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Birds of a feather

What’s most disturbing is the sleight of hand that’s going on

By Philip Whitfield

Philip Whitfield
Philip Whitfield

Approaching an election winsome wannabes wander out unwittingly.

Not that they’ll make it. They raise their profiles and fly a few kites.

The majors don’t care that much, certain the contumacious will return to the flock.

They might be in for a shock.

There’s no doubt the Islamists will grab most of the seats in the next parliament.

Behind the scenes, they’re trying to make victory a racing cert. Their skulduggery may be their downfall.

The first round of the presidential election was the best indicator of Egyptian sentiment after revolution euphoria died down. The Islamists lost the popular vote in the first round by a long chalk.

Morsy was stymied by a plethora of opponents, including a Muslim Brotherhood defector. With 13 left in the field after juristic winnowing, Morsy’s Brothers made up only a quarter of the poll. With massive resources and hoards of cash, Morsy received only five million votes.

But it was enough to take him into the second round where narrowly he captured the prize in a two-horse runoff.

Let’s take a closer look at the first round when voters had many choices – as they’ll have in the parliamentary election. About half the eligible voters turned out, which is what’s expected in the upcoming poll.

The out-and-out Islamists lost. A hotchpotch running against them won 13 million – a smashing victory.

So, whatever they tell you, the Salafis, the FJP and its ilk have to suck in their differences to win a popular mandate. Instead they’re splintering.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s pragmatism, ideological ambiguity and organisational prowess have bought them power and influence.

In government they’re ferrets in a sack, cantankerous, gnawed and enfeebled – rising to prominence one day, out the next.

The Salafis are making hay. The Salafi Da’wa has grown rapidly out of Alexandria allied with the Cairobased Al-Asala party and Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya’s Building and Development Party, which operates social services in Upper Egypt.

If the opposition wise up and exploit the Islamists’ internecine ruckus they can prevent the Islamists occupying the driving seat for decades.

Dr Gamal Zahran, head of political science at Port Said University says tailoring the constitution and election laws serves the Islamists’ ends. He reckons the Islamist shenanigans may guarantee no less than 80% in the next parliament.

What’s most disturbing is the sleight of hand that’s going on.

Morsy’s using his self-anointed powers to bury the opposition once and for all.

He’s stuffed the Shura Council with Yes Men to do his bidding, adding 21 Brothers,14 Salafis and 21 Brotherhood allies.

He’s clipped the wings of the Supreme Constitutional Court.

He’s refused to alter district electoral boundaries to reflect the population make-up more fairly.

He’s jiggled around with the proportional representation system. Two-thirds of the nominees (332) are elected off party lists. One third (166) is reserved for independent candidates.

That not only gives the party with the most money a helping hand to win the largest districts with most seats. The rules have been tweaked to allow Brothers to run on the independent lists as well.

The International Foundation for Electoral Systems says: Female candidates are penalised not only by the removal of the nomination quota, but also by the fact that parties are not required to put them in winnable positions on the lists and districts are too small to allow for most parties to win more than one or two seats per district.

Rather than bemoan the situation, the opposition needs to cease backbiting and focus on the imminent calamity.

Freedom to criticise is being curtailed. Freedom to demonstrate is being restricted. Freedom to amend laws is being shunted out of the House of Representatives. Freedom to elect a particular person in a particular district is not clear-cut.

The guaranteed 64 women’s seats in parliament has been revoked.

Morsy is riding roughshod over the popular will.

Egypt’s democrats are waffling while the Islamists stuff the genie back into the bottle.

What should they be doing?

Explain how the parliamentary elections are being rigged:

1) Three quarters of the 46 multimember districts are small, with between four to eight elected. Women have to be near the top of party lists to stand a ghost of a chance.

2) The quota system electing two-thirds of the seats remains open to interpretation. To win a seat requires a full quota. Ambiguous wording allows argument that if only one candidate wins a quota their party wins all the seats.

3) The rule giving half of seats to workers or farmers is an anachronism. When two candidates from a professional background win the top spots, only one is elected and the worker/farmers go head-to-head in a runoff.

That’s harsh on anyone who invested in an education e.g. democrats.

4) There’s something fishy about counting the votes in the election halls rather than under supervision by far-away judges.

Birds of a feather should flock together.

Evil triumphs when good men do nothing – Edmund Burke (1729 -1797).


Philip Whitfield is a Cairo commentator

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