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Doubts Shadow Egyptian Election

Adam Morrow and Khaled Moussa al-Omrani

CAIRO, Oct 20 2011 (IPS) - Egypt’s interim government has begun accepting candidacy applications for parliamentary polls slated to begin Nov. 21. But as the country prepares for its first post-Mubarak elections, a number of political parties say they are considering boycotting the contest.

“The ruling military council still hasn’t delivered on earlier promises to abrogate the emergency law and enactment of laws prohibiting former members of the Mubarak regime from standing in elections,” Ashraf Barouma, head of the centrist Misr al-Kenana Party established after the January revolution, told IPS. “So we still haven’t decided whether or not to participate in the polling.”

Following an 18-day popular uprising earlier this year, longstanding president Hosni Mubarak handed executive authority over to Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). The council has governed the country ever since, while repeatedly stressing its intention to hand over power to an elected government as soon as possible.

The country’s tentative steps towards democracy, however, remain dogged by vacillation on the part of the SCAF and simmering rivalries between emerging political groupings.

Late last month, the military council issued new laws governing the parliamentary electoral process that were fiercely opposed by the gamut of Egypt’s post-revolutionary political forces. Political parties, both recently established ones and pre-revolution holdovers, complained that the new regulations favoured independent candidates and unnecessarily delayed the first parliamentary session until a full two months after polling.

What’s more, critics noted, Egypt’s hated emergency law still remained in effect – despite earlier promises by the SCAF to annul them – while Mubarak loyalists remained free to contest upcoming elections.

In an effort to appease its detractors, SCAF officials met with representatives of 13 established political parties – including the Freedom and Justice Party (the recently-licensed political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood movement), the liberal Wafd Party and the Egyptian Social Democratic Party – on Oct. 1.

At the meeting, the ruling council agreed to allow political parties to vie for all 450 seats in parliament; convene the first parliamentary session immediately after polling; suspend the emergency law before the elections; halt the practice of trying civilians in military courts; and pass a law barring Mubarak-era officials from contesting parliamentary polls.

Members of the political parties that attended the meeting hailed the agreement as another step towards democratic transition. But political forces not in attendance, showing little faith in the SCAF’s good intentions, blasted the move as naïve and opportunistic.

“The 13 parties cut a deal with the ruling council while completely ignoring key demands of the revolution, which up to this point remain unfulfilled,” Abdel Rahman Youssef, a founder of the leftist Egyptian People’s Party, still awaiting licence, told IPS. “The council-appointed government promised us months ago to end the emergency law and the military trials. Why should we believe its promises now?

“The council invited six cardboard, Mubarak-era opposition parties to the meeting, along with seven others – most of them Islamist or run by businessmen – all of which have an interest in holding elections as soon as possible,” Youssef added. “But it completely ignored all the new revolutionary youth parties.”

Saad al-Husseini, member of the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP)’s executive office, meanwhile, defended the agreement, which he said had met at least some longstanding demands.

“More importantly, the agreement will allow the electoral process to begin; the process by which executive power will finally be transferred to a civil authority,” he told IPS. “And this should take priority over everything else.”

Al-Husseini added that, in the meantime, the FJP would “continue to pressure the military council – with the use of million-man demonstrations if necessary – to meet all outstanding revolutionary demands.”

On Oct. 8, the ruling council made good on two of its promises. It modified election laws to let parties field candidates for all the seats in the national assembly, and announced that the first parliamentary session would convene immediately after results were announced.

For a number of political parties and forces, however, these concessions weren’t enough.

On Oct. 10, the Union of Revolutionary Youth, a coalition of several youth-based political groups, announced its decision to boycott upcoming polls in the absence of laws barring former regime loyalists from the races.

“Election laws as they currently stand will allow NDP remnants to run in elections,” leading union member Essam Sherif told IPS. “And I wouldn’t put it past them to employ violence against their opponents and fix elections as they have in the past.”

Barouma voiced similar fears, saying that participation in elections by NDP holdovers would lead to a “bloodbath”, especially given the current security vacuum and the post-revolution “proliferation of weapons among the citizenry.”

“The council has stated that if large numbers of people are killed in elections-related violence, it would suspend the polling,” Barouma said. “And this would provide it with a perfect excuse to further extend the transitional period and remain in power.”

Within the last three days, a number of SCAF and government officials have reiterated promises to enact laws banning Mubarak regime officials from contesting the polls – but only in cases in which judicial authorities had found the official in question guilty of corruption.

“The law in this form is totally worthless,” said Youssef. “Corruption cases against former officials will take years. In the meantime, they’ll win seats in parliament using bribery and coercion.”

He added: “This will derail Egypt’s ongoing revolution by allowing elements of the former regime, slowly but surely, back into power.”

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