Egypt Elections: the game changer
December 02, 2011
‘The message of the historic Egyptian election, which began Monday with huge crowds turning out to vote in the protest-scarred cities of Cairo and Alexandra, is a simple one: Egypt's immediate political future will not be written in Tahrir Square, or by the revolutionaries who last week lost 40 of their comrades to violence by the security forces. But nor will the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), the junta that eased out former President Hosni Mubarak in February, be able to sustain its claim to a monopoly on decision making over the transition process. By creating a democratically elected assembly — no matter how flawed by SCAF's arcane election laws, and how limited its mandate may be according to the junta's plan — the election process, which may take months to complete, creates a political voice whose legitimacy to speak for Egyptians trumps that of both SCAF and Tahrir Square. And that could profoundly change the power game in the coming months’ Time says.
The landmark election has already been overshadowed by turmoil in the streets over the past week, and the population is sharply polarized and confused over the nation’s direction. Still, the vote promises to be the fairest and cleanest election in Egypt in living memory. The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest and best organized group, along with its Islamist allies are expected to do well in the vote, which has been a source of concern for secular and liberal Egyptians who fear the Brotherhood will try to implement a strict version of Islamic law in the country. Voting was extended to cope with the high turnout and few security problems were reported.
There had been fears the vote might be delayed after deadly protests against the interim military rulers who replaced Mr Mubarak.
Protesters occupying Cairo's Tahrir Square have boycotted the vote. The protesters fear the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces led by Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, which is overseeing the transition to democracy after decades of authoritarian rule, is trying to retain power.
At least 41 demonstrators have been killed and more than 2,000 wounded in the past 10 days, as tensions have flared in the Arab world's most populous state.
Voters in nine provinces, including Cairo, Port Said, Alexandria and Assiut vote on Monday and Tuesday in the first stage of a process extending until March.
Other provinces take their turns through December and early January for elections to the 508-member People's Assembly.
Voting for the upper house, or Shura Assembly, of parliament takes place after that and the presidential election is supposed to be held by mid-2012.
About 50 million people are eligible to vote out of a population in excess of 85 million - with candidates from 50 registered political parties.
The new parliament is likely have a strong Islamist bloc led by the Muslim Brotherhood, liberal groupings and some reconditioned relics of Hosni Mubarak's old party, says the BBC's Kevin Connolly in Cairo.
Official results from the first phase of voting should be announced soon, but the final make-up of the lower and upper house of parliament will not be clear until March.
The Muslim Brotherhood came under fierce criticism from liberal groups for failing to support the renewed occupation of Tahrir Square, with even many members of the organization questioning the leadership's reluctance to more forcefully challenge the junta's violent crackdown. Liberal groups accused the Brotherhood of "opportunism" for insisting that the elections go ahead, largely because it is widely expected that the Islamist movement's Freedom and Justice Party will be the big winner at the polls. But, of course, the Brotherhood could make the same complaint against the liberals' demand to postpone a poll in which they're likely to be marginalized: most of the liberal parties lack a clear political identity, much less the grassroots presence and organizational machinery that the Brotherhood has built in working class communities despite decades of repression.