Over the coming two weeks, a new parliament will be elected in Egypt, the second since January 2011. This forthcoming parliament, which is long overdue, will indeed be celebrated as a tangible step on Egypt’s road to democracy. But before we get caught up in the mechanics of the coming election, before we start analysing results, assessing participation rates and speculating about Egypt’s future map of political powers, there are truths about this parliament that cannot be ignored, and that constitute significant causal factors in its presumed role.
Although it will mark the beginning of the “legitimate” political process, it comes amidst a set of conditions that can hardly produce truly representative democracy. This election will be held under a number of legislations that limit and incriminate all forms of collective action. These legislations are not only limited to the “protest law” that’s been in effect since 2013, but they also include the “NGOs law”, the “terrorism law” and the amendments to the “Azhar law”.
Although these legislations belong to different fields and regulate various affairs, they all share one trait: closure of the public sphere and putting all forms of collective action and independent public participation under close examination. Despite the diversified rationale used to justify these laws, whether it’s the threat of terrorism, the transitional nature of the phase or the fear of resurrecting Islamic political activism; the fact remains that a representative democracy can never be built within a framework of legalised repression and a closed political opportunity.
Moreover, this parliament will be elected according to an electoral law that ensured the minimal participation of organised political forces. It is true that the political parties currently active in Egypt are not real parties in the conventional sense of the word (perhaps with the exception of two or three parties), but even these pseudo-political entities are allowed a tiny slice of the upcoming parliament. The parliament is composed of 596 members, 448 elected as individuals, 28 appointed by the President and only 120 elected on party lists; which mean that political parties can only campaign for 20% of parliament seats.
A quick look at the majority of candidates competing over individual seats demonstrates that they not only lack political orientation and agenda, but they are also very proud with the fact they are apolitical. Unfortunately, the parties running are void of any tangible political orientation as well, and their programmes are nothing but extremely generalised theoretical ideas and rhetoric that lacks all forms of eloquence and appeal. In all the candidates running, the idea of “opposition” itself is non-existent, which means that this parliament will lack the sufficient orientation to challenge and monitor the government; it is engineered as a complementary tool within a non-representative framework, and will be elected on a platform of personal affiliations and narrow individual interests.
Now the question is: How can such a non-political parliament assume the political role it is supposed to play according to the constitution? Constitutional articles 146 and 156 of the 2014 constitution assign highly political functions for the parliament, to approve the government’s formation and programme, and to revise the legislations issued by the President during the absence of the parliament (these legislations exceed 400 by the way). Can a parliament void of any political orientation and vision efficiently perform any of these functions?
Finally, this forthcoming parliament will officially announce the death of the political entities that emerged after January 2011 in favour of those entities that came to the forefront after July 2013. In other words, the upcoming election is not only a non-representative and non-political procedure; it is also a careful process of re-configuring political elites and a fine example of implementing a democracy from above.
It is true that the extent of collective benefit that could come from this upcoming parliament remains to be seen, but it also true that all the signs point to how Egyptians are on the brink of electing non-political candidates for a political institution.
Ziad A. Akl is senior researcher and webpage managing editor of the Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies