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New phenomena in Egypt’s elections

The current parliamentary elections is an occasion to examine the many changes Egypt has undergone since its last one in 2005.

Abdel-Moneim Said , Sunday 5 Dec 2010

Societies, like the individuals that comprise them, follow steady paths towards maturity by way of turning vision into reality and bringing goals to fruition. We experience such progress both by realizing our individual aspirations and by witnessing those of others around us. Crucial to advancement on a societal level are those individuals capable of bringing about progress and guiding it in its intended direction.

The current parliamentary elections in Egypt are part and parcel of such a process; the first chapter of the elections unfolded last Sunday, another is yet to follow. As we watch these developments unfold, it behooves us to examine the many changes Egypt has undergone since its last parliamentary elections in 2005.

In the short span of five years, the country has developed at a phenomenal pace. It achieved extraordinary growth rates of an average of 6%—the likes of which have not been seen since national rates briefly soared in the seventies.

This time, however, the achievement is not exclusively connected to the open door policy or infitah, but also to more recent economic and social restructuring. Taxes and customs provided the means to overhaul the nation’s export industry and expand construction in an unprecedented manner.

While it took decades for residential and manufacturing areas such as Cairo’s Nasr City  to be established, in a mere five years places such as Sharm el-Sheikh, Hurghada, 6th of October and others saw breathtaking development. Over the past decade, twenty-three cities were established that now house some 4 million Egyptians, constituting a demographic and geographic shift the likes of which the country has not seen since establishment of the Suez Canal region. Investment groups have contributed to the significant growth of the middle class, and large numbers of private universities have been founded. Whereas in the past Egyptians were forced to rely on news from foreign media outlets, today they can count on trusted local sources, most of which play a vital role in the nation’s political process now that foreign media predominance has been curbed.  Never before has the country had more than twenty newspapers and more than fifty television channels—sixty percent of which privately owned. Opinions can now be expressed in the media outlet of one’s choice, including the internet, now accessed by some 20 million Egyptians.

As prevailing electoral conditions during eras of the monarchy or republic are a thing of the past, it now remains for the National Democratic Party to renew itself ideologically and organizationally in order to become a model dynamic party representing the nation’s citizens and the diverse political opinions they hold. All this was critical in the selection of candidates who participated in the elections. Also critical was the handing over of election supervision to the High Committee, as well as fair time allotted by the state media to political contesters. A new system was also launched to serve as a platform for prominent parties to debate key social and economic issues facing the country.

With this in mind, it is not surprising that representatives of the National Democratic Party from several districts petitioned the Attorney General to investigate actions of Muslim Brotherhood, an illegal party under Egyptian law, which had undertaken political activity and competed in the elections in blatant violation of constitution and law.  Failing to address the matter would have undermined the foundations of constitutional legitimacy. 

While the Constitution protects citizens’ right to form political parties and engage in political activity without fear of discrimination, it also prohibits the establishment of parties that are military in character or hostile to the state.

In an appearance he made on Al-Jazeera prior to elections, Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammad Badie baselessly accused the government of fraud and claimed that it was unfit to participate in the elections.  

Such blatant slander, all the more dangerous when originating from illegitimate sources, cannot be tolerated in a society where rule of law prevails. While nearly every political contestant in the current elections acted within the framework of Egypt’s constitutional law, the Muslim Brotherhood alone sought to manipulate the freedom of political expression and assembly Egyptians are afforded under the nation’s Constitution in order to further their unlawful objective of altering the national character.

Only time will tell whether or not the Muslim Brotherhood will undergo a profound internal transformation and join the ranks of the civil state. Or perhaps, it will choose the path it has taken for the past eighty years—one of failure to realize its goal of putting an end to the modern Egyptian nation as it is, and transforming it into the likes of Iran and Afghanistan.

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© 2010 Ahram Online.