Egypt 2011

The first stage of legislative elections were held in Egypt on November 28-29 and December 5-6 2011. Following the conclusion the two final stages by early January 2012, 498 members of Egypt’s lower house – the People’s Assembly – will have been elected. An additional ten members will be named by the interim government of Egypt, the military Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). Of the 498 members, 332 will be elected from 46 multi-member constituencies through party-list PR (highest remainders) while 166 will be elected from a total of 83 two-member constituencies using the two-round system in a two-member constituency context.

Straight forward? No. The list component is rather easy, so I’ll come back to it. The district component is more confusing. Each of Egypt’s 27 governorates are divided into one or more districts, each district returning two members. At least one of those members must be a worker or farmer, a leftover from the Nasserist days of corporatism. In the first round, a candidate is elected by getting 50%+1 of the votes. Each ballot contains two votes, so 10 voters cast 20 votes. It is thus possible for two candidates to win by the first round, provided one is a worker or farmer. If nobody wins in the first round, the runoff includes the top four candidates where at least two are worker/farmers and where one winner is a worker/farmer. If the first round winner was not a worker/farmer, the top two worker/farmer candidates compete in the runoff. If the first round winner was a worker/farmer, the top two candidates irrespective of occupation compete in the runoff. If the two first round winners happen to be professionals, the one winning the most votes is elected and the top two workers/farmers compete in the runoff. The result will be that at least half of the members of the new legislature will be workers/farmers.

332 members are elected through party-lists, in a total of 46 constituencies. Each governorate is divided into districts (either 1, 2, 3 or 4 depending on the governorate) with at least four seats per individual district (or 6, 8, 10 or 12 seats per individual district). Parties must win 0.5% of the national vote to be eligible for any seats, which are determined through highest remainders PR. There is a similar worker/farmer rule here in terms of both list composition and determining elected MPs (if there are more than 50% professionals in the legislature, the list with the lowest ‘coefficient’ will have to skip the professional and give the seat to the next worker/farmer on the list).

The governorates which voted in the first phase are the nine most populous ones, basically: Alexandria, Asyut, Cairo, Damietta, Faiyum, Kafr-el-Sheikh, Luxor, Port Said and the Red Sea.


These elections are the first legislative elections following the Egyptian Revolution of 2011 which resulted in the ouster of long-time President Hosni Mubarak and the formation of a transitional government led by the military (SCAF) and Field Marshal Mohamed Tantawi. This legislature will be one of Egypt’s shortest in terms of lifespan, but will form the backbone of a 100-member committee which will draft a new constitution and set the stage for a presidential election to be held “no later than June 30, 2012”. These elections were all the more important as they came following the re-eruption of a mass protest movement across Egypt which criticized the SCAF’s attitude in the process. They notably accuse the SCAF of trying to establish the Egyptian military as a powerful political actor and of trying to play a key role in drafting the new constitution. Most civilian parties criticized the SCAF, but only the liberal-secular opposition demanded the elections to be delayed.

Who are the main actors? The main political actors can be divided into three: the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the liberal-secular Egyptian Bloc and the ultra-conservative Salafist Al-Nour-led coalition.

The Muslim Brotherhood (MB), founded in 1928, was the main opposition force to Mubarak’s regime. The MB, which had been persecuted under Nasser’s reign, was given more leeway under Sadat and Mubarak whose regimes tolerated the participation of MB candidates as independents in elections. The amount of freedom granted by the regime to the MB varied over time, for example in 2005 the MB had won nearly 90 seats in that year’s legislative elections, but that result prompted the regime to resort to mass fraud in the 2010 legislative election. The MB’s leadership had originally not been hot about the revolution, though its youth largely backed the revolution. The MB founded the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) as its political arm.

The FJP has gone to lengths, like Ennahda in Tunisia, to reassure voters and the international community of its intentions to abide by liberal democratic principles. It has claimed that it supports democratic pluralism, religious tolerance, women’s rights, and national unity. It is widely considered as socially conservative and economically right-wing, though the nature of the FJP’s economic program is more or less ambiguous with some members praising the old regime’s economic policies, the platform opposing neoliberalism and supporting redistributive social justice. The FJP’s relation with the SCAF has also been a source of controversy. The FJP, which is the most organized party, resisted pressures to delay the elections and has been accused of striking a deal with the SCAF whereby the MB would support the SCAF’s policies in return for a more lenient political environment for the FJP.

The FJP competed as the largest party as part of the Democratic Alliance for Egypt, whose other main party of note is Ayman Nour’s Al-Ghad. The coalition can be considered as an heavily MB-directed affair, following the defections of parties such as the Salafists and the liberal Al-Wafd party. Originally, the FJP had claimed that it would only run in half the seats, but its coalition ended up standing in almost every available seat.

The main secular alliance is the Egyptian Bloc. The Bloc is a three-party alliance composed of business tycoon Naguib Sawiris’ right-wing Free Egyptians Party, the centre-left Social Democrats and the socialist Al-Tagammu party. The Bloc’s composite nature in terms of ideology, from markedly free-market liberal to very much interventionist socialism, has been a source of internal tension and external criticism. Judging from the varied economic ideologies of the component parties, we can pretty fairly say that the Bloc’s raison-d’etre is opposition to the FJP and MB, and in fact their rhetoric has been aimed largely at the FJP. In terms of its relations with the SCAF, the Bloc is not as cuddly-cuddly with the SCAF as the FJP allegedly was, but it is not for that matter as anti-SCAF as the Tahrir protesters are. The Bloc has faced internal and external criticism for the inclusion of candidates belonging to the former ruling party, the National Democratic Party (NDP).

A bit to the Bloc’s left is the more composite Revolution Continues coalition, which ranges from socialists to liberals to Islamists. It is much more anti-SCAF than the Bloc and perhaps a bit less militantly secular (but still very left-secular in orientation) than the Bloc.

The third major movement is the Salafist movement, whose main party is the Al-Nour party. The Salafists are a group of ultra-conservative traditionalist Muslisms, who support the construction of a society based around the strict application of Sharia law. The party’s commitment to religious equality is questionable, its attitude towards democracy is just as questionable. Abdel Monem El-Shahat, an Al-Nour candidate in the Salafist stronghold of Alexandria had said that democracy, not only unorthodox, is sinful and atheist – based on the rule of man rather than the rule of God. He also said that Egyptian Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz’s writing encouraged debauchery and prostitution. Al-Nour, which is strongest in Alexandria, the historic base of the Salafist Al-Daawa movement since the 1970s, ran candidates alongside smaller Salafist and ultra-conservative Islamist parties as part of the Islamic Bloc.

Other parties include the liberal secular Al-Wafd, Egypt’s oldest party, which used to be allied with the FJP; the centrist moderate Al-Wasat – an old moderate splinter of the MB; and a series of NDP proxy parties including the Freedom Party, the National Party, the Citizen Party, the Union Party and the Conservatives. Supporters and remnants of the old NDP are often called felools (which means something like remnants of an army).

The election

Turnout in the first round was reported to be 62% originally, but apparently later “revised” downwards to 52%. The highest turnout since the days of the Pharaohs (didn’t know Ramses II was elected), or so claimed the rather hilarious boss the election commission. Turnout was lower in the runoffs. The full results on the election commission’s website are all in Arabic, but thankfully brave souls have transcribed and compiled results. Jadaliyya, my source for results, has pages on the results here and here. The Arabist blog, which is well worth following, has some nice graphs.

Citing Jadaliyya, here are the popular vote results for the list vote.

FJP and allies 36.62%
Al-Nour 24.36%
Bloc 13.35%
Al-Wafd 7.09%
Al-Wasat 4.27%
Revolution Continues 3.45%
Reform and Development 1.9%
National 1.58%
Freedom 1.41%
All others below 1%

Al Ahram gave the following overall results, including all seats but two seats in Cairo-1 which will vote on January 10-11:

FJP and allies winning 82 seats (46 pre-runoff)
Al-Nour winning 33 seats (28 pre-runoff)
Bloc winning 18 seats (16 pre-runoff)
Al-Wafd winning 12 seats (11 pre-runoff)
Al-Wasat winning 4 seats (4 pre-runoff)
Revolution Continues winning 5 seats (5 pre-runoff)
Reform and Development winning 2 seats (2 pre-runoff)
National winning 2 seats (1 pre-runoff)
Freedom winning 1 seat (1 pre-runoff)
Others (Citizen, Al-Adl) winning 3 seats (1 pre-runoff)
Independents winning 4 seats (1 pre-runoff)

Jadaliyya has different results, but provides results by district. The Arabist blog post I linked to above has charts showing both the Salafist vs. non-Salafist Islamic vote by governorate and the secular vs. Islamist vote by governorate. The Salafists did not outpoll the combined sum total of the non-Salafist Islamists anywhere, but won 46% in Damietta and Kafr-el-Sheikh and 44% in Alexandria. Secular parties outpolled the Islamists only on the Red Sea, and did ‘well’ with 40% and 36% in Luxor and Cairo respectively. In Damietta, the secular parties polled only 9%. They won 26% in Alexandria.

The major winner of these elections were the Islamists, but the need to differentiate between the ‘radicals’ and ‘moderates’ is important here. The FJP won by far the most seats. Its success should not surprise, in fact it didn’t surprise anybody and it was widely expected that they would win the elections. As the political arm of the MB, the FJP started out with organizational advantages which the secular parties did not have and which were only matched by the Salafists and maybe the felools. The FJP’s advantages on the ground from day one explains, of course, its alliance with the SCAF and its bid to move the electoral process along as rapidly as possible. The MB’s organizational structure is well oiled and is widely recognized as the main, almost uncontested, leader of the old opposition to the Mubarak regime. At the grassroots level, the FJP was able to gather the results of years of MB charitable organizations, social aid and so forth. In the period since the overthrow of the regime, the FJP also played their cards extremely well. They have been careful not to scare off more moderate voters, and they have made themselves into a voice of conservative stability.

We are always too quick to overestimate the real political power of any ‘mass protests’ in any country. This is especially true in Egypt with regards to the largely liberal-secular led protests in Tahrir Square prior to the elections, demanding notably the resignation of Tantawi and delaying the vote. While Egyptians heavily backed the revolution which toppled Mubarak, the mood now is focused not on institutional issues and questions such as religion and state, but rather on bread-and-butter concerns such as inflation, unemployment, food prices, poverty, access to health and education and so forth. The mood on the ground is one of conservatism and a longing for political stability. There is not much popular apatite for a confrontation with the SCAF (13% said the protests were a good thing) nor was there much support for delaying the vote (11%). The revolutionary fervour has died down and the main concern is stability.

The FJP understood that, unlike the liberals. The FJP was keen to say that its priorities were education, healthcare and other bread-and-butter issues. It opposed the protests which demanded that the SCAF step down and that the elections be delayed. The FJP was able to respond to the conservative cry for stability on the ground. The Bloc and the other liberals didn’t do themselves any favours by campaigning, like the most militantly anti-Islamist parties had done in Tunisia, solely on fear of Islamist takeover. They should know better that besides a handful of affluent liberals in urban areas, the grassroots demand is not for that. The FJP, like Ennahda in Tunisia, represents a force of conservative stability in line with the mood of the majority.

In Tunisia, I had pointed out the similarities between the transition process observed in the Arab Spring nations and the democratic transitions of the 70s in Europe and the Americas. Voters, both then and now in Tunisia and Egypt, have embraced more or less moderate forces who represented stability and step-by-step transition rather than the more radical forces who wanted a rapid break with the old order.

The other major story of this election was the Salafists’ surprisingly strong performance, surging into a second which was far from expected. The Salafists, like the FJP, also started off with advantages on the ground. They have a similarly strong and old network of charitable organizations, and they are better implanted in mosques than the MB are. In Alexandria, where Al-Daawa has been a local presence since the 1970s, the Salafists are particularly strong. They are equally as strong in Damietta and Kafr-el-Sheikh, both of which are generally rural areas in the Nile Delta. Rural and even urban Lower Egypt is very poor, many people live in squalid living conditions, jammed into quasi-ghettos with little running water or electricity. For a lot of observers, it was these poor voters who provided the Salafists and their message of order and morality with a strong base.

Their candidates, like a lot of FJP candidates, could also count on a strong personal vote especially in poorer rural areas where it would generally be easier to convince voters based on factors other than ideology. There is also a popular sentiment, shared by a good number of voters, that MB is greedy, secretive, arrogant and self-interested. I don’t know if it would be fair to attribute the Salafist success to a conservative backlash at the FJP’s shift to the centre and away from the more religiously-influenced doctrine of the MB in the past.

It is interesting to see how the Salafist’s success has quickly turned a brief MB-Salafist honeymoon in a full-out war, especially in places like Damietta where the races are exclusively Salafist vs. MB. FJP activists decried the unfairness of having their election and 40 years of local work “stolen” from them by political newcomers. The FJP received quite a cold shower from the Salafist success, and they have not hidden their frustration at the results. In an ironic twist, the FJP are now the ones who decry the use of religion to manipulate poor voters on the Salafist’s behalf. They have also accused the Salafists of working hand in hand with and receiving much support and votes from the felools. Others in the FJP have claimed that the Salafists were funded not only by the old regime and military, but also by the Saudis and even Americans. The Salafists have tried to convince people that they aren’t radicals despite everything. They view the MB and FJP as secretive and self-interested.

How will the Salafist success affect the FJP? Will it now view Egypt’s partisan future as being a two-party system divided between moderate and radical Islamists, and move towards the centre and left (liberals and seculars) to attract their votes? Or will it move to the “right” in a bid to win those who vote for Al-Nour? Already, the FJP has said that it would not seek an alliance with the Salafists. The Salafists talk of a grand Islamist alliance with the MB, to oppose the liberal and foreign forces which they claim are degenerating Egypt; but the MB seem to understand that the Salafists would be a thorn in their side and a big load attached to them. The FJP is more pragmatic, moderate and is keen on not entering into an Islamist alliance that would alienate the SCAF, which retains power, and foreign states. On top of that, there is enough bad blood between the two enemy brothers of Egyptian Islamism to make such an Islamist coalition unlikely. The FJP prefers a centrist alliance, with parties such as Al-Wasat and Al-Wafd being their most likely partners, which pleases the more moderate sectors of society and the military.

It is interesting to note that the runoffs earlier this week halted the Salafist wave quite a bit. In competition in 27 seats – most of them straight FJP-Salafist contests, Al-Nour won only 5 of those seats. In Alexandria-1, Abdel Monem El-Shahat (the one who had criticized democracy) was defeated by an FJP candidate despite having placed second with 33% in the first round. In Alexandria-2, Tarek Talaat Mostafa, an independent backed by the Salafists and the felools was defeated by an FJP candidate after having dominated the first round with 43%. Liberals and secular voters, where they were present, likely played a role in their defeat by preferring FJP candidates as least-worst options. The defeats of these two and many other prominent Salafists allowed liberals to breathe a sigh of relief. Has the media’s attention to some of the movement’s more radical hotheads and their sprouting inanities turned the wind around?

The big losers of the first stage were the liberals, notably the Egyptian Bloc, which placed a distant third and won only a handful of seats. I had touched above on the poor strategy of the liberal camp, notably their focus on institutional matters or on opposing the FJP rather than focusing, like the FJP allegedly has, on bread-and-butter issues which would strike a chord with more Egyptians. Beyond that, the liberal parties in Egypt are disorganized, divided, weak, lacking any organization on the ground and cannot come close to the discipline and groundwork of the MB and even Salafists. Many of their star candidates lost by the first round, although the Revolution Continues candidate Amr Hamzawy in the affluent Cairo-4 constituency, which includes the upper-class neighborhood of Heliopolis.

Compared to Tunisia, where liberal and secular forces saved face and did well, it seems as if the difference between the two countries is twofold: a) Tunisian society is much more liberal and secular, while Egyptian society remains deeply conservative and religious despite the Mubarak regime’s past assurances to the contrary and b) the Tunisian liberal and secular movement was better organized and had better established leaders.

The victory of the Islamists with over 65% of the seats leaves the liberals and secular forces in total disarray. The victory of the Islamists, particularly the strong showing of the Salafists, frightens both the upper-class secular elites and the country’s Coptic Christian minority (10%) who continue to fear for a spike in inter-religious violence and the establishment of a restrictive Islamist state. The Islamist victory has also sent a chill down the SCAF’s spine. Now more than ever the SCAF seems keen on holding on to power for as long as possible. They have placed the new legislature’s legitimacy as the representative of the Egyptian people’s popular will into question, they have let it be known that they intend to play a big role in drafting the constitution and that they are not hot on giving up power and wish to continue appointing cabinets themselves. The fear, now more than ever, is that the SCAF is really trying to place itself in a role similar to that held by Turkey’s military – as non-elected authoritarian guardians of a secular order.

The second stage runs on December 14-15 and 21-22, the third stage runs on January 3-4 and concludes on 10-11. Some large governorates such as Dakahlia (last), Beheira (next), Giza (next), Gharbia (last), Sharqia (next) and Sohag (next) have still not voted. The trend is unlikely to be reversed. Consider that some of Egypt’s most ‘liberal’ governorates voted in the first stage: Cairo and the Red Sea, and Alexandria to a certain extent (though it is an Islamist stronghold). Judging from the 2011 referendum results, a proxy in my mind for liberal-secular vs. conservative, only South Sinai (Sharm-el-Sheikh) and Minya (Coptic minority) are governorates which can be considered as liberal (Giza to a certain extent). Both vote in the final stage, but basically nobody lives in South Sinai anyways. A lot of the more rural areas of the Nile Delta, where Salafists and FJP can be expected to do well, the western desert and most of Upper Egypt will vote in the next stages. I expect the FJP to do well there as well, although perhaps the Salafists will not do as well in Upper Egypt as they did in Lower Egypt where they do not seem to have as large a base.

Posted on December 9, 2011, in Egypt. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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