Political participation for Egyptians

Emad Gad , Wednesday 27 Apr 2011

The more Egyptians go to the polls the less seats will go to religious forces in the next parliament

After the January 25 Revolution succeeded in achieving its goal of overthrowing the regime and started prosecutions against its prominent figures, old political forces began moving to strengthen their presence on the street. The regime’s formula of deciding the results before the game begins no longer stands.

Other forces also began to move in the public arena, such as religious groups seeking to increase their share of the new political scene after the revolution. Among these forces are those who were superficially and legally banned but who were present, and allowed a share by the regime. Competition usually revolved around invoking religious slogans and maintaining the same quota from one election to the next.

Meanwhile, there are other forces that reached an understanding with the former regime in role-playing and division of labour, namely the Salafis and Wahhabis.

These are the forces that adopted the principle of “it is prohibited to contradict the ruler” and ignored the regime according to a deal with State Security.

They could preach around the country but were prohibited from discussing politics and followed the orders of State Security, in terms of launching sectarian protests, displaying force or making specific demands that were part of State Security’s plan of managing the sectarian issue in Egypt.

Finally, there is a new force that was born from the womb of the 25 January Revolution, which for 18 days lived a spectacular patriotic condition in Tahrir Square. They lived together and worshipped together, using only patriotic slogans and raising the united banner of the Egyptian flag. They are mostly a civic force from across the political spectrum.

Civic forces were dealt several blows by Islamic fundamentalists.

First, when the Muslim Brotherhood rushed to enter into dialogue with former Vice President Omar Suleiman and accepted a compromise to end the revolution.

Second, attempts to paint the revolution in religious tones towards the end by raising religious slogans and a physical presence in the centre of Tahrir Square, as well as using days of mass gathering to impose a religious image on a civic revolution.

Another blow was using a condescending tone towards civic forces when discussing voluntary “concessions by the Brotherhood” of their share to other forces, based on the principle of cooperation not domination. Also, that the Brotherhood will not nominate a presidential candidate, and talking about the group’s share of parliamentary seats as if it were within their control: if they wanted, they could win a sweeping majority, or if they pleased they could leave some seats for others forces to have parliamentary representation.

The referendum on constitutional amendments was a rehearsal for upcoming parliamentary elections.

The Muslim Brotherhood intensified religious slogans and made the referendum a matter of religion. They manipulated the people’s ignorance and purported that approving the amendments was virtuous and would please God, and anyone who rejected the amendments was evil.

They used mosques, allied themselves with the Salafis, divided labour, and assigned roles. This was augmented by Christian clerics who proposed that voting “No” was a religious duty to prevent the creation of an Islamic state —even though the amendments changed eight articles that had nothing to do with religion or Sharia law. The fundamentalists propagated that a “Yes” vote is for Sharia and Article 2 of the constitution.

Despite intense campaigns that manipulated religion, 18 million Egyptians went to the polls, representing only 40 per cent of eligible voters. This percentage is very telling, most prominently that the majority of Egyptians did not vote despite heavily religious overtones set before the referendum.

Also, that nearly 78 per cent who voted yes included many sectors of society, most prominently those who believe that approving amendments would mean a return to normal life. At the same time, there was vote rigging during the referendum, and some Salafis blocked groups of voters who do not support them from casting their vote.

Nonetheless, the greatest challenge to liberal and leftist civic forces is to target those who never voted in previous elections or the referendum, and they are the majority. It is certain that the supporters of Islamic groups usually come out in full force, reaching an estimated 90 per cent.

This means that anyone who did not participate in the elections, and especially during the recent referendum, does not support the religious groups. They are neither supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, Salafis or fundamentalists, and can easily be persuaded to join the ranks of civic forces on the right, left and everything in between.

Accordingly, the paramount task for civic forces is to mobilise this large bloc and push them, or the majority of them, to participate in politics in general and especially to vote in elections.

The more members of this bloc participate, the less the share of religious and fundamentalist forces will be in the next parliament.

This is the biggest challenge in the next parliamentary elections, for civic forces that are unanimous on creating a modern civic state based on civic principles, and that the people are the source of power and sovereign. They must target the silent majority in Egypt, and the millions of Egyptians outside, who will for the first time have the right to vote in order to increase the number of voters in Egyptian elections.

Simply put, the more Egyptians go to the polls the less seats will go to religious forces in the next parliament. This is the ultimate test for civic forces that must find a variety of approaches to increase the number of Egyptians participating in politics, as well as raising the number of voters at the polls in the next election.


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