Egyptians are preparing to go to the polls in the second parliamentary elections since dictator Hosni Mubarak was toppled in a 2011 revolution. But with President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi firmly in control, there is little excitement about elections many expect to result in a fractured but loyalist parliament.
Cairo (dpa) – The bulldozers are hard at work beside the Nile.
The Cairo headquarters of Egypt’s former ruling party, torched during the 2011 uprising against Hosny Mubarak, is being demolished just as the country prepares for its second parliamentary elections since the dictator was toppled.
The 14-storey burned-out hulk, a constant reminder of the revolt over the past four years, has been levelled halfway to the ground.
But Egypt now has a new strongman.
Former army chief Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi ousted the country’s first elected president, Islamist Mohammed Morsi, amid mass demonstrations two years ago.
Last year he himself was elected president with over 96 per cent of the vote.
Since then, he has been ruling by decree – an Islamist-dominated parliament elected in 2011-12 was dissolved after a 2012 court ruling.
But many suspect that the coming parliament will be no more inclined to challenge the ruler than past assemblies dominated by Mubarak’s National Democratic Party.
The multi-phase polls, which start Sunday, have aroused scant enthusiasm. In cafes and on the streets, there is little sign of the lively political discussions that marked the first elections after Mubarak’s fall.
That, of course, may also be due to the revival of the feared National Security service – these days, many are wary of talking about politics in public.
Analysts and political parties complain that newly revised electoral laws sideline the country’s already weak parties. Only 120 of assembly’s 596 seats will go to party lists, in four sprawling winner-takes-all constituencies.
Three quarters of the parliament will be elected in one- to four-member local constituencies, where analysts say well-funded independents and influential local families are likely to dominate.
Al-Sissi, as president, has the right to appoint another 28 lawmakers.
“As a result there will be no [party] control over political tendencies, so it will be easier for the government to control parliament,” says analyst Yasser Kassab of the Regional Centre for Parliamentary Studies
H.A. Hellyer, an Egypt expert at the Brookings Centre for Middle East Policy, concurs.
“I doubt that any parliament under these conditions is going to deliver a parliament that will be deeply problematic for al-Sissi, with the exception of possibly one file – the economy,” he says.
“Big business interests are likely to be heavily represented in parliament,” Hellyer says. “The revised electoral system has led to that – it won’t be primarily about parties and party political platforms in this election, but down to the funds of people who are running. “
In the four party list constituencies, there is already a clear favourite: the For Love of Egypt list, headed by former Military Intelligence general Sameh Seif al-Yazal.
The liberal Wafd and Free Egyptian parties as well as the NDP-linked Conservatives and a host of independent candidates are among those running under its banner.
Al-Yazal objects to suggestions that his alliance is backed by the authorities, saying such claims are sour grapes from weaker parties.
For Love of Egypt “will not be the nucleus of a parliament subservient to the president as was the case in the past,” he insists. “The people will not accept that.”
With Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood – which came first in the 2011 elections – banned, the only Islamist contender is the hardline Salafist Nour Party, which backed the ouster of Morsi in 2013.
Smaller Islamist parties which remain legal are boycotting the polls.
Nour is seen as For Love of Egypt’s main rival for the party list seats.
All the same, conscious that the tide in Egypt is running against Islamists, it has withdrawn from two of the four list constituencies.
Nour’s leader Younus Makhyoun tells dpa his party has deliberately limited the number of candidates it is running “so as to reassure everyone that we don’t want a monopoly.”
There have been complaints about the electoral system and allegations that the security services have interfered in the selection of candidates, but few expect blatant fraud at the polls.
“It won’t be like Mubarak’s time – changing ballot boxes and adding ballot papers and so on,” says Mohammed Abu al-Ghar, leader of the centre-left Egyptian Social Democratic Party. “But there is pressure, pushing certain candidates, for example.”
But Abu al-Ghar is unapologetic about his party’s decision to take part – it is running 77 candidates.
“A bad parliament is better than no parliament,” he says. “Even one candidate can bring pressure to bear, via the media, on the government and the president.”
Amid the general lack of excitement over the vote, Abu al-Ghar says turn-out is likely to be low, especially among the young.
On that, even the optimistic al-Yazal agrees: no more than 25 per cent of registered voters will head to the polls, he predicts.