Egyptian voters head to the polls tomorrow to cast their ballots in what is expected to be the fiercest battle over electing a new People’s Assembly — Egypt’s lower house of parliament — in the country’s modern history. The number of candidates hit an unprecedented 5,120, up from 4,243 in 2005 and 4,250 in the 2000 election. The candidates will be competing for 508 parliamentary sears, 64 of them reserved for women.
Upon the orders of the Higher Elections Commission (HEC), the semi judicial body in charge of supervising the polls, the two-week election campaigns were brought to an end late Friday. Although fierce, the campaigns were relatively peaceful in a country with a history of violence around polls, claiming the lives of two citizens.
As most political analysts, and even ordinary citizens, agree, two formidable rivals will dominate the 2010 election battle scene tomorrow: the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) and the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood movement.
The ruling NDP has mobilised to win the majority of seats, thus retaining its grip on political and parliamentary life in Egypt for the next five years and maintaining its upper hand in selecting the candidate for the presidency in next year’s election.
For senior NDP leaders, especially Gamal Mubarak, the 47-year-old son of NDP Chairman President Hosni Mubarak and the head of the party’s influential Policies Committee, the 2010 election for the People’s Assembly is the first serious test for his reformist initiatives adopted since 2005. Many also believe that the election is a test for Gamal Mubarak’s popularity on the street, and for his presumed presidential ambitions in the future.
According to NDP’s Secretariat for Organisational Affairs, led by Ahmed Ezz, a steel magnate and associate of Gamal Mubarak, the ruling party has put together a three-pronged strategy aimed at utilising its two million-member voting bloc and winning no less than one third of the total seats in contest in the first round. More than 200,000 NDP officials all over Egypt will be available to make sure that the party’s members vote for its candidates. Besides, the NDP's central operations rooms in Cairo and other governorates will contact members by phone and SMS messages to instruct them to go out and vote for the party’s candidates.
The party is also fielding multiple candidates in 125 of Egypt’s 222 districts, each of which returns two deputies. Two NDP candidates will compete against each other in 41 districts, and more than two in 84 districts. In total, the NDP is fielding 839 candidates, rather than the 508 it initially announced. This includes 770 candidates competing for 444 seats in 222 districts, and 69 female candidates competing for 64 women-only seats in 32 districts. Meanwhile, more than 2,500 candidates are in fact NDP members who have decided to run independently. Senior NDP officials believe that the party’s large number of candidates — either official NDP candidates or so-called NDP-independents — will ensure that it retains the majority of seats and brings a new parliament clean of Muslim Brotherhood deputies.
For its part, the NDP’s archrival, the banned Muslim Brotherhood, does not appear intimidated. Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie told Aljazeera on 24 November that the group has developed its own strategy for countering the NDP’s electoral tactics. “Our voting bloc will be also mobilised via the internet and SMS messages,” said Badie, estimating that “more than 500,000 mobile phone messages will be sent to the group’s members tomorrow morning to go out and vote.” The SMS message will tell Brotherhood members “Together we will change”, “You should vote because it is a religious duty” and “Your vote is a trust you shouldn’t waste.”
As was the case in previous elections, the Brotherhood’s women members — or "sisters" — will be also amassed to urge members to vote for the group’s women candidates. In Badie’s words, “I do not expect that we will win a large number of seats, but we are determined that the people should vote for the candidates they wish and that Muslim Brothers are ready to sacrifice their lives to ensure that the voting is fair and free.” The Brotherhood is fielding 130 candidates, including 17 women candidates. Political observers, however, believe that like the NDP, there are other Brotherhood candidates running without declaring their ties to the group. Amr Hashem Rabie, an Ahram political analyst, estimates that 180 Brotherhood candidates are running in the election in total.
The two-week election campaigns witnessed the NDP and Brotherhood engaged in legal and political warfare. The NDP asked the HEC to bring Brotherhood supporters who raise the slogan “Islam is the Solution” under judicial investigation. The NDP also filed a lawsuit with the prosecutor-general, asking him to begin interrogating “all those who run as candidates of a banned group in violation of the amended Article 5 of the constitution, which imposes a ban on those who exercise politics under a religious foundation.” Mohamed Dakrori, the NDP’s legal adviser, also indicated that Article 22 of the 1977 Political Parties Law states that those who mix politics and religion should be censured.
In response, hundreds of Brotherhood candidates were able to get rulings from administrative courts stating that they should be allowed to run. Administrative courts even ordered that elections in two governorates — Alexandria and Kafr El-Sheikh — should be postponed until rulings allowing Brotherhood and other candidates to run are implemented.
Cairo University professor of political science Hassan Nafaa believes the result of the election is a foregone conclusion. “As expected,” argued Nafaa, “the election will be manipulated in favour of the NDP and I do not think that the next parliament will be different in any way from previous ones.” Others, like chairman of the NDP Media Committee and Cairo University professor of political science Alieddin Hilal, contend that “the coming election will see tough competition and it will lead to a strengthening of Egypt’s multi-party system.” Above all, Hilal added, it will offer new proof that those who believe that the Muslim Brotherhood is the largest opposition force in Egypt are wrong.
Alexandria is expected to be the stage of the fiercest battles between the NDP and Muslim Brotherhood candidates. Violence is expected to erupt in the district of Al-Raml where Minister of Local Development Abdel-Sallam Al-Mahgoub, the NDP candidate, will be fighting the Brotherhood’s veteran MP and candidate Sobhi Saleh.