On Oct. 24, Mostafa Abdelrahman stepped out of his home in al-Arish, the sandswept capital of Egypt’s North Sinai province. Within seconds, two men pulled up on a motorcycle and shot him dead. His campaign for parliament was over. The same day, five other candidates pulled out of the race. Abdelrahman’s death highlights the dangers of holding elections in a region where the Egyptian military is fighting militants affiliated to Islamic State who have killed hundreds of soldiers and police in the past two years. President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi presents the vote as the last step towards restoring democracy, two years after he ousted Egypt’s first freely-elected president, Islamist Mohamed Mursi.
Egyptians voted on Tuesday in run-off elections for more than 200 parliamentary seats in which no clear winner emerged in the first round of polls, with candidates loyal to President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi widely expected to dominate. Only a quarter of the electorate turned up last week for round one of the election of Egypt’s first parliament in three years, the final step on a roadmap that is meant to lead Egypt to democracy but which critics say has been undermined by widespread repression. Egypt’s last parliament, dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood, was elected in 2011-12 in the first election after the popular uprising that ended Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule. It was dissolved by a court in July 2012.
US Secretary of State John Kerry spoke passionately yesterday about the “incredible yearning for modernity” sweeping across the world, warning that free elections do not necessarily usher in true democracy in many countries. The months of protests in Ukraine that led to the ousting of president Viktor Yanukovich were just one example of “people power” in recent months. Such protests were “a reflection of this incredible yearning for modernity, for change, for choice, for empowerment of individuals that is moving across the world, and in many cases moving a lot faster than political leadership is either aware of or able to respond to,” the top US diplomat told a small group of reporters. The ousting of Yanukovich, like July’s toppling of Egypt’s first democratically elected president Mohamed Mursi, proved that elections by themselves were not always enough. “A democracy is not defined solely by an election,” the top US diplomat argued.
Egypt will hold new parliamentary elections once amendments to its suspended constitution are approved in a referendum, the interim head of state decreed on Monday, setting out a timeframe that could see a legislative vote in about six months. A presidential vote would be called once the new legislative chamber convenes, the decree said. It set a four-and-a-half month timeframe for amendments to the state’s controversial, Islamist-tinged constitution that was passed in December.
Egyptian secularists and rights groups criticized election laws approved by parliament that allow parties to use religious slogans in campaigns and drops a requirement to put women candidates high on their lists. The Islamist-led Shura Council, the upper house of parliament and the only one functioning after courts shut down the lower chamber, yesterday approved a political rights law that dropped a ban on religious slogans. It was replaced by a clause that prohibits slogans involving “gender and religious discrimination.” The council also gave initial approval for amendments to election laws that could give women lower positions on electoral lists. The assembly’s Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee agreed that each candidate list should include at least one woman, without stipulating how high she should be placed. The previous version required at least one female candidate in the top half of the list.
Once parliamentary elections are out of the way, Egypt stands a chance of securing an International Monetary Fund loan to help address its currency and budget crisis; the problem is that no one knows when that will be. With face-to-face contact between Egypt and the IMF re-established this week after a two-month gap, both sides are pushing for urgent action, but with strikingly different emphases. President Mohamed Mursi’s government wants a full $4.8bn loan, as agreed in principle last November, but based on a gentler reform programme than originally planned, “in light of preserving growth rates, employment and protecting the poor”. By contrast, the IMF’s top official for the region, Masood Ahmed, spoke only of “possible financial support” after he met the government and central bank in Cairo on Sunday.
An Egyptian court will hear an appeal on Sunday against a ruling that led to the cancellation of parliamentary elections called by President Mohamed Mursi, the latest hurdle in Egypt’s tortuous political transition. A body representing the state said it had lodged an appeal with the Administrative Court against its ruling last week which canceled Mursi’s decision to hold the four-stage parliamentary vote from April 22 onwards. Mursi and his Islamist backers in the Muslim Brotherhood are keen that the lower house election should go ahead quickly, seeing it as the final stage of the transition that followed Hosni Mubarak’s removal from power more than two years ago.
Egypt’s election committee has scrapped a timetable under which voting for the lower house of parliament should have begun next month, state media reported on Thursday, following a court ruling that threw the entire polling process into confusion. Egypt now lies in limbo, with no election dates at a time when uncertainty is taking a heavy toll on the economy – the Egyptian pound is falling, foreign currency reserves are sliding and the budget deficit is soaring to an unmanageable level. The political crisis deepened on Wednesday when the Administrative Court canceled a decree issued by President Mohamed Mursi calling the election. It also returned the electoral law, the subject of feuding between the opposition and Mursi’s ruling Islamists, to the Constitutional Court for review.