While much of the Western media is preoccupied with the clashes in Tahrir Square and their narrative of a reignited revolution, Egypt votes today in what may be the longest voting process in history. These elections are important not only because they are the first after the fall of Mubarak, but because the parliament they elect will be responsible for choosing the committee that will write Egypt’s new constitution. Victory today for any group means the ability to set the rules of the game in the future.
Today, Egyptians head to the polls to vote for the lower chamber of parliament. The elections for that chamber will go well into January, with the upper chamber following until March. A quick explanation of the electoral process is needed for readers to follow the events as they unfold.
The lower chamber will be composed of 508 members, 498 elected and ten appointed by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). The 498 members will be elected by two methods: two thirds of them (332) through closed party lists, the remaining one third (166) through individual seats. To complicate things further, a minimum of 50 percent of all members of parliament must be workers or peasants, a rule that has been in place since the Nasserist era.
Even though we are hours away from the start of voting, and even though Egyptians abroad have already been voting for the past few days, few Egyptians fully understand how the voting will proceed. Each Egyptian will be casting two ballots, one for the party lists (where he will be voting for one list only) and one ballot for the individual seats (where he will choose two candidates). Is he obliged to vote for a worker/peasant as one of his choices? No one really knows the election committee has given mixed answers. Add in the fact that this will be many Egyptians’ first time voting in parliamentary elections, and we should expect a record number of invalid votes.
The elections are divided into three stages, with Egypt’s 27 governates divided equally between them. Each stage will take place over two rounds. In the first round, the list seats will all get decided, since the minimum vote requirement is so low (0.5 percent). For the individual seats, a candidate must receive half-plus-one of votes cast in order to be declared a winner without a runoff, and since each district has over 100 candidates running for its seats, such an outcome is not expected. One week following the first round, runoff elections will be held between the highest vote receivers.
The coalitions contesting the elections are:
1. Democratic Alliance: Headed by the Muslim Brotherhood and includes nine other minor parties, including a Nasserite one and El Ghad of Ayman Nour. The Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party is providing 77 percent of the alliance’s candidates.
2. Islamic Alliance: Includes seven Islamist parties. The main ones are the Salafist Light Party and the Building and Development Party, which is formed by former founders of the terrorist group Gamaa Islamia, whose spiritual leader is the Blind Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman.
3. The Egyptian Bloc: Includes three parties, the right-of-center Free Egyptians, formed by Christian billionaire Naguib Sawiris; the left-of-center Social Democratic Party; and the Socialist National Progressive Unionist Party.
4. The Revolution Continues Alliance: Formed by revolutionary groups such as the Egyptian Socialist Party, the Socialist Popular Alliance Party, the Egyptian Current Party formed by former MB youth, and the Freedom Egypt Party formed by former Carnegie Endowment scholar, Amr Hamzawy.
Outside of those coalitions, there are parties contesting the elections on their own:
1. El Wafd Party: the historical nationalist party that fought for Egypt’s independence from the British.
2. The Center Party: formed by former MB members in the mid ’90s.
3. The Justice Party: formed by some activists and people associated with Mohamed El Baradei.
4. Reform and Development Party: formed as a coalition between Catholic businessman Ramy Lakah and Anwar Essmat El Sadat, the nephew of the former president.
5. Former NDP parties: These include seven parties that are more a loose alliance of families than real parties. Each of them is centered in a certain area in Egypt.