Dec 052011

The preliminary results are in from the elections in Egypt:

  • The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party got 36.6%.
  • The conservative Nour Party took 24.4%.
  • The liberal Egyptian Block received 13.4%.
  • The Wafd Party (also liberal) received 7.1%.
  • The moderate Islamist Wasat or Centrist Party gained 4.3% of the votes.
Tahrir Square Street Vendor

Tahrir Square Street Vendor

AlJazerra summarizes the preliminary results:

“The conflict will be over the soul of Egypt,” said Nabil Abdel-Fattah, a senior researcher at the state-sponsored Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, calling the new parliament “transitional” with a “very conservative Islamic” outlook.

The Brotherhood has emerged as the most organised and cohesive political force in these elections. But with no track record of governing, it is not yet clear how they will behave in power.

The Freedom and Justice Party has positioned itself as a moderate Islamist party that wants to implement Islamic law without sacrificing personal freedoms, and has said it will not seek an alliance with the more radical Nour Party.

The ultraconservative Salafis who dominate the Nour Party are newcomers to the political scene. They had previously frowned upon involvement in politics and shunned elections.

They espouse a strict interpretation of Islam similar to that of Saudi Arabia. Its members say laws contradicting religion cannot be passed.

Egypt already uses Islamic law, or Sharia, as the basis for legislation. However, laws remain largely secular as Sharia does not cover all aspects of modern life.

If the Freedom and Justice Party chooses not to form an alliance with the Salafis, the liberal Egyptian Bloc – which came in third with 13.4 per cent of the votes – could counterbalance hard-line elements. 

This is only the first round of voting and the system for selecting the panel that will draft a new constitution is complex. It is a beginning – an historic one – but the beginning of a struggle that as Abdel-Fattah said, will be over the soul of Egypt.

One puzzling side note from Reuters – there was a “counting error” in the turnout for the election:

The head of the election committee, Abdul Moez Ibrahim, had put the turnout in last week’s voting at 62 percent, but on Monday he told a news conference the figure had been revised to 52 percent, blaming a counting error.

Acceptable, perhaps, as long as there’s no counting errors in the actual results.

Dec 022011
Ballot Counting

Election Officials Counting Ballots

The results of the first round of the historic elections in Egypt have been delayed again, probably until Friday or Saturday. However, according to the New York Times, it appears that the Muslim Brotherhood, well organized from years of opposition to Mubarak’s rule, will end up with 40% – 45%. Add in what may be a strong showing by the ultra-conservative Salafis and the two groups may end up with 65% of the initial seats in the parliament.

The unexpected rise of a strong ultraconservative Islamist faction to the right of the Brotherhood is likely to shift Egypt’s cultural and political center of gravity to the right as well. Leaders of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party will likely feel obliged to compete with the ultraconservatives for Islamist voters, and at the same time will not feel the same need to compromise with liberals to form a government. 

No doubt this is not the result that the Coptic minority and more liberal/secular members of the public wanted to see, but it appears they did not present a unified front. Much remains to be determined, and obviously, the Muslim Brotherhood will decide who they want as partners in a coalition. Still, at the moment, just the very fact that there were free elections remains a victory for Egypt as a whole.

Now the truly hard work begins of deciding what kind of country they want to be. And if you think that’s easy, or that the decisions made in the coming year entirely determine the future shape of Egypt, just look at the founding of the United States and the unresolved issues and “compromises” made in the forming a union. We idealize our own beginning, gloss over the profound schisms at its birth and generally fail to acknowledge that the Constitution was our second attempt to make it work. Seventy years later, it fell apart in the Civil War and the legacy of the causes and the aftermath are with us still.

We are a work in progress even now; don’t expect it to be any different on the streets of Cairo or the shores of the Sinai Peninsula.

Nov 282011
Egyptian Ballot Symbols

Egyptian Ballot Symbols

Since the 1950′s Egypt (like many countries) has used symbols for political parties and candidates on their paper ballots. Chosen by the Supreme Elections Commission and supposedly assigned at random, the images facilitate party identification and the voting process for a not fully literate public. According to the Guardian, 30 symbols used to suffice during the Mubarak regime; now some 250 are needed for the current round of elections beginning this week.

But as Kevin Connolly points out in a BBC article, the symbols are not just a literacy issue as some of the races offer a mind-boggling complexity:

Even if you can read and write, trying to remember who is who on the sheaf of ballot papers you’ll be receiving may not be easy.

I know of one constituency where voters will be choosing between 77 candidates from the party list and then making their selections from a further 133 who are running as individual candidates.

And the voting process itself is hardly simple. Once in the booth voters will have to select both a party list and two independent candidates; failing to do so will invalidate their entire ballot. Some office seekers have had to spend more time explaining the voting process itself instead of their own positions. Add in the complication of run-offs, a lack of information on ballot box security or when and how the results will be announced and . . . one can only hope this works out. If not, Tahrir Square will be the scene of further protests.

The images have generated both controversy and humor:

One candidate in Imbaba, a neighbourhood of Cairo, declared he had been “humiliated” after being handed the symbol of a woman’s dress, while another has turned crisis into opportunity by basing his entire campaign around the symbol of a cuddly toy (“If you don’t like my style … give me back my teddy bear”, reads one of his slogans).

Other symbols have provoked more serious political debate, particularly those depicting military strength or weapons. Amid ongoing and violent unrest between anti-junta demonstrators and the military council’s security forces, who some accuse of being little more than an extension of the Mubarak dictatorship, much has been made of the armoured vehicle symbol of the Conservative party – a political organisation formed largely of former members of Mubarak’s administration. 

You can see close-ups of ballots here. And Google has a Doodle in honor of the historic elections on their Egyptian page:

Egypt Election Google Doodle