New clashes between "youth protestors" and Ministry of Interior riot police in Egypt's Tahrir Square have resulted in thirty-five dead and several hundred wounded over the past three days, jeopardizing the country's November 28 parliamentary elections. Even before this weekend's mayhem, the voting promised to be chaotic and, in all likelihood, marred by violence. But now, with growing public anger aimed at the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) for its undemocratic mismanagement of the transition, several secular political parties may boycott the polls. Should the elections proceed, the new crisis will benefit the Islamists, possibly widening their projected margin of victory.
(…) Electoral Credibility in Question
- The military is taking steps to ensure -- and reassure the public -- that "citizens will feel an unprecedented state of security" during next week's scheduled elections. And the SCAF will no doubt attempt to provide tight security for the various stages of balloting slated to last until January 10. Yet between disgruntled secular protestors, former regime thugs, and routine sectarian conflicts, authorities face an uphill battle. Today, in an effort to placate the street, the military promulgated a "lustration" law banning members of the former ruling National Democratic Party from participating in the elections. In another development, the entire cabinet resigned, though the SCAF must accept the resignations in order for them to take effect.
The bloodshed and general disorder could combine to undermine the credibility of any newly elected legislature. Already, the electoral law -- which combines multicandidate districts and both party-list and individual-candidate elections, with the latter divided among "farmers, laborers, and professionals" -- is confusing and voter-unfriendly. Making matters worse, if non-Islamists boycott the election, a significant segment of society may view the parliament as illegitimate. Likewise, voters could stay home if security is insufficient, further eroding support for the People's Assembly. Conversely, a heavy military presence spurred by the Tahrir clashes might also intimidate voters. Despite Violence, Elections the Only Way Forward
- Egypt's key political players have denounced the latest violence. Secularist presidential candidate Mohamed ElBaradei laid the blame at the feet of the SCAF, whom he said had already "admitted they cannot run the country." The Muslim Brotherhood (MB) likewise held the SCAF "primarily responsible," accusing it of provoking the violence as a pretext for postponing the elections. Meanwhile, a number of key secularist political figures -- including Amr Hamzawy, George Ishak, and blogger Mahmoud "Sandmonkey" Salem -- have suspended their parliamentary campaigns in solidarity with the protestors.
At the same time, many of the key political parties -- including those who may boycott -- have echoed the SCAF's insistence that the elections go forward. The MB's Freedom and Justice Party, the Wafd Party, the Free Egyptians Party led by Naguib Sawiris, and the Salafist Nour Party, among others, have all released statements calling for voting to proceed as scheduled. Most important, both the MB and Free Egyptians Party have indicated that they will not participate in new Tahrir demonstrations as long as the elections are not postponed. Delaying the vote would remove their incentive to back an orderly transition and escalate a costly standoff that is already spreading to other governorates. David Schenker is the Aufzien fellow and director of the Program on Arab Politics at The Washington Institute. Eric Trager, the Institute's Ira Weiner fellow, is a doctoral candidate in political science at the University of Pennsylvania, where he is writing his dissertation on Egyptian opposition parties.
The above article was published in washingtoninstitute.org on November 21st, 2011.Continue reading