CAIRO - Egyptians vote next week for the first parliament since toppling Hosni Mubarak but a surge in violence between protesters and police show the street will likely stay a battleground for Egypt's unfinished revolution even after polling stations close.
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After ending Mubarak's 30-year rule in February, Cairo's Tahrir Square was once again filled with teargas and debris after police tried to break-up a sit-in calling for the army council now ruling Egypt to leave and hand power to civilians.
"Nine months after the revolution, people's dignity is still being violated. Tahrir is Egypt's conscience, keeping an eye on those who stray" from the revolution's goals, said graphic designer Qadafi Mahboub, 38.
Nearby a group of hundreds of demonstrators chanted, "The people want to topple the regime," a throwback to scenes during the uprising that drove Mubarak and his party from office.
Many vowed not to leave until the army quits power.
The army, which says it has no interest in retaining political control, insists the flare-up will not deter it from starting the staggered polls on November 28 as planned.
But a surge in violence during voting, a common feature of elections in Mubarak's era of rigged polls, could undermine the assembly's legitimacy if the result is questioned. potentially deepening public frustration at the army's handling of the transition.
Police could struggle to keep order at the polls due to deep-seated anger at their actions during Mubarak's time and as political rivals, particularly in rural areas, turn to Mubarak-era tactics of using hired "thugs" to help them win seats.
"We may be heading towards some instability. But this will depend on whether the army will be finally convinced that the game is over and that it has to hand power to the elected civil institutions," said Hassan Nafaa, a Cairo University political science professor and former anti-Mubarak activist.
Despite the frustrations and fears for the poll, what was effectively a one-man and one-party rule has been transformed by a dizzying array of new parties and voices since February.
Posters promote ultra-conservative Islamists repressed by Mubarak, the new liberal parties licensed since his ousting and the long-established groups, such as the Wafd Party, which withdrew from the last vote, saying it was unfair.
Yet much of the old order remains; parliament will have a legislative role, but executive power stays with army generals who served Mubarak. Many Egyptians were galvanized to protest after seeing police employ the same tactics used under Mubarak.
"The power of the street is very real. It may be irregular, it may act
with a degree of spontaneity and it may be emotional but it is really
the one moving events," said political analyst Ammar Ali Hassan.Army's role in Egyptian political system still unclear
its powers will be limited, parliament is likely to find itself
battling over the shape of a new cabinet which the army has the power to
pick and over the extent the army will seek to enshrine powers for
itself in a new constitution.
The new parliament will be responsible for picking a 100-strong constituent assembly which will write the new document.
politicians were enraged this month when the army-backed cabinet
proposed principles for a new constitution to shield the military from
civilian supervision and to give it a broad national security remit that
analysts said would give the army a pretext to undermine a civilian
The cabinet has backtracked after the uproar. The
army has repeatedly said it has no interest in holding onto power. But
the concessions and reassurances were not enough to deter this weekend's
protests, or the violence that followed.
Some expect the debate over the army's role to last years.
will be powerful enough to take any measures against the military or
try to bring them under civilian rule. I can't see this happening for 10
years," said analyst Hisham Kassem.
As that debate drags,
parliament is also likely to skirmish over how soon to hold a
presidential vote, which under a timetable outlined by the army may not
happen until the end of 2012 or early 2013.
election must start (right after) the parliamentary election ... When
you have an elected parliament you can insist," said Essam el-Erian,
deputy head of the Muslim Brotherhood's newly established Freedom and
His party could emerge as one of the biggest blocs
in the new parliament. Though banned under Mubarak, the Brotherhood
spent decades building up a grassroots network across the nation through
social work and support for the poor.
In the 2005 parliamentary
election it ran candidates as independents to skirt the ban and won 20
percent of seats, losing votes to ballot box manipulation but picking up
protest votes as the only significant opposition to Mubarak's party.
so many new parties and faces on Egypt's political scene and a complex
electoral system of lists and individual candidates, analysts say the
Brotherhood's party could win votes in part because people are confused
by the alternatives.
But while the Brotherhood could once
virtually monopolize the Islamist and opposition vote, other Islamists
have emerged, such as the ultra-conservative Salafist parties, groups
following more mystical Sufi orders, and moderate followers of the newly
founded Wasat (Centre) Party. This new variety may split the Islamist
The Salafist party Nour (Light) quit a Brotherhood alliance
saying it was hogging too many seats in election voting lists. Erian
said Salafists would be a "burden" to any political coalition because of
their inexperience.Islamists could secure up to 40% of Egyptian Parliament
Analysts give a broad range of predictions for the vote in the country of 80 million people and 50 million eligible voters.
do not see any single group emerging with a majority, although they say
Islamists could secure anything up to 40 percent of the 498 elected
seats in the lower house, with liberal-leaning groups winning perhaps a
third of seats.
Many of the remainder could go to former
loyalists of Mubarak's party. Some have formed their own parties. Others
are members of big families, often in rural areas, who won in Mubarak's
time and joined his party in a bid to secure more influence rather than
out of any ideological commitment.
Yet most analysts agree that
it is almost impossible to forecast accurately what the lower house will
look like after a vote that runs until early January. Voting for the
upper house will follow that of the lower house.
are struggling to understand an electoral system that gives two thirds
of available seats to party lists and one third to individuals. A large
number will choose based on personalities rather than ideology -
particularly in rural areas - but the system made constituencies so big
that there is little personal contact.
Ahmed, an enthusiastic but
anxious voter, was quoted on a nighttime radio talk show as campaigning
heated up: "We have a very important vote coming and we have no clue
what to do."
Some fear that a weak parliament will fail to build
confidence in the new political system that is badly needed to win back
investors who fled after the uprising and fret over the uncertain
But Cairo University's Nafaa said that the vote would
start the process of shaking marginal voices out of Egypt's politics
who, in the absence of any clear indication of their real support, have
continued to claim space in post-uprising Egypt.
"It is a little
anarchic right now," he said, adding that after the vote: "There will be
a new process with true political forces. You will know exactly who to