Egypt's Parliamentary Elections 2011-12:
A Critical Guide to a Changing Political Arena
When Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak was toppled on February 11,
2011, a new and unprecedented opening in Egypt's political life had occurred.
The period that followed is marked with complicated rivalries, civilian-military
pacts, some breaks from the past, and the continuation of the pre-revolutionary
order. To make sense of this kaleidoscope of groups, interests, parties,
coalitions, ideologies, and powers, there is no alternative to detailed
analyses. What is at stake is the very meaning of revolution and its role in
contemporary Egypt. The first multi-party national parliamentary elections
that followed the removal of Mubarak are extremely instructive and serve as a
landmark juncture in Egyptian politics. The political space created and the wide
array of parties and groups competing present a new opportunities and challenges
for a country still reeling. It is this period and its actors that
Egyptís Parliamentary Elections, 2011-2012 delves
into with mighty force and analytical rigor. An effort by Jadaliyya
and Ahram Online and supported by the Center for Contemporary Arab
Studies at Georgetown and George Mason University, this book is a must-have for
anyone serious about understanding Egypt politics post-Mubarak.
Unlike any other volume on Egypt's political groups, this combines two books in one--the first is a detailed and meticulously-documented compendium of all political parties and groups functioning in Egypt during the Supreme Council for the Armed Forces (SCAF)-led transition between February and November 2011 and the second is an analytical frame that evaluates not just the performance of these parties but examines their ability to function and consolidate votes in this milieu and beyond.
This book is an indispensable asset to anyone trying to understand the transformative experiment in electoral governance in the first free and open election in the country after the toppling of the Mubarak regime. Unlike most other analyses of this moment, the book avoid some very important pitfalls. It neither fetishizes nor valorizes the rise of Islamist political groups and their instrumentation of ideological and theological outreach nor does it reduce their success to voter mobilization. It also avoid assuming the demise of the National Democratic Party (NDP) and carefully examines the way in which political actors prominent on the scene have moved laterally to other parties to continue operating. However, the most important obstacle the book overcame is the assumption that elections, irrespective of voter participation, the electorate's confidence, the widespread positive media coverage, or the endorsement of international observers, are guarantees of political, social, and economic stability in a time of revolution. This evaluative assessment has been judiciously proved by subsequent eruptions of mobilization outside the electoral process from just prior to the parliamentary elections during the clashes of Mohammed Mahmoud St. in November 2011, to the Cabinet sit-in clashes, to Port Said clashes, to Ittihadeya clashes during Morsi's presidency and the Canal cities, and following the ouster of Morsi in Rab'aa El-Adawia, Nahda, Ramsis, Kerdasa, and elsewhere in the country. In both favorable and unfavorable electoral outcomes, the country's political engagement and ferment cannot be comprehensively subsumed by political parties even if the offerings (as demonstrated by the encyclopedia entries in this book) cover a broad spectrum of options for the electorate.
Since this Islamist majority parliament was dissolved just months after being elected by a constitutional court ruling (assumed by many to be directed by then-ruling SCAF), an examination of the body's short-lived performance and that of its surrogate, the Shura Council, as a legislative body during Morsi's time in office are critical in understanding whether democratic principles are reflected by the performance of democratically-elected bodies. One very important and extremely disconcerting example was the composition of the constituent assembly and its divisive record which alienated a substantial proportion of non-Islamist members and moved the constitution through to referendum without broad consensus. Additionally, as Hesham Sallam articulates clearly, the overarching struggle politically has been between two camps that meta-theoretically argue that the revolution has either been concluded or continues unabated. The two camps shift depending on the political circumstances and the jockeying at the centers of power. In the run up to the parliamentary elections, it was the military, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Islamist parties, that rallied behind the discourse of "revolution accomplished" since the day Mubarak was toppled. For political groups that once stood against this coalition that refused to celebrate on consecutive January 25th but rather used the occasion to rally against government, they have found themselves today in a precarious situation. Many treat the massive protests against Morsi and the Brotherhood on June 30 as a concluding moment for the revolution and have built alliances with the military at the expense of the Islamists. And in a game of musical chairs, it is now the Islamists who claim that their mobilization against the new interim government stands for the continuation of the revolution. Sallam astutely addresses this by explaining that no party or group has a monopoly on "revolution" but rather than the principles of this often nondescript and shifting movement remain stubbornly simple in the demands of "bread, freedom, and social justice." This then becomes the barometer of where the revolution lies vis-a-vis those in power and in response to the policies they espouse, whether they are elected or not.
All this in mind, at its core, this book remains an unparalleled resource on the Egyptian electoral system and the political parties in it. The book collates and presents a play-by-play and person-by-person account of the political ferment in Egypt over the past two years. By offering readers a who's who of Egyptian politics at this critical juncture in the country's history we are able to see the country's oft-misunderstood dynamics with clarity in a manner that allows us to better surmise future performance--rhetorically and electorally--for these actors. Unlike most other presentations of political parties, this book is a historical record of each group's stated ideology, views, and actions on various vital aspects of Egyptian political life--from the role of religion and the state, military trials, social justice, Palestine, economic policy, foreign relations etc. At a time when political transformations and shifts in positions are all too frequent, this book serves as a archive against which action can be contrasted.
As Egypt moves forward in its second military-shepherded transition period since 2011 and with a growing societal polarization that has precipitated a heavy-handed crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood and some other Islamist parties, a firm grasp of Egypt's political landscape as presented in this volume is imperative to understand what comes next.
Hesham Sallam is
a doctoral candidate in government at Georgetown University and co-editor of ezine.
His research focuses on Islamist movements and the politics of economic reform.
Sallamís research has previously received the support of the U.S Institute of
Peace (USIP) and the Social Science Research Council. He is former program
specialist at USIP. He previously worked at Middle East Institute, ,
and the World Security Institute. Sallam received a B.A. in political science
from the University of Pittsburgh and an M.A. in Arab Studies from Georgetown
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