties place a certain number of women on their lists of candidates, helped a lot in boosting the number of successful women in the polls.

"Moreover," added Tallawy, "the [semi-governmental] National Council for Women played a big role in encouraging women to run in terms of raising their awareness of political participation and encouraging women in cities and the countryside to turn out by the millions to largely vote for female candidates."

Equally significant is the election of a record number of 16 Egyptian Copts in the first stage of Egypt's parliamentary elections.

Political analysts agree that the adoption of the party list system, which obligates political parties to include Copts on their lists of candidates, will guarantee that 24 Copts win seats in the two-stage polls. But they also agree that some other Coptic candidates running as independents in the second stage could boost the total figure of elected Copts to an unprecedented 30 seats.

Statistics of ACPSS show that out of around 50 Copts who contested the first stage of parliamentary polls, as many as 16 have won seats.

"As many as 12 Copts won as candidates on the "For the Love of Egypt" coalition in the first round, but also four have won as independents in the run-off round," said the Higher Elections Committee.

It is the first time in 70 years that four Copts manage to win seats as independents. In the pre-1952 revolution era, some high-profile Coptic figures were able to win seats as candidates fielded by Egypt's then mainstream political party, Al-Wafd. Among these was Fikri Makram Ebeid, an influential politician and parliamentarian during the 1930s and 1940s.

Like women, the representation of Copts in Egyptian parliaments since 1956 has been generally low, with Egyptian presidents leaning to use their presidential appointment quota to appoint more high profile Coptic figures to parliament.

ACPSS studies show that Youssef Boutros Ghali, a former finance minister who was close to former president Hosni Mubarak's son and heir apparent, Gamal, was the only elected Copt in the 2005-2010 parliament. "But this was largely due to his influential position as a minister and Mubarak protégé, rather than to popularity," said ACPSS. Ghali, the nephew of former UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros Ghali, won the seat of Shura, a north Cairo district largely populated by Copts. Ghali fled Egypt for London after the Mubarak family was forced from power in 2011.

ACPSS studies also show that the representation of Copts has been generally low since 2000. "They were seven (1.5 per cent) in 2000, six (1.4 per cent) in 2005, 10 (two per cent) in 2010, and 11 (2.2 per cent) in 2011," said ACPSS.

The four Copts who won seats as independents come mainly from Upper Egypt governorates where Copts form a large part of the population. Two of these candidates were fielded by the revolutionary Egyptian Social Democratic Party and the liberal Free Egyptians Party. They are Ihab Mansour from Giza governorate's constituency of Omraneya, and Sherif Al-Nady from Al-Minya governorate's Malawy constituency. The other two are independents: former police major general Tadros Qaldus from Assuit constituency, and another police major general, Sobhi Soliman, from Sohag constituency.

Al-Nady told reporters that he is proud that he was able to get the confidence of Coptic and Muslim voters in his constituency. Al-Nady, however, said that the Free Egyptians Party, founded by Coptic business tycoon Naguib Sawiris, played a great role in helping Copts top the lists of its candidates, providing them with good funding to ensure they compete well.

The Free Egyptians Party came first in terms of political parties gaining seats in the first stage of Egypt's parliamentary elections, with 41 seats in total.

For its part, the Egyptian Orthodox Church strongly denied that it had any role in helping Copts gain seats in parliament, or even in recommending political parties nominate them.

Yusri Al-Azabawy, an ACPSS analyst said in a television interview that the fact that 16 Copts emerged victorious from the first stage of parliamentary elections is good progress and a positive step.

"If this number increased to 30 seats, it would be a record and unprecedented, and it will highly encourage Copts to more actively participate in political life," said Al-Azabawy, adding that,

"The rise in the influence of Islamist movements in political life in Egypt in the last 15 years has been largely disappointing to Copts, pushing them not to run in elections or even participate in the ballots."

Al-Azabawy believes that the party list system, although constituting 120 seats only, or 32 per cent, has shown in early stages that it helped many political parties and formerly marginalised sectors, like women, Copts and young people, to be represented in parliament. 

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