Many international and domestic political observers have watched the Egyptian parliamentary elections with hope. This round of parliamentary elections came to bridge a gap of trust between the national Egyptian institutions and the Egyptian people, who had been rendered voiceless by the previous regime. Whereas the SCAF (Supreme Council of Armed Forces) has stressed that, unlike in the past era where there was little judicial supervision of elections, this time elections would be carried out “under complete judicial supervision”.
Many Egyptians see this round of elections as the lifeboat that will resolve the nation’s problems that erupts from time to time in the form of mass demonstrations, workers’ strikes and other forms of behavior which interrupt economic production and lead to a general feeling of insecurity. In the primary declaration of the results of the parliamentary elections results, Judge Abdel Moez Ibrahim, the head of the Judicial committee, said that with a turnout the highest since the days of the pharaohs, “the real winners of these elections are the Egyptian people”. Despite this feeling of overflowing optimism, the picture of the Egyptian political scene today is far from complete.
Why then have the current parliamentary elections been so prominent? The context in which the elections are held is revealing as to their role and to who the real winners and losers are. On the eve of the parliamentary elections Egypt was struck by a revolutionary wave which reminded many Egyptians of the days of the January 25th revolution. The spark was the attempt by the central security to bring an end to the sit-in at Tahrir squareby sheer force. As images of scores of injuries went on facebook, people took to the streets in what came to be seen as a new revolution. Several large scale demonstrations took place: one on Tuesday 22nd November and another on Friday the 25th where hundreds of thousands of people in the governates became mobilized.
ANTI-SCAF PROTESTS AT TAHRIR SQUARE IN NOVEMBER 2011. PHOTO: GIGI IBRAHIM. FLCKR
Interestingly, this demonstration, was boycotted by the very political groups that had invested highly in the parliamentary elections: the Muslim Brotherhood group. This displayed the clear rift that was growing between the institutionalized political forces and the political “street”. The more institutionalized forces such as the Muslim brotherhood developed an interest in the SCAF led order as they now have much to gain by going to the polls. The ultraconservative salafi groups that have long been absent from politics in Egypt and which have claimed that“democracy is incompatible with Islamic beliefs,” calling it a “heresy,” have made sure to form political parties and engage in the democratic electoral game. However, this game has remained monopolized by the SCAF in an undemocratic manner. The maneuvering of the SCAF has ensured that no political group can reach power without playing by their rules. The real winner in these elections is therefore the SCAF who have forced political groups to and thus gained legitimacy in the eyes of some, but not all of the Egyptian population.
Needless to say, the military need to safeguard their position in the new Egypt. Described by some as a “state within a state,” the army is the last stronghold of the old regime. In addition it is impossible to join the army without connections, meaning there is absolutely no civilian oversight of the military budget. Even the billion dollar American military aid package is without civilian supervision. The army has turned to commercial industrial and agricultural production and use poorly paid military recruits in business projects that have turned many of the generals into billionaires. Middle class army commanders are contented by the luxurious apartments, villas, cars and top level health care that they receive and which most Egyptians can not afford. With all these lucrative gains, the military would not like to be made accountable to a civilian government. Rather, it would like to keep to the old political order.
To many activists on the ground the real winner of this round of elections was therefore not the Egyptian people, but rather the heads of the Egyptian military in the SCAF who have denied powers to the coming parliament. The absurdity of the new political situation in Egypt has been summarized by the chain-mail self-contradictory facebook status “A resigned government is supervising the elections of a parliament without powers. This is taking place in the era of military rule which has overtaken the peoples’ revolution. The people are voting in those who claimed that democracy is religiously prohibited. The status of the revolution is now: Its complicated!!!”
YOSRA EL GENDI
Yosra was a student at Lund University, Sweden, in 2010-2011 and is currently living in Cairo, Egypt, where she is studying at the American University in Cairo.