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Egyptians Learning the Messiness of Democracy as Elections Loom

October 19, 2011

Elections are going to be pretty different this time around with no predetermined results...

I’ve been thinking about Steven A. Cook’s contention that Egypt is not in a crisis; it’s pretty much where we would expect it to be at this point in a political transition of this magnitude. What’s making me think about it is watching the political blocs struggle with each other over acceptable power sharing.

American students often find parliamentary systems confusing. Dozens of political parties, some extremely small or highly localized, vie for seats. It’s very democratic (perhaps more so than our two-party system), but it can be amazingly inefficient, especially because it’s easy to end up with no party having enough votes to form a government. Israel, for instance, is notorious for never having one party win enough seats to form a government.

So what the party with the most votes has to do is share power with other parties that have even fewer votes so that, when all these Parliamentary seats are added together, there are enough to form a government.

Egypt is in the first throws of having to actually think about how to form multiple party political blocs. With the exception of the El-Ghad party in 2005, the other parties received one or two seats in most elections as a mere courtesy of Mubarak’s National Democratic Party (the Muslim Brotherhood could not even run as a party and had to run its candidates in 2005 as independents).

So the Egyptian political parties–of which there are dozens–are starting to form political blocs. And unform them. And reform them…

On Oct. 14th, we read in Al-Masry Al-Youm  that four parties – the Socialist Popular Alliance, the Egyptian Socialist Party, the Salam, and the Tayyar – pulled out of “the Egyptian Bloc” because it was running some candidates who had previously run for the National Party. The Social Popular Alliance Party announced that it would form a new bloc  to take part in the elections. Among those expected to join are the Revolution Youth Coalition as well as the Egyptian Socialist, the Egyptian Current and the Egypt Freedom parties..

The Egyptian Bloc–the main secular party alliance, headed by Naguib Sawiris’s Free Egyptians Party–meanwhile denied that it is running any former NDP Candidates. It still has 18 members.

The Islamic parties aren’t doing any better. The Democratic Alliance, led by the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, has lost more than half its original members. First, it lost the venerable Wafd party. Then it lost two Salafi parties, Al-Assala and Al-Fadila, having been insulted by being offered a mere 8 seats each out of the list of 80 they’d hoped to run.

A rush of others followed. The bloc dropped from 40 to 16 in just days. It might have been 15, because the Islamic Gamaa’ party also threatened to pull out, but was kept by a promise to run for 11% of the bloc’s candidate list.

But a story in the Saudi-owned Elaph website October 18 claims the Muslim Brotherhood is taking these defections in stride. With Muslim Brotherhood members recently elected to leadership roles in several syndicates, they figure they are poised for electoral success in both the Shura and the People’s Assembly.

The Wafd Party, meanwhile, has seen two high level officials resign, arguing that the party had failed to take a leadership role in the uprisings, and continued to lag behind the times.

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