Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Egypt elections beyond ideology: A return to common sense politics


Egypt elections beyond ideology: A return to common sense politics
By   Hamid Eltgani Ali and Warigia Bowman December 13, 2011, 5:00 pm

The first round of Egyptian parliamentary elections is drawing to a close, but in another sense, Egyptian multi-party politics is just beginning. After a partially successful revolution, Egypt is now on a crash course to multi-party democracy. Other countries that have gone through major political transitions from dictatorship to democracy generally have had decades to make the transition. The question many Western observers are asking now is what shape will Egypt’s nascent democracy take? Will it more closely resemble the secular Turkey, or the more theocratic Iran?

 As news reports have indicated, the results of the first round of elections have been discouraging for those who support a secular state in Egypt. Based on our quantitative analysis of publicly available ex post election data after the first round of voting, the Islamists performed exceptionally well in comparatively rural areas with low political capital such as Fayoum and Luxor.

By contrast, liberal and moderate parties, taken altogether, won only 27 percent of total votes and performed relatively well in highly urbanized areas of high political capital like Cairo, Alexandria and Port Said. Liberal candidates are likely to do worse in the second and third rounds of voting which will be held in parts of rural Egypt that are likely to be less progressive and politically sophisticated than Cairo, the Red Sea and The Delta.

Given results in the first round of the Egyptian elections, what lessons can be learned?

Given what we  have seen in the first round of the Egyptian elections,  what lessons can be learned? First of all, liberal parties made a serious miscalculation by running numerous separate lists. Many of the parties in the Revolution Continues Alliance (RCA) withdrew from the Bloc allegedly due to inter-party conflicts. The only liberal party that has done well in the elections has been The Egyptian Bloc, which has captured 14 percent of the available seats thus far. Liberal parties are doing even worse under the single-winner system. In the first round of runoffs, 47 of the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidates (Freedom and Justice Party) made it to the runoffs. The far right Islamist party Al Nour has secured 27 candidates in the first round of runoffs. By contrast, the Egyptian Bloc only had 9 candidates in runoffs. The liberal and moderate parties need to resolve their differences and work as a unit to gain any seats.

The second lesson to be learned is that Egyptians have not yet embraced an ideological approach to politics. The conservative right and liberal left categories which categorize Europe simply do not apply well here, accordingly labels and ideologies are not useful campaign tools. Rather, parties can more easily be divided along a crucial axis: support for a secular state, or support for a religious (Islamic) state. The second lesson to be learned here, then, all parties must figure out what matters to them and campaign on issues,  like how they will reduce unemployement, not ideologies. The Egyptian people do not know what “social justice,” means yet. But they do know what a hungry stomach feels like.

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