The Corner

Egyptian Elections: What to Watch in the Runoff

The Election Commission has finally released the results of the first round voting that took place last week. While the commission will not officially declare winners in the party list seats, as they are required to wait after the last round to confirm that each party has passed the minimum requirement of 0.5 percent of the total vote, anyone with a calculator and knowledge of the system by which seats will be allocated can do so. The party lists seats are thus divided as follows:

Freedom and Justice Party (Muslim Brotherhood) and minor coalition partners: 44 seats

Islamic Alliance (Salafists): 28 seats

Egyptian Bloc: 16 seats

Wafd: 11 seats

Center Party (Islamist but more moderate than MB): 4 seats

Revolution Continues Coalition: 4 seats

Former NDP members: 5 seats

These 112 seats give us some indication of the composition of the new Egyptian parliament.

1. Only four Christians won seats through the party-list system and three have reached the runoff stage on the individual seats. This number is not likely to increase dramatically in the next two stages, as the next two stages are taking place in governates with fewer Christian votes and candidates. The overall parliament will have fewer than ten Christians elected among its 498 members. This will likely result in future revivals of the argument that special seats should be reserved for Christians, since neither the individual seats nor the proportional party lists seem to adequately represent a community that makes up 10 percent of the population. 

2. Three of the four Christian candidates elected are from the Egyptian Bloc. This reaffirms the Bloc’s position as the Christians party of choice. The remaining elected member, Amin Iskandar, is from a Nasserite Party that was part of the Muslim Brotherhood’s coalition. The Muslim Brotherhood is likely to package his victory as part of their PR campaign in the West claiming to represent the country’s Christians as well as Muslims.

3. There is only one women elected to the Egyptian parliament. While the electoral system required parties to include a minimum of one woman in their lists, nearly all of them chose to put that women near the end of the list, and in the case of the Salafists, the very last name, ensuring they wouldn’t win. The limited female representation is also likely to result in calls for quota seats allocated to women.

Egyptians head once again to the polls today to decide the 52 individual seats that were not decided in the first round. The four already declared seats went two for the Muslim Brotherhood, one for a former Mubarak supporter, and one for former Carnegie Endowment scholar Amr Hamzawy.

Looking at the 52 seats being decided today, the chances of the non-Islamists are quite dismal. #more#Out of 104 candidates competing, the Muslim Brotherhood has 47 and the Salafists 28. In 25 of these seats, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate is running against a Salafist one, ensuring that the winner will be an Islamist. There are only two seats where there is no Islamist candidate and in the remaining 25 seats the Islamist candidate is ahead of his competitor in 18 of those races.

There are a number of key indicators that observers should be looking at in these races:

1. What happens to the participation rate? Overall participation in the first round was 52 percent. In runoff elections, it would not be surprising if the rate went down; the question is by how much. Do the results of the first round encourage or discourage voters from participating? Do all groups participate equally or are some more motivated than others? Naturally, the more organized (Islamists) are likely to be able to mobilize their voters to come out twice in one week.

2. How do non-Islamist voters react in districts where the choice is one between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists? Do they pick the lesser of two evils or do they prefer boycotting the whole process?

3. What kind of coalitions will be built? In cases where a non-Islamist and a Salafist are running against two Muslim Brotherhood members, do they forge an alliance or are their ideological differences too deep to allow them from taking the right step electorally?

4. In the 27 seats where the Islamist are facing each other, what kind of campaigning do they conduct against the opposing side? With no non-Islamists to attack and taint with every vice, do the Salafists attack the Muslim Brotherhood candidates as too soft on sharia and Islam? Do the Muslim Brotherhood candidates portray themselves as the more moderate to win the non-Islamist votes or do they take a stricter stand in order to answer the challenge from the Salafists? This will be especially important to watch as it tells us how those two groups might react inside parliament.

— Samuel Tadros is a research fellow at the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom.

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