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A man carrying a portrait of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and an Egyptian flag stands next to a soldier during the funeral of Egyptian public prosecutor Hisham Barakat.(Photo by: REUTERS)
Show time for President Sisi
By Zvi Mazel
"Stakes are high for the Egyptian president who hopes that the House of Representatives will not hinder his efforts to put the country on the road to progress."
Parliamentary elections are under way in Egypt. It is a long, drawn-out and cumbersome undertaking.

Half the country goes to the polls on October 18 and 19 and the other half a month later, on November 22 and 23. Official results are due on December 2.

With the completion of the third and last stage of the road map Abdel Fattah al-Sisi presented in 2013, the president will relinquish the legislative powers he has held since the dissolution of the parliament. Stakes are high for the Egyptian president who hopes that the House of Representatives – the new name of the parliament – will not hinder his efforts to put the country on the road to progress and stability.

But first he has to ensure that the electoral process is transparent and fair enough not to draw renewed criticism from the West – while seeing to it that terrorists and/or Islamist do not succeed in creating large-scale disruptions. Then he needs to keep radical Islamists out while striving to get a liberal majority in.

According to the new constitution adopted by referendum, political parties set up on a religious basis cannot present candidates. In any case, the Freedom and Justice Party of the Muslim Brotherhood, which received 47 percent of the votes in the 2011 elections, will be kept out this time, since the Brotherhood has been outlawed. Unfortunately, the movement never made public the list of its adherents and some of them will be able to present themselves as “independent candidates.”

Then there is the Al Nour party of the Salafist movement, which won 25% of the votes in 2011. It has arguably a religious basis but has been allowed to compete, perhaps because of its unflagging support for Sisi. Some of its members are sympathetic to the Brotherhood.

The true influence of Islamists in the new parliament can therefore not be estimated. Some 70 parties have registered for the elections which were initially scheduled for March 2015 but were repeatedly delayed by the Supreme Court for alleged flaws in the electoral law. It is generally thought that the real reason was the regime’s unhappiness with the lack of a single, homogeneous liberal block which would ensure a stable majority.

In recent months, a number of parties made loose alliances but due to a lack of democratic tradition, these alliances have often been short-lived, more because of personal rivalries than ideological disputes. Some, regrouping a number of small parties, are still in the running: “Egypt,” “For the Love of Egypt,” “The call for Egypt” and “The Independence Current and Egyptian Front Alliance.” The latter is rumored to include many supporters of the outlawed NPD, the ruling party in the time of Hosni Mubarak, while “For the Love of Egypt” supposedly enjoys the backing of the regime.

This is a not totally unexpected state of affairs.

The lack of strong political formations must have been anticipated since the new electoral law stipulates that out of the 596 seats in the House of Representatives, 448, or some 75%, must be attributed to independent candidates, and only 120 will go to political parties, the party garnering the most votes getting all the seats in each constituency.

The remaining 28 seats will be appointed by the government, these seats going as a rule to Copts, women and other minorities who did not manage to achieve a suitable representation.

There are still two major stumbling blocks; concerted efforts, if any, to sabotage voting carried out by the banned Brotherhood and other jihadist organizations; and no less important, abstentions.

Egyptians are being called to vote for the seventh time in less than three years. Parties’ platforms are murky at best and many feel that their votes will have no real impact. The constitution grants parliament greater powers than ever before, the government is pinning its hopes on the independents and is actively supporting candidates who are expected to approve the reforms initiated by the president. Sisi should emerge a clear winner.

It can be assumed that Egypt will not become a parliamentary democracy overnight. On the other hand, what the country needs today is a strong presidential regime to tackle vital issues – from the ongoing insurrection in Sinai and sporadic terrorist attacks across the country to vital economic challenges. Whether the West will understand is another story.

The writer, a fellow of The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, is a former ambassador to Romania, Egypt and Sweden.
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