Last Sunday, Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court issued a decision that declared the electoral constituencies law non-constitutional, a decision which effectively stopped in track all preparations for the upcoming parliamentary elections. This gave rise to mixed feelings; Egyptians found themselves torn between deploring the consequent postponement in electing a new parliament while at the same time seeing the delay as a blessing in disguise.
Only a week earlier the Supreme Electoral Commission (SEC) had approved some 6,000 candidates to run for parliament, among them 2,000 independents and 4,000 on party and coalition lists. Only 5 per cent of the applicants were women, a very meagre proportion compared with former elections. The lists ran in the West Delta, East Delta, Upper Egypt, Cairo, and South and Middle Delta.
The lists approved were: Fee Hubb Masr (For the Love of Egypt), Sahwit Masr (Egypt’s Awakening), Nidaa’ Masr (Egypt’s Call), al-Gabha al-Wataniya (National Front), Tayar al-Estiqlal (Independence Stream), al-Qa’ima al-Wataniya (The National List), al-Tahaluf al-Gumhouri (Republican Coalition), and the Islamist Hizb al-Nour (The Nour Party).
A strategic international-local coalition formed to monitor the elections included the Norwegian Global Network for Rights and Development (GNRD); the International Institute for Peace; Justice and Human Rights (IIPJHR) based in Geneva; and their Egyptian partner the Maat Foundation for Peace, Development and Human Rights (MAAT); in addition to 31 local organisations, and functioned through some 400 international and 5,000 local observers.
More than 70 other organisations were also getting ready to monitor the elections.
All the candidates were subjected to medical examination in accordance with a ruling by the Administrative Court. The Ministry of Health assigned 40 hospitals across Egypt to conduct the medicals, which included testing the applicants for drug or alcohol consumption. The medical reports were re ferred back to the SEC, and revealed that the blood and urine tests of some of the applicants showed traces of alcohol and drug consumption, and that a number of the applicants suffered from psychological disorders.
It is not known whether these medicals will be valid once the postponed elections are held or will have to be redone; the medicals expire in 90 days.
Seeing that the elections would have started on 21 March with the voting of Egyptians residing outside Egypt, the SEC had announced the procedures concerning the voting process as well as the conditions for eligible voters. Voting was scheduled in Egypt’s various governorates over two phases that would have concluded, including reruns, on 7 May.
The SEC had planned to form new specialised departments affiliated to the primary and appeals courts to look into electoral crimes, and a list of these crimes defined. The most serious included verbal abuse; intimidation of voters; destruction or damage of facilities or equipment used in the election process; concealing or stealing voter lists; bribing voters; publishing or propagating spurious news or speech concerning the election issue; stealing the box containing ballot papers; and not abiding by campaign schedules and financial ceilings.
Because a substantial proportion of the Egyptian populace is illiterate, the SEC approved 250 electoral symbols to be assigned to the lists or candidates. Among these symbols: balance scales, a pen, a car and a camel. Again, it is not known whether these will remain valid once the elections are held at a future date.
At a loss
Despite the careful preparations, however, the public felt at a loss in view of the huge number of candidates many of whom were relatively unknown. Compounding the matter was the fact that there were no well-defined differences among the perspectives of the various secular lists. A Watani survey that spanned several regions in Egypt confirmed the overwhelming sentiment of voter disillusionment and loss. A Sample of the opinions runs as follows:
M. T., a sociologist in Beheira, west of the Delta: “All I know about the candidates are the names on two banners hanging in the street.”
H.H., a sheikh al-balad (village headman) from Sohag, Upper Egypt: “For more than three months independent candidates have visited us and introduced their programmes. We like one of them and intend to vote for him. He is from a reputable family and he’s rich, so we know he’s not after making money from being in a position of influence. As for the lists, we don’t know anything about them.”
Hassan, a taxi driver in Imbaba, Giza: “I meet dozens of people every day; they speak about everything. None of them, however, has been talking about the elections.”
S.G., a university student in Alexandria: “There are no young independent candidates because young men and women don’t have the resources to run. Those on the lists were selected by parties and coalitions for specific purposes, so they don’t really represent the youth.”
Umm Ali who sells greens on the sidewalk in Shubra: “I used to vote in elections, but this time I am not going to vote because I don’t know any of the candidates.”
Mustafa, a 73-year-old grocer in the east of Cairo: “I will vote, but I just want to know who are the MB and Salafi candidates so as not to vote for them.”
Egypt is now waiting for the enactment of a new law for electoral constituencies. President Sisi has made a demand on the legal authorities preparing the law that it should take no more than one month to draft. Will that month be used by the secular political streams in Egypt to reorganise and come up with candidates or candidate lists that would overcome the current public disillusionment? Will they offer Egypt lawmakers that would meet the aspirations of Egyptians in a parliament fit to build a new Egypt?
4 March 2015