Egypt: the road to elections

In recent weeks there has been much speculation about the willingness of Egypt’s ‘caretaker government,’ the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), to hand over power to an elected assembly. (I don’t think ‘caretaker government’ is the right terminology to describe the ruling military council, because it can hardly be argued that SCAF is governing, let alone taking care of Egypt.) On Friday, thousands of protesters demanded the removal from power of the Supreme Council and its leader, Field Marshal Tantawi. The demonstrations continued over night, and totally escalated yesterday. Resulting in at least two deaths and 750 injured.

The main focus of the demonstration was the Constitutional Principles Document. After the 25 January revolution, liberal groups wanted to have a safeguard against Islamist groups, so they pushed for a civil rights charter, enshrined in the constitution. When this proved impossible, different political parties agreed to a compromise; a document was to be drafted showing the commitment to a set of principles to be incorporated in the constitution. Deputy Prime Minister Ali Selmi, also deputy head of Al Wafd Party coordinated the process.

SCAF more or less hijacked the document and added some articles ascribing more power to the military as a ‘guardian of the revolution,’ on which Egyptian writer Bassem Sabry has elaborated on his blog. The military also suggested the document would be a binding Constitutional Declaration, which would hardly be amendable. Islamists vehemently opposed this move, and finally took to the streets on Friday, joined by liberal groups like the Revolutionary Youth Coalition and the 6 April Movement.

These recent developments show, besides the power of Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, the army’s intention to remain in power, whether it is in the ‘front seat’ or behind the scenes. It is unfortunately not the only sign of SCAF’s lack of democratic intentions.

Another worrying sign is the decision of the Supreme Council to ban independent election monitors from the European Union or other organizations because it is a violation of Egypt’s sovereignty. It is true that the Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs granted the Carter Center for Human Rights permission to ‘witness’ the elections. But as Jimmy Carter states in an interview with Reuters: ‘That’s a distance from observing.’ The other observer of the elections is the Supreme Commission for the Elections, a cover for the corrupt Ministry of Interior. An Egyptian human rights organization found out that the Commission enjoys no authority whatsoever to oversee the elections.

And even if the army is willing to hand over power to a civilian government formed by a newly elected parliament, this government will mostly consist of Islamist parties like the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi parties. As this highly recommendable piece by journalist Evan Hill explains, liberals don’t stand a chance against well organized powers like the Muslim Brotherhood and the folool – Arabic for remnants – parties, founded by members of the former ruling party.

However, there will still be elections next week. The Egyptian Cabinet today confirmed that the elections will continue as planned, though the Supreme Council has not responded to latest events yet. So here is some information on the electoral process and the competing parties.

First, the numbers: over 50 million eligible voters, 6000 candidates, 454 seats, 444 districts and more than 50 parties. These are the numbers of the coming elections for Egypt’s People’s Assembly. On November 28, the first round will be held in nine governorates, including Cairo and Alexandria. The whole process will take several months, with the second round starting on December 14, and the last round on the 3rd of January. A week after each round there will be a run-off between the candidates that were not directly elected. During the elections, schools will be closed to prevent unrest. Elections for the Shura Council, Egypt’s upper house, will be held in March 2012, in the same way as the elections for the lower house.

This document (PDF, by @Arabist, clearly points out the competing parties and the electoral blocks they have formed. The Democratic Alliance, headed by the political party of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Freedom and Justice Party, is the block likely to win the most seats. Another interesting block is the Egyptian Bloc, with the liberal Free Egyptians Party as the driving force. The Salafi parties are united in the Islamist Alliance.

A few interesting websites on the subject: