Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) organized a discussion group under the title: “How long can the new parliament last?”, in order to assess the political and legal legitimacy of the lately-held parliamentary elections and their results. The discussion was moderated by Mr. Bahey Eddin Hassan, CIHRS Director.
Mr. Hisham El-Bastawisy, vice president of the Court of Cassation, asserted in his speech that there was no political will for holding free and transparent elections in Egypt in the first place. He proved his point by explaining that all election-related legislations show a stark lack of will, and instead, there was an endeavor to open more loopholes for rigging these elections. He added that most of the legislative provisions promulgated were rather ambiguous, including the oddly-introduced supreme monitoring committees, whether presidential or parliamentary, which rendered the elections – according to Mr. El-Bastawisy – worse than if it had been monitored by the Interior Ministry only. He argued that these committees were intentionally lacking in transparency, indicating that the Supreme Committee for Elections was given many competences and tasks, while it had a rather executive characteristic.
Giving further evidence of the non-impartiality of the monitoring committees, El-Bastawisy argued that no action was taken by such committees to set new electoral lists, and there was a prearranged plan to leave the lists as is, to be manipulated between electoral rounds. El-Bastawisy explained that the latter evidence was flagrantly reflected in the committee’s choice of certain judges for certain constituencies, the matter which raised doubt around those judges. In addition, the way electoral committees were formed, and the exclusion of certain judges due to their professed positions of independence of the judiciary raised even more suspicion.
El-Bastawisy explained that the monitoring committee did not take serious actions to enable civil society associations and candidates to monitor elections. Sometimes, it sent confidential verbal instructions countermanding this supervision which it had previously declared. In this framework, El-Bastawisy affirmed that no one can be positive that the results of the elections honestly reflected the ballot box results, seeing that the electoral process took place in absence of real supervision. Doubts were cast around 25 constituencies, where coincidence revealed that there were only 15 judges monitoring them, meaning that some of them monitored more than one constituency, the matter which raises much doubt about them.
He explained that the Election Committee disregarded the demands of the Judges Club to exclude judges mandated to ministries or administrative bodies from monitoring elections in order to avert them suspicions. He further explained that the committee, on the contrary, focused on using these judges to undertake ballot counting particularly, the matter which raised further doubts about them as happened in Damanhour, Damietta and Bandar el-Mansura constituencies.
Regarding preventing voters from balloting, Mr. El-Bastawisy sarcastically explained that the government spent millions on electoral campaigns to urge citizens to participate, and then other millions were spent to prevent them from this participation, particularly in the final two stages of the parliamentary elections.
He further explained that “thug acts” were not spontaneous in these elections, but rather thugs were as organized as a militia, carrying out orders given by some entity to perform a certain mission at a certain zero hour then draw back under police protection.
Mr. El-Bastawisy added that the first round in Balteem constituency, part of Kafr El Sheikh district, was evidently violent that it resulted in many casualties, between deaths and injuries. The repetition round in the same constituency, surprisingly, was quite calm; the reason being that the deputy British ambassador stayed that night in Balteem to monitor the elections himself.
Stressing that the judiciary needs all the support possible of all civil society associations and of the people themselves to overcome the pressures and intimidation acts against judges, El-Bastawisy argued that no real elections could take place in Egypt without independent judiciary.
The Three Musketeers
Dr. Magdy Abdul-Hamid, head of the Egyptian Society for Supporting Community Participation, argued that money was the key word in the electoral battle. Money, as a weapon, was previously used at the presidential elections. He added that there were three musketeers in the electoral battle, namely: money, security and thugs. He argued that the logical percentage of the participating voters should not be more than 10% of eligible voters, drawing attention to the fact that wide and real community participation was insufficient. Participations were cascaded into: electoral blocks, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, which perfectly mobilized its forces; tribal blocks in the countryside; then the block of the marginalized, among breadwinning wives, young people, unemployed men and those who earn living through selling out their votes during elections.
Dr. Abdul Hamid added that the conflict in these elections took place at three levels: the National Democratic Party –NDP- prevailed over the first, whereas the second included the NDP and the Muslim Brotherhood. The liberal and leftist opposition groups, however, were almost absent, except for some figures who relied on their personal history. Dr Abdul Hamid explained that electoral alliances were variant according to the place; sometimes there were alliances made between the Brotherhood and the NDP, sometimes between the Brotherhood and the Tajamu’ (the National Progressive Unionist Party), some other times there would be cut-throat battles between the three of them, which means that alliances were managed on parliamentary rather than political basis. Dr. Abdul Hamid called the Brotherhood to disband the group and form a secular political party, in line with the Turkish model.
Dr. Abdul-Moneim Abul-Fotouh, a Muslim Brotherhood leader, on his part, affirmed that the security authorities did allow the Brotherhood to hold elections, stage electoral marches where tens of thousands of supporters went on, and gave utter freedom to all candidates to criticize the political system in their electoral conferences, adding that the government, in the early stages of the elections, acted on mobilizing voters in favor of the NDP candidates. The NDP candidates, in turn, used money to publicly buy out votes.
Dr. Abul-Fotouh added that what the opposition achieved in the first stage of the elections disturbed the NDP considerably that the second stage, contrary to the first, started with arrests of the advocates of the Muslim Brotherhood, then thug-acts under police protection occurred. He explained that this phenomenon continued in the third and last stage as the number of the Brotherhood detainees mounted to 1500, and thug-acts increased to culminate in police harassment and prevention of voters. Abul-Fotouh denied that a certain bargain was struck between the Brothers and the government, arguing that if there had been any, then why were large numbers of Brotherhood advocates detained?
Dr. Abul-Fotouh went on to describe the performance of the opposition parties, explaining that the conditions under which the opposition was functioning should be taken into account. Public work in Egypt is undergoing unhealthy circumstances which leave the opposition to work under miserable conditions. He argued that the regime would not tolerate any entity to share power with it, even a political force that gained 20% of the parliamentary seats. Dr. Abdul-Moneim considered those who chant the “Brothers are coming” mantra are under illusion, on the grounds that the country is living under an authoritarian unilateral regime that does not admit the concept of power sharing.
Abul-Fotouh argued that having one hundred oppositions in the parliament is only a small fraction of the battle over which he was pessimistic due to the dominance of the executive power. He deemed the progress realized by the Brotherhood so far a credit to the opposition at large not to them only, that should be invested for the interest of the country as a whole.
Addressing the circumstances in which the parliamentary elections took place, Mr. Hussein Abdul-Razik, secretary general of the Tajamu’ party, argued that elections were first and foremost conducted under the umbrella of the emergency law which have been in effect for the last 24 yeas, during which different methods of torture were applied. He added that Egypt has been governed for the last thirty years by one party, the head of which is the president of the republic, and which has remained the only political, executive and legislative decision-maker in Egypt. In addition, since introducing the limited political multiparty system in 1976, political parties have been besieged, confined to their venues and the party organs, and subject to a financial embargo precluding them from investing in any economic activity. Opposition parties, moreover, have not been allowed to communicate with the public in universities, companies or factories, nor organize conferences, conduct rallies or circulate statements, the matter which led to a serious loss of interest in practicing any form of politics including electoral voting.
Abdul-Razik admitted that civil parties were responsible for the low percentage of voters in the latest elections, which he blamed on these parties for their acceptance of the restrictions and red lines drawn by the government. He then drew attention to the fact that the 13 marches initiated by al-Tajamu’ party over the last two years were the exception that proved the opposite.
Mr. Abdul-Razik attributed the results achieved by the Muslim Brotherhood to several factors, central to which is the changed discourse of the group, as a loud harsh tone can now be heard in criticism of the political system.
Mr. Abdel-Razik added that another reason lies in mixing the religious with the political discourse, that many believe that electing a Brotherhood candidate is tantamount to opting for Islam, a phenomenon that has been further promoted by the group.
Digressively, he argued that the group managed to mobilize considerable amounts of money by which it was able to spend lavishly on electoral campaigns. Moreover, he drew attention to the fact that the Brotherhood’s money, on equal footing with official political parties, were not subject to the Central Auditing System; in addition to the public sympathy they earned due to the several arbitrary practices against them through military trials, arbitrary arrests, and the unintelligent media campaigns. Mr. Abdul-Razik then explained that the Group did not only fight against the NDP, but it fought all the same powerfully against the Left as well. He adduced in evidence the cut-throat battle the Brotherhood fought against Khaled Mohyy-Eddin, the leader of the Tajamu’ party, in spite of the early declaration by the Group’s general guide that no Brotherhood candidates would run for elections in the constituencies of the ministers, top officials or political party leaders.
Mr. Abdul-Razik stressed that the government took a decision to shut out both Khaled Mohyy-Eddin, and Diaa-Eddin Dawood, Head of the Nasserite Party, for refusing to participate in the presidential elections despite the pressures placed on them. He also affirmed that the Tajamu’ party is revising its own mistakes, and also calling for all political parties to apply self-criticism for their own mistakes.
Parties and Scenarios
Magdy Mehanna, a journalist, stressed in his comments that no one was going to believe any word about reform from then on, as no elections can be conducted in this manner. These violations, indeed, mean that the reform file is closed. He further indicated that in the post-elections period, one among three scenarios will be witnessed. The first scenario is that things go as planned, a matter which is supposed to be taken into account by the existing parties and political forces in correcting themselves and considering the mistakes they committed. The NDP, in particular, needs to consider the pros and cons, if any, of the experience. Moreover, new liberal parties should be formed to balance the political equation, affirming that without these parties, matters can be heading towards self destruction.
The second scenario would entail that none of the previous revisions will be made except formally, and no reforms will be realized especially within the NDP; consequently the country will face two chief powers: the government and the Muslim Brotherhood, and a minor or even marginal role by the opposition, the matter which will lead to a mounting role for the Muslim Brotherhood which will in turn bring Islamists closer to realize the 50% in the parliament, if the existing game continues with the same mechanisms.
The third scenario is that a certain setback would occur to democracy, which is a real likelihood, Mr. Mehanna argued.
As an ending note, Mr. Bahey-Eddin Hassan explained that the majority of the existing parties are less likely to survive, new parties are going to be born, and the existing parties will fall apart if they do not manage to settle their differences. He argued that survival of the current parliament would hinge on the performance of the Brothers representatives rather than the government’s. He further explained that if the Muslim Brotherhood turned into a real opposition force, this parliament would not last for long, anticipating that a certain consensus would be reached between the government and the Muslim Brotherhood on the grounds of common interests, so that the current parliament could hold on over the coming five years.
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