Democracy News

Islamists Win a Majority of Seats in Egyptian Parliamentary Election
January 24, 2012
By: Garrett Nada | Printer Friendly

Egyptians voted in three phases over the last six weeks to elect 498 members of the parliament, known as the People’s Assembly.  On January 21, the official results of the last round of elections were released. According to the Telegraph, various Islamist parties took two thirds of the seats. The Muslim Brotherhood, banned from participating in politics by the Mubarak regime, was expected to make a strong showing. It’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) won a 38 percent share of the seats allocated to party lists. The more hardline, Salafist, Al-Nour Party won a surprising 29 percent of the seats. The liberal parties, the New Wafd and the Egyptian Block coalition, took third and fourth place respectively.

Egypt has a complex parliamentary system, in which two-thirds of seats are allocated to party lists and the remaining seats are voted for directly. The Supreme Council for Armed Forces (SCAF) appoints an additional ten seats. The elections committee has yet to announce who won the 166 individual seats, but the FJP believes that in the end it will take over 47 percent of the seats in the lower house. Even without those results, the Guardian noted that the FJP had enough seats to name Saad al-Katatni, a leading Brotherhood member who sat in the previous parliament as an independent, as speaker of the assembly.

The Telegraph quoted from an FJP statement expressing the party’s confidence that “Katatni will be at the same distance from all representatives, either those of the FJP or other parties” and will “uphold the principle of democracy and consolidate the rules of political participation.” However, many Western governments and liberal Egyptians are nervous about what the Islamists will do to influence the selection of the 100 individuals who will draft a new constitution. However, Isobel Coleman from the Council on Foreign Relations, says the FJP has no plans to form an alliance with the Salafist hardliners and may be more likely to ally with the liberal parties. According to the New York Times, the Brotherhood signed a declaration released by Al Alzhar, the leading center for Sunni Islamic learning, which would “protect broad freedoms for religious observance, artistic expression, scientific inquiry, theological dissent and civil society groups.”

The final results were disappointing to feminists and liberals, who hoped for greater representation of women in the assembly. The Telegraph reported that only two of the military’s ten appointees to the parliament were women and only a handful won in the party list elections. Three women from the FJP won seats, as well as two from the New Wafd and one from the Egyptian Social Democratic Party. Women may end up only comprising about six percent of the parliament despite turning out in large numbers to vote. According to Coleman, the elected women blamed the parties for putting women at the end of their lists but are still opposed to any quota system that would guarantee women a greater voice in the assembly.  

The youth, who were largely responsible for the 2011 revolution, were represented by the Revolution Continues coalition. According to the Telegraph, the youth group dominated coalition garnered less than a million votes and only seven seats. The BBC’s John Leyne points out that although it seems like Islamists are set to dominate Egyptian politics, the president will be the one to finally choose the government, so the winners of the election do not automatically take office.

Although the parliament convened on January 23, the military is still in control. According to the New York Times, there are already signs that the FJP is working with SCAF in a conciliatory fashion to continue the transition to civilian government. SCAF announced that it will release almost 2,000 prisoners, many of whom are being held for protesting against or criticizing the military. On Sunday, several FJP leaders expressed their intention to draft a new constitution while the military council is still ruling, before the election of a president, in accordance with the military’s preference. Experts on political transitions are not comfortable with this proposed schedule, fearing that the military will influence the constitution and that the need to elect a new president will rush the writing of the constitution.

The New York Times’ David Kirkpatrick has been tracking FJP and SCAF statements over the last several weeks. Overall, it seems that both groups believe that most of the old 1971 constitution can remain in place. The next big question in Egyptian politics will be to what extent, if any, the civilian government will have oversight of the military. According to Kirkpatrick, some believe the FJP and the military will agree on some sort of compromise, such as allowing a limited number of elected officials to oversee the defense budget. FJP parliament member Hussein Ibrahim warned: “The Parliament comes with its fangs, not without them.” This suggests that the party will not capitulate to the military’s preferences. 

For previous news on Egypt, please see:
Protect Freedom of Association in Egypt, IBAHRI Says

Sources: 
The Telegraph - Egypt election: results show Islamists taking two thirds of seats

The Guardian - Egypt election results show firm win for Islamists

Council on Foreign Relations Blog - Women and the Elections in Egypt

BBC - Egypt's Islamist parties win elections to parliament

The New York Times - In Egypt, Signs of Accord Between Military Council and Islamists

 

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