Voter turnout in Sunday’s elections is expected to be very low. According to political analyst Amr el-Shobaki (pictured), the opposition Muslim Brotherhood will be the big loser.
Egyptians go to the polls Sunday in parliamentary elections to elect lawmakers for a house that is three-quarters controlled by President Hosni Mubarak’s National Democratic Party (NDP).
Voter turnout is expected to be low and a number of NGOs have already denounced irregularities in the voting system. Human Rights Watch said a fair election is very unlikely, highlighting the "mass arbitrary arrests ... and widespread intimidation of opposition candidates."
Furthermore, according to political analyst Amr el-Shobaki, department head at the Al-Ahram Centre for Strategic Studies (an established policy research institute in the Egyptian capital Cairo), the Muslim Brotherhood political movement will likely see all their previous electoral gains eaten away.
France24.com spoke to political analyst el-Shobaki to get the inside track on the upcoming elections and to find out why the Muslim Brotherhood – a now banned Islamist political party – will likely face severe losses.
FRANCE 24: How influential is the Muslim Brotherhood in these elections?
Amr el-Shobaki: Very influential. In Egypt we say that political parties are measured according to how many seats they have in parliament and by the popularity of their newspaper. But it is extremely difficult for politicians to be out on the streets engaging with voters outside of election time.
The Muslim Brotherhood is working with people all the time in mosques and other religious centres. This means they have the opportunity to recruit people who are interested in politics, as well as those who aren’t, the latter being believers who think that the Brotherhood is a uniquely religious movement.
Their presence in mosques has allowed them to become the dominant opposition voice in Egypt.
FR24: The Muslim Brotherhood is a banned party, but candidates present themselves as independents. How can voters know for whom they’re voting?
Amr el-Shobaki: This is a very Egyptian paradox. The Muslim Brotherhood, a banned party, won 88 seats in the last legislative elections, ten times more than any other opposition party. The candidates say they are independents but their posters are explicit, and sometimes they use the Brotherhood slogan! “Islam is the Solution”. The Brotherhood is well represented in these elections.
FR24: The Egyptian authorities have clamped down on the Muslim Brotherhood – during the 2005 elections there was an agreement that a minimum numbers of seats would come their way. Without such an accord this time round, can they fare any better?
Amr el-Shobaki: I think the authorities will arrange things so that they [Muslim Brotherhood] do not do quite so well in these elections. In my opinion they will come out with 15-20 seats. They are going to lose many seats.
Some of the responsibility for this must fall on the Brotherhood. They have made no real effort to transform themselves into a political party from a religious brotherhood. They made no formal request to the government to legalise their party, as others have done.
While it is true that the authorities are not ready to legitimise them, the Brotherhood nevertheless needs to show the will. And they continue to use [illegal] religious slogans in their campaign.
FR24: How do you explain religious tensions between Christians and Muslims?
Amr el-Shobaki: Over the last 20 years, there has been a steady Islamisation of Egyptian society. This has forced Christians to retreat behind the walls of their churches, where sometimes they have listened to sermons by extremists.
These factors are the cause of the tensions, and I think they will get worse because the government is doing nothing to tackle the extremist Islamist discourse. Imams have been allowed to insult the secular society, Shiites, anyone, on official TV channels.
FR24: Why is Mohamed elBaradei (an Egyptian political reformist and former UN nuclear chief) calling for a boycott to these elections?
Amr el-Shobaki: He wants to change the rules of the game. He does not want to take part in elections that everyone knows will always be won by the ruling party.
ElBaradei wants to change the constitution so that other political parties, including his own, can put themselves up for election in a manner that is dignified and correct. According to the law and some very complicated bureaucratic rules, he is not allowed to create his own party.
Therefore he prefers to keep pressure on the government by calling for a boycott. In any case, Egyptians are going to be boycotting this election in one way or another, but not necessarily because of elBaradei but more because they have no faith in the electoral process.
FR24: Would it be true to say that Egyptian democrats are disappointed by Barack Obama, who has not done much to improve the democratic process in Egypt?
Amr el-Shobaki: They are a bit disappointed, but they are not looking for or expecting an American president to intervene in Egyptian political life, as George W. Bush did.
What they want is for Obama to defend freedom of speech, respect for human rights and to put pressure on the regime to defend universal democratic values.
Date created : 2010-11-26