By Salma Khamis
In the seventh election since 2011’s popular uprising, over 54 million registered Egyptian voters are scheduled to head to the polls between March and April of this year to vote for their legislative body. On first glance, it may appear that Egypt’s upcoming parliamentary elections represent the next logical step on the country’s precarious road towards democracy. However, several observers of the developments unfolding on the Egyptian political stage since President Abdelfattah al-Sisi’s inauguration in June 2014 are much more skeptical of the country’s presumed democratization. With news surfacing about the advent of pro-Mubarak, counterrevolutionary, candidate participation in the upcoming elections, coupled with the boycott or banning of several leftist, revolutionary, and Islamist parties, it is becoming increasingly difficult to legitimize this electoral process.
A new electoral law ratified by President Sisi in June 2014, with little to no public participation or consultation, designates 420 of the 567 seats in parliament to independent candidates and 120 to party lists. The President personally appoints 27 deputies to fill the remaining seats. Under the pre-existing electoral law, which governed the 2012 parliamentary elections, there was to be 332 seats dedicated to party lists and 166 reserved for individual candidates. It seems likely that we will witness this subversion of the ratio between party lists and individual candidates translate into the election of several Mubarak-era deputies who, otherwise, would not have been able to harness the political support needed to form a successful party list.
The new law does, however, provide particular quotas for traditionally marginalized members of Egyptian society: 56 women, 24 Coptic Christians, 16 youth, and 8 members with disabilities. Nevertheless, it has been disheartening to note that, four years after the 2011 uprising, little has been done to enshrine sexual and religious equality within Egypt’s legislative body. Sisi’s electoral law guarantees less than 10% of parliament to female deputies and a shocking 4% to Coptic Christians, both of whom make up a significantly larger portion of society.
The announced boycott of several revolutionary and leftist parties further calls this election’s legitimacy into question. Founded by Nobel peace prize laureate Mohamed el-Baradei, the liberal al-Dostor party recently announced its intention to boycott the elections, citing an oppressive and unfavorable political climate. Similar justifications were provided by the Popular Current and Strong Egypt parties, both of whom played prominent roles in the 2011 uprising. On the leftist front, the recent brutal murder of unarmed socialist activist Shaima al-Sabbagh by police forces in January has prompted both the Socialist Popular Alliance and the Revolutionary Socialists to also declare their intentions to boycott. With the ban imposed on the Muslim Brotherhood since 2013, and any political party formed on religious premises, the range of parties across the Egyptian political spectrum who are allowed, willing, and able to partake in this electoral process has dwindled, to say the least.
So, who is actually running? Mubarak-era prime minister Kamal al-Ganzouri’s national list is expected to win the largest number of seats. The list includes a number of civilian parties and public figures that are united in little else but their commitment to maintain the status quo currently governing Egyptian politics. Unsurprisingly, the list is spearheaded by former members of Mubarak’s National Democratic Party (NDP) but also includes a host of post-revolutionary liberal parties such as Naguib Sawiris’ Free Egyptians Party. A phenomenon similarly observed in Egyptian media and throughout public political discourse, it seems that the fermentation of Sisi’s expansive cult of personality, perfectly complemented by the strengthening of his oppressive security apparatus, has succeeded in forcing factions of the opposition to pursue apathetic or, worse, actively counterrevolutionary tactics.
Adding insult to injury, the European Union announced that it would not be sending a full mission to monitor the upcoming election, as it has done in the past. This was followed by a scathing statement, criticizing the Egyptian authorities for their recent human rights infractions. The statement mentioned in particular the recent issuing of several mass death sentences for members of the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as the criminalization of LGBT people, amongst other developments that have strayed the country away from its post-revolutionary democratic path. This comes after the Carter Center, led by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, announced ceasing all of its activity in Egypt as well as having no intention to monitor the upcoming elections. As such, not only do we see a lack of legitimacy stemming from the candidates running in this election, but also from the procedural process itself, the validity of which can no longer be guaranteed in a country fraught with a legacy of electoral corruption.
It is important to note the pertinence of these upcoming elections within the current overriding global geopolitical landscape. As signs of Sisi’s shifting allegiance to Russia became increasingly apparent with Putin’s recent visit to Egypt and the initiation of an Egyptian military campaign against ISIS in Libya without American consultation, this new parliament is going to be instrumental in defining Egypt’s new position within the regional and global balance of power. Unfortunately, however, it seems that the incoming deputies will do little else but commend the steps taken by Sisi thus far and advocate for their continuation.
Does all of this mean the end of the prospect of Egyptian democracy? Not in the slightest. As has already occurred with the judicial and security institutions, the declining legitimacy afforded to the legislative institution in Egypt only signalizes one more facet of Egyptian politics that can no longer be utilized by revolutionary activists in their attempts at instilling more democratic values throughout Egyptian society.
If for nothing else, the 2011 uprising was successful in finally germinating the beginnings of an effective, mobilized, civil society. Members of the non-governmental organizations, parties, and human rights monitors that make up this civil society now have to face an increasingly oppressive political climate star-studded with a growing number of corrupt institutions. Having already overcome a number of obstacles presented in the past four years simply by continuing to exist and voicing their opinions, despite the heightened risks that now poses, one can only but take solace in the hope that, somehow, they will manage to tap into sufficient public discontent to mobilize a coordinated and effective expression of their rejection of the current state of affairs in Egypt. This tentative optimism stems not from any observable signs of hopeful change in Egypt, but rather in the conviction that the prevailing status quo (definitively worse than that which existed pre-2011) can not continue to exist for much longer.