The Day After: Election and Its Discontents

Egyptians Vote

In the first free election in decades, Egyptians stood in lines for hours to practice their newly found democratic duty. The (preliminary) outcomes show a landslide victory for the Islamists in the first round of parliamentary elections. What does that mean?

The Salafi Al-Noor Party is the biggest winner in this election, with 15-25% of the electorate (depending on the remaining rounds). Their performance is a big surprise, especially as they captured more of the Islamic vote that was expected to go toward the MB. The question is how will Al-Noor Party perform in the new parliament? They are politically inexperienced puritans, and are more likely to make more noise than actual action, especially in the first months. The big question is their relationship with the MB: allies or competitors? As allies, they would control the parliament and take the country in an ultra-conservative direction. As competitors, Al-Noor Party may be the marginalized extreme right that is more noise than power, with the MB shifting towards the center right. Knowing the MB’s pragmatic posture, the later is a more likely scenario. Either way, they are likely to influence or even shape the discourse within the Parliament and shift it to the far right by raising popular controversial issues to score points with their constituencies, and potentially overbid the MB.

The Ikhwan Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) achieved an historical victory; however, they do not have a plurality. Competing with both the right (with Al-Noor Party) and the center/left (with the liberal parties), they are primarily depending on their grass-root campaign and organizational abilities on the ground, rather than their ideological and religious discourse, which they no longer monopolize. FJP will probably shift to the center right, with the Salafi Al-Noor Party playing the extreme right role. Some analysts are expecting the FJP to try to overbid for the Islamist credential and possibly take a more conservative line. However, I would expect them to shift to the center right and possibly join a broad-based coalition, which may include other liberal parties. Al-Wafd is the likely candidate, but has not won enough seats, so the main question is whether they would reach out to Al-Kotla Al-Masreyya?

On the liberal side, Al-Kotla Al-Masreyya has emerged as the primary liberal party. Consequently, the liberal (and independent) vote is likely to consolidate behind Al-Kotla in the remaining rounds, raising their share of the final outcome. The biggest loser will be Al-Wafd Party (and other smaller/independent parties).

Another big surprise is the modest performance for the ex-NDP members (the so-called Al-Folool). Their performance was miserable, and shows how Egyptians have already moved away from the remnants of the previous regime, without the need for a purge or legal action. This is likely to give the revolutionaries (as well as the Islamists) more confidence that the influence of the previous regime and Al-Folool is fading away, and may accelerate the process of moving forward towards a new regime.

Overall, the new Parliament is likely to be, roughly, 20% Salafis, 40% Ikhwan FJP and 40% Liberals. Depending on which way the FJP will go for a governing coalition, the future of Egypt will swing. I would expect them to move to the center right and aim for a broad-based coalition. It remains to be seen if they would be able to forge such a coalition, and under what terms.

*             *             *

 There are other consequences of these results on the structure of Egypt’s second republic:

Keeping the Presidential System: The army is more likely to maintain the Presidential system, with some minor limitations on the Presidential terms and powers. They will not risk introducing a parliamentary system with a parliament dominated by Islamists. The new president will be the arbiter and buffer between the Islamists, Army, and Liberals – a tough role that requires a seasoned diplomat. The army will maintain the presidential position as a hostage until the full results are out, and the political landscape of coalitions and consolidations is clear. This maybe their last resort to maintain their control over the country, if needed (by promoting a military president).

Strange Bed Fellows: The results also indicate that the country is unlikely to vote for a polarizing presidential candidate. Liberal candidates (like Amr Moussa or El-Baradei) or Islamist candidates (Aboul Fottouh,  Al-Awwa, or Abou Ismail) are unlikely to gain a plurality on their own. This would open the door for mixed tickets that include a liberal and an Islamist, thus providing a broader appeal. Politics make for strange bedfellows!

Two possible coalitions that may emerge are El-Baradei + Aboul Fottouh ticket, representing progressive revolutionary fronts, vs. Amr Moussa + Al-Awwa ticket, representing conservative traditional fronts. These would be indeed strange bedfellows, but it would make for an extremely interesting race!

There is also a competing theory that Al-Ikhwan may actually push their own candidate, who is likely to be Khairat Al-Shatter. I doubt that they would do so for several reasons. First, this candidate would be competing with three other strong Islamist candidates in a very tough race. Second, it is not clear if the MB want to assume full responsibility for such a challenging political and economic time, but rather be part of a broader governing coalition. Third, the army is likely to put a lot of pressure on the Ikhwan to let go of the Presidential position (at least at this round) to make sure that they have a good international cover, as they grow their domestic role.

The other possible black-horse is Hazem Salah Abou Ismail, the salafi candidate. Over the past months Abou Ismail has impressed many by his candor, strong opinions, and aggressive presence on the ground. He has gained a lot of popularity, even among voters who are unlikely to vote for a Salafi candidate. Whether this popularity will translate into actual votes remains to be seen.

Pick Your Path: Turkey? Pakistan? Algeria? Iran?

In periods of transition, people look for role models to guide their way.of course, whatever happens in Egypt will be an “Egyptian model”; however, we have seen the experiences of neighboring countries that went through similar experiences that we can learn from.

At the first days of the revolution, many Egyptians were hoping for Egypt to follow a Turkish model of a secular democracy that can absorb the Islamist and traditional powers into a strong prosperous modern state. This hope seems to be fading away now that the political process is upside down (elections first rather than constitution first) with no clear road map (compared to Tunis, which is confidently moving in this path).

So the next question is whether we will follow the Pakistani, Algerian or Iranian role models? Pakistan is controlled by the military and security apparatus, and alternating between direct military rule and unstable civilian democracy. The result is a state that is preoccupied with security and internal balance of power, rather than development and state-building. Algeria represents a moment where the military decided to intervene with power to prevent the Islamists from ascending power. The result was a decade of civil war with hundreds of thousands of their citizens killed. Iran is the case where the Islamists managed to highjack the state and turn it into a theocracy. They defined the rules of the game (electoral process) in a way that guarantee their power and survival, while creating a limited electoral process that tries to keep people from the street.

So far, the Pakistani scenario seems to be the most likely, with a deal between the army and the MB to ensure a peaceful co-existence. The question is whether the MB will try to extend its reign after they govern and consolidate power, or whether the army will attempt to regain control of the regime – that remains to be seen.

Amin Elmasry. 1 December 2011.

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One Response to The Day After: Election and Its Discontents

  1. Assef Khoweiled says:

    I would like to thank you for the round about. I do have a different opinion about Salfist role. They never played politics at least on the open political theater of Egypt. Muslim brothers”M.B.”, liberals did it. The former sustained heavy penalties ever since the coup of 1952 while the latter were not a real threat for the ruling regime. The M.B. sustained both corporal and financial damages but despite this, they were very well organised both in and out of Egypt. The salafist kept a very low profile and up to the resignation of Mubarek they were preaching “upraising against regime” is a sin. I witnessed their direct relation with “the security police” and strong ties acting as infiltrators in Islamic anti governement groups…! There sudden and unpredictable swing followed the fast crumbling of the regime with parties formation where one of them is led by a previous police’s general. Their presence on the electoral scene dispersed the islamists votters into two factions allowing more room for liberals who united behind one front giving them a golden opportunity to have a bite of the electoral cake. They will continue to play that role and it’s better for M.B. to unite with the Liberals in a coalition governement, rather than to join with a treacherous faction…!

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