Egyptians have headed to the polls today in the first round of the first stage of their parliamentary elections. Before we take a look at what to watch and expect in this round, some general observations are necessary.
1. The question is not whether the Islamists will win, but what the size of their victory is going to be. Contrary to the earlier narrative propagated by the Western media, the Islamist victory will not be in the 3040 percent range. It is quite apparent to anyone that has been paying attention that their victory will be nothing short of a tsunami.
2. The real battle is not going to be between the Islamists and the imagined liberals. The struggle in most Egyptian governates will be between the Muslim Brotherhood’s Democratic Alliance and the more radical Salafist Islamic Alliance.
3. The imagined sleeping giant of Sufism that could counter the Islamists is nothing more than a pipe dream. The Sufi Egyptian Liberation Party is fielding only 15 candidates in the elections and none of them is expected to win.
4. The much-talked-about splits inside the Brotherhood, mainly among their youth, are another pipe dream. None of the people and parties formed by former MB members will perform well.
5. The Egyptian Bloc will be the largest non-Islamist party represented in the next parliament. More than 95 percent of Christians are voting for the Bloc due to Christians’ support for the Free Egyptian Party, which is the main party in the Bloc’s three-party coalition.
6. Western polling that gave the Wafd the second rank after the MB will turn out to be wrong. El Wafd will be the election’s largest losers. The only reason they polled well was name recognition and not actual support
7. The elections will indicate the actual size of the revolutionary groups. Their Revolution Continues Coalition will perform very poorly.
In the first stage, parties are competing for 168 seats. Those seats are hardly representative of the whole country. The cities, including Cairo and Alexandria, are being contested. But Egypt is not Cairo and Cairo is not Tahrir square. (This is a self evident fact, but it sometimes escapes observers.) The non-Islamists will perform better in this stage than they will in the overall. If the Islamists manage to get 50 percent of this round, we should expect their overall to be in the 65 percent range.
The New York Times is already running with a story about the unexpectedly large turnout. Such early assessments are premature. The long lines you will be seeing in newspapers and on TV screens are a result of a regulation that requires judicial supervision of each ballot box. Given Egypt’s limited number of judges, an average of almost six voting stations are being combined into one. Given also that people are required to fill out two ballots, one of them requiring a choice between over 100 individual candidates, voting is expected to take a long time. It is for this reason that the ruling military council has decided to make voting take place over two days. Turnout will only become clear after we see actual numbers coming out of the election committee.
The Islamists are proving why they deserve to win. While ideology is the main reason for their support, their organizational skills are proving to be quite helpful. In front of every voting station, voters are greeted by MB representatives sitting with their computers and telling voters what to do exactly. Their supporters have been mobilized for months and have been transferred to the stations.
What to watch for today:
1. How many individual seats get decided from the first round. With the law requiring that a candidate receive 50 percent plus one of the votes cast and over 100 candidates competing for the each seat, hardly any seat is likely to be determined without a runoff. If the Islamists manage to win more than a few seats from the first round, this will be an indication that they will completely dominate those seats.
2. Do the former ruling NDP candidates stand their ground in Luxor? If they do, the same is likely in other southern governates in the next rounds. If they don’t, nothing will stand between the Islamists and a two-thirds majority.
3. While all eyes will be on Alexandria to assess the Salafists’ electoral strength, it is more important to watch what will happen in Kafr El Sheikh and Fayyoum. If the Salafists perform well there, the same will happen in other governates such as Behira and Bani Suif.
4. The battle for Port Said. No seat symbolizes the chances of non-Islamists more than the individual non-workers seat in Port Said. George Ishak, the former Communist founder of the Kefaya Movement, is competing against Akram El Shaer of the MB.
5. Will the tribes hold their ground in the Red Sea or will the MB win any seat there? This will be an indication of how other desert governates will go. Traditionally, the MB has had no presence in those governates.