The 2005 Egyptian parliamentary elections have been remarkable primarily because of the Muslim Brotherhood’s performance. The banned-but-tolerated group, which held only 17 seats in the last parliament, has already secured 76 slots, with results from the run-offs in the final round of voting yet to be determined. Regardless of how many more seats the Brotherhood adds to this impressive total, the group is already positioned to be the largest opposition bloc in the next People’s Assembly.
The Brotherhood’s performance is even more remarkable when one considers the group only fielded 150 candidates, giving it a much higher success ratio than the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), which ran 444 candidates in all 222 constituencies. Moreover, despite alleged widespread vote-buying, the use of thugs and the excessive amounts of spending by some candidates ills, which have so far plagued the 2005 elections, it would be difficult, based on my own close observation of the elections, to accuse the Brotherhood of any of these violations.
Brotherhood candidates and supporters have also faced considerable obstacles, more than other opposition candidates, making their electoral success even more impressive. This has included the arrest of their members, the prevention of voters from entering polling stations in neighborhoods considered sympathetic to the organization and allegations by some Egyptian Judges of outright fraud in favor of NDP candidates in several districts (e.g. Dokki in Cairo, Damanhour and Mansoura).
For those of us concerned with democratic process and not outcome, however, the 2005 elections have been extremely disappointing. In addition to the problems mentioned above, as well as others such as widespread mistakes in voter registration lists, the final stage of voting on December 1 witnessed the massive deployment of Central Security Forces in front of many polling stations, allegedly with the purpose of preventing voters from casting their ballots. This seems to have been a rather ham-fisted attempt to limit further electoral victories by the Brotherhood after their early and unexpected success.
While the Brotherhood has been the big winner in the 2005 parliamentary elections, the secular opposition parties and the NDP have been the big losers.
This year’s parliamentary elections should serve as the official death certificate of the opposition parties, none of which managed to secure the five percent (of seats) mandated by the amendment of Article 76 of the Egyptian Constitution required to nominate a candidate in future presidential elections.
This will undoubtedly cause its own problems in the years to come. The abysmal performance of the legal opposition parties, without exception, should signal the urgent need for internal reform within these organizations.
The National Democratic Party must also be considered among the losers in this year’s elections.Despite securing the overwhelming majority of seats in the Assembly, the government’s alleged resort to heavy-handed tactics in round two and three of the elections seriously calls into question its commitment to political reform. The NDP leadership must realize that the use of such tactics does nothing to further the standing of the party among the populace. If anything, scenes of Central Security Forces preventing men and women from entering polling stations in order to cast their ballots only strengthens sympathies for the opposition, especially the Brotherhood.
The biggest loser of all in the 2005 parliamentary elections, unfortunately, has been the democratic process. After the historic amendment of article 76 of the Egyptian constitution, the country’s first multi-party presidential election on September 7 and repeated promises of political reform from leading members of the NDP, the conduct of the elections has been extremely disappointing. No one can honestly claim that these elections have been free and fair (or have met international standards).
The integrity of elections, after all, is not determined by how many opposition candidates win or the composition of the next parliament; it is about process rather (and not) than outcome. The 2005 parliamentary elections should lead all observers – political parties, NGOs, as well as the Muslim Brotherhood – to the conclusion that future elections cannot take place in Egypt without international monitors and observers. Otherwise, neither Egyptians nor the international community will take them seriously.
Samer Shehata is an Assistant Professor of Arab Politics at the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University. He is currently on research leave in Egypt.