Thursday,23 November, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1216, (2 - 8 October 2014)
Thursday,23 November, 2017
Issue 1216, (2 - 8 October 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Predictions for the parliament

Egypt’s next parliament will represent the current balance of political forces and have little revolutionary content, political scientist Amr Al-Shobaki told Dina Ezzat

Predictions for the parliament
Predictions for the parliament
Al-Ahram Weekly

In the middle of negotiations to establish a solid political coalition that will be able to contest the next legislative elections, Amr Al-Shobaki, a former MP and a political scientist, has been struck by what could fairly be described as realism over hope.

He is confronted, he told Al-Ahram Weekly, with a political reality where the non-Islamist, called liberal for lack of a better word, forces are short on common political denominators and perhaps also of a larger political vision.

“It has proven more difficult than I thought it would be, initially that is. The chances of having one liberal bloc to contest the next elections are now next to none,” Al-Shobaki said.

The political divisions, he explained, were too many. Amongst the traditional as well as the post-25 January Revolution parties, there were too many disagreements about the prospects for a better future for the country.

What was most divisive, however, for the non-Islamist shades of opinion that include anything from the revolutionary blocs to the members of the pre-25 January ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), were the squabbles over the share of seats and the order of appearance on the electoral lists, he said.

As Al-Shobaki saw it two weeks ahead of the anticipated announcement of the divisions of the electoral districts, there would be three main non-Islamist blocs: one with the former NDP at its core under the umbrella of the National Movement led by Ahmed Shafik, a close associate and last prime minister of ousted former president Hosni Mubarak; a second assembling the traditional pre-25 January parties that would probably be led by the Wafd Party; and a third grouping that would be essentially the post-25 January forces led by the liberals established by businessman Naguib Sawiris.

Al-Shobaki argued that there would be few Islamist contenders for seats in the next parliament.

“I know there is speculation about whether or not the Muslim Brotherhood will field candidates and about whether or not it will field members of the group or independents with sympathy to the group. My opinion is that it will not,” Al-Shobaki said.  

He added that apart from not wanting to acknowledge the current political process of which the parliamentary elections are the last step in a roadmap that was announced following the Brotherhood’s ouster over a year ago, the members of the group were too demoralised and too distant from the larger public to consider running for legislative elections that would once have been a certain success for them.  

“Some of the sympathisers of the group might consider running, as they know there are votes they can depend on. But these are not many in view of the low political ratings of the group today,” he said.

The obvious Islamist contender for the next parliament, he said, were the Salafis, especially the members of the Al-Nour Party who had aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood when the latter was in office but later chose to join the 3 July 2013 roadmap upon the ouster of the Brotherhood following the 30 June protests that called on former president Mohamed Morsi to step down.

When the votes are counted at the end of the voting process, which Al-Shobaki says should end early in 2015, he does not expect that “the Islamists will have a significant or really influential share” of the seats in the new parliament. They will be there, he said, but they will not have anything near the close to two-thirds share they enjoyed in the first post-25 January Revolution parliament.

The “secular” revolutionary forces will also see their share of the seats reduced, he said. Their share in the post-25 January parliament was already limited due to their small grass-roots influence, and this will continue to be the case in the new parliament, Al-Shobaki anticipated.

There was a continued failure on the part of many of the representatives of the group to build influence on the ground, “given factors including the on-going political developments” and also the unmistakable anti-revolutionary mood that has taken over public opinion.

“Let’s face it, public opinion has lost faith in the revolution. This is partially due to the overwhelming impression that the revolution brought about the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood, which failed miserably, but also because the priorities of the people now are about better services, a better economy and better security,” he said.

This will automatically give prominence to the “presence of the traditional political forces in parliament.”

“I would not call these people the ‘remnants’ of the former NDP, as it is a bit more complex than that. They are the notables from Upper Egypt and the Delta who have throughout the decades chosen to ally themselves with the ruling or the powerful political blocs. Before the NDP, they were with the Socialist Union, and before the 1952 Revolution they were with the Wafd,” Al-Shobaki explained.

Candidates from this traditional bloc, he said, would be focused on “making life easier for their districts. They will follow up on services and pick up matters relating to better security and more chances for the employment of graduates. These are the winning cards today, and they certainly have the edge over demands for greater liberties.”

Al-Shobaki seems unworried about the full-fledged return of the NDP, as some have been warning. This was “highly unlikely,” he said.
But having said that, Al-Shobaki was keen to add that the cause of liberties and democracy would not be fully abandoned by the next parliament. There would be enough MPs, he hoped, to champion the agenda of rights that was underlined by the 25 January Revolution even though that has seemed to have been taking a backseat since the ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Al-Shobaki likes to draw a line between the declining sympathy, or maybe declining enthusiasm, for the revolutionary movement that took over the political sphere during the months that followed the February 2011 ouster of Mubarak and what he qualifies as “the continued aversion” that people by and large have to the faces that were associated with the last years of Mubarak’s rule.

“People have been frustrated with the endless revolutionary discourse that one way or the other has seemed to have been coupled with declining services and receding security, but this is not to say that they have forgotten or forgiven the blunders that happened on the eve of the 25 January Revolution,” he said.

While not underestimating the influence of political money in facilitating nominations and lobbying for the 2015 parliament, Al-Shobaki is still convinced that the availability of cash will not be a good enough reason for the faces of the former NDP to join the electoral race.

“They were discredited, and by and large they are still discredited. One or two of them might try to find their way in, but they will be the exceptions to the rule,” Al-Shobaki argued.    When all is said and done, and despite the speculation about who will be the winning ticket, one day Amr Moussa and the next Kamal Al-Ganzouri, Al-Shobaki is convinced that when the new parliament assembles in the spring of next year it will have a majority that is strongly allied to the president, who up to now has held executive and legislative powers.

It is not just about what the head of the executive will aspire to as part of his hopes “to have support for the kind of things he is trying to get done, with the economy, for example, or his mega projects,” Al-Shobaki said.

“It is more about the balance of power on the ground. The president has a considerable majority. When these men and women go out to vote, they will choose MPs that are likely to ally themselves with the president, and this has to do with the original point that the votes will mostly go to those who are likely to help improve daily life,” Al-Shobaki said.

“In this sense, it is unwise to dismiss the next parliament or to suggest that it will be run by the executive and for the executive. The traditional forces will give the executive authority a hard time over services, and the revolutionary MPs, regardless of their number, will be able to bring the executive to account on matters related to democracy,” Al-Shobaki argued.

He added that “the next parliament will not be of one and the same colour, even if the majority will support the president. In fact, the majority of the people are supportive of the president, who is widely seen as keeping the state together.”

The legislation adopted by the next parliament will also be in line with the public mood. Al-Shobaki anticipates majority support for bills relating to security matters and various mega projects. He does not anticipate that the parliament, at least in its initial phase, will give attention to matters relating to human rights and democracy, “simply because this is not the overwhelming priority of the public right now”.

“Issues of democracy and human rights will be raised, but they are unlikely be the priority matters,” he added.
According to Al-Shobaki, the parliament will need to pay attention to two pressing demands for the future of the country: development and democracy. “Of course, one cannot separate these things, and of course democracy is crucial for development, but some elements of development seem to be taking precedence on the public’s list of priorities, and this will likely be reflected in the debates of the next parliament.”

Al-Shobaki does not anticipate direct state intervention in favour of some candidates or against others. “There may be some incidents here and there due to the interests of one particular official or other, but I am not at all anticipating any orchestrated state intervention in favour of any group of candidates, especially given the way the division of the electoral districts has been done and the way the public mood will inevitably favour those who are on the side of the executive.”

“I genuinely think that we are no longer likely to see considerable fraud or rigging in the elections. This I think really is behind us.”

“We are likely to see fairly free elections that will result in a parliament of a predominantly traditional type, but this will not exclude other political shades. We are at the beginning of a path that is long and hard, and we have to follow this towards the rejuvenation of a political scene that has long lacked any organised secular opposition,” he concluded.

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