- By Max StrasserMax Strasser is an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Prior to joining FP, he lived and worked in Cairo from 2009 to 2012 and was the news editor at Egypt Independent, an English-language newspaper. He has been a freelance writer, covering everything from the fishing business in Turkey to international arms fairs in London to Islamist militancy on the Egypt-Gaza border. His writing has appeared online or in print in The Nation, The New Statesman, The London Review of Books, Foreign Affairs, The Atlantic, Newsweek, and elsewhere. Max is a proud New Jersey native and has a BA in History from Oberlin College and an MSc in International Political Economy from the London School of Economics.
Egypt’s parliamentary elections went off today basically as expected, with vote buying, voter intimidation and fraud the norm across the country despite protests. What will change in Egypt as a result of today’s parliamentary election? Probably nothing, but the election hints at what we might be able to expect in the future from the regime in Cairo.
"I apologize if I gave some people the impression that these elections were elections, in any real sense of the word. They were not," wrote Shadi Hamid, a researcher at the Brookings Institution and a blogger at Democracy Arsenal. They certainly weren’t elections as an American would recognize them. To an Egyptian, though, they are all too familiar.
It will probably be a few days until the results are announced, but it’s clear that President Hosni Mubarak’s National Democratic Party will take a majority of the votes and continue to control the parliament, as it has done for almost 30 years.
Over the course of the daythere were numerous reports of abuses: from democracy activists beaten in Nile Delta cities to repeated attacks on journalists by state security forces to candidates in Cairo slumspaying 100 Egyptian pounds (about $20) per vote, and much more.
"We all expected violence will be the name of the game today, but I think the level of violence that actually happened has surpassed some of our wildest expectations," Hossam el-Hamalawy, a blogger, activist and journalist told me in an online chat.
In the past weeks there was a discussion of whether or not to send monitors to the election in Arab world’s most populous country. President Mubarak, naturally, opposed the idea and monitors weren’t accredited. That didn’t stop the Middle East director of Human Rights Watch from dispatching himself to a small city in the Nile Delta. He was subsequently detained by police.
The elections have been violent, and, at times, deadly. In Alexandria, rival members of the rulingparty battled in the streets. At least three people are confirmed dead by the government from election-related violence and there is speculation that the number could actually be closer to seven. The son of an opposition candidate was stabbed todeath the night before elections while putting up posters for his father.
Then again, police don’t even need to directly intimidate voters. Police intimidation runs deep in Egypt, where police kill citizens with a startling regularity, as Jack Shenker reported in The Guardian.
Most reports of election-day irregularities came from the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest and best-organized opposition group. As Ashraf Khalil wrote for FP, the Brotherhood, which is officially banned, has been under tremendous pressure from the regime in the run up to the election. The group won an unprecedented number of seats in the last parliamentary election in 2005, an experience that the government doesn’t seem eager to repeat.
Today’s parliamentary elections are largely being viewed as a test run for next year’s presidential election, when Egypt’s octogenarian ruler will be up for another six-year term. There is widespread speculation that Hosni Mubarak intends to pass the presidency on to his son Gamal at some point, but the mechanism for such a transfer of power is unclear.
Today’s events show that the regime is willing to use violence or outright fraud to maintain power. That’s a lesson both Hosni Mubarak and his opponents will keep in mind next year.
Marc Lynch is associate professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University, where he is the director of the Institute for Middle East Studies and of the Project on Middle East Political Science. He is also a non-resident senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security. He is the author of The Arab Uprising (March 2012, PublicAffairs).
He publishes frequently on the politics of the Middle East, with a particular focus on the Arab media and information technology, Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, and Islamist movements.| Marc Lynch |