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December 5, 2011

A made-in-Egypt democracy

Prof. Dr. Mohamed Elmasry

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Last week, following the first round of Egypt's parliamentary elections, "congratulations" was the message I received from family and friends. This was following the 10 months since the January 25th Revolution. I was, and still am, optimistic that my home country is on the right track towards democracy, freedom and social justice. I participated in the revolution and in my book A New Egypt I expressed why I was optimistic.

International observers, including Carter Centre, journalists and ambassadors of foreign countries to Egypt, all agreed that with the exceptions of very few violations the elections were almost ideal.

To administrate the elections, Egypt was divided into three regions, each including nine governorates with three different dates for the elections. This was done to guarantee security, and allow each polling station to have a judge to chair the election committee in that station - a brilliant made-in-Egypt step.

Another unique and bold “made-in-Egypt” feature was passing a law making voting a national duty - similar to military or social drafting - and imposing a fine of 500 Egyptian pounds - about $80 - on those who didn’t vote (exceptions include elders and the sick). A similar step was discussed at length (but not approved) by right-wing politicians in Western democracies to allow them to manipulate voting results to their advantage.

Another “made-in-Egypt” law criminalized those who violated election rules among candidates, parties and alliances; they could face prison sentences of up to 15 years, and a fine of up to 200,000 Egyptian pounds.

Also, new election laws which greatly enhance democracy on the ground, require that a candidate gets at least 50%+1 of votes in his/her riding to be declared a winner.  If this doesn’t happen elections are held between the first and the second candidates who got the most votes.

The second round of elections on December 14th, and the third round on January 3rd, are expected to be as successful as the first round, which was held on November 28th. The percentage of those who will vote is expected to be more than 60% - a very high percentage in comparison to even the best western democracy elections.

Egypt's new Majlis-al-Shab (People's Assembly) will have 508 members; 498 of which will be decided by voters, while other 10 members will be by appointees. The first task of this parliament along with the upper house (Shura Council) is to elect a committee to draft a new constitution. The newly elected Shura Council will contain 270 members, two thirds will be elected, a third appointed. The first joint meeting of the two houses is scheduled for March 17.

The new Egyptian election system is a unique hybrid; individual candidates can run in addition to a proportional system of lists, which can run by parties or coalitions. Although the system is complex, voters manage to understand it.

Long before the elections, all Egyptian politicians were quick to play the democratic game well as they formed political alliances with like-minded candidates and parties.

The Democratic Alliance - which has won some 40% of the votes so far - was led by the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) but also incorporates the leftist Karama (Dignity) and the liberal-oriented New Ghad (Tomorrow) parties.

The Islamist Alliance was the second winner with about 20% of the votes and includes the Salafist parties: the Nour (Light), Asala (Authenticity), Nahda (Re-Awakening) and Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya's Reform and Development Party.

The third spot in most ridings was shared by (1) The Wasat Party which was formed by Muslim Brotherhood dissidents, (2) The Wafd party (Egypt's oldest liberal party, dating back to 1919), (3) Kotla Masria (The Egyptian Bloc) Alliance which includes a coalition of liberal and socialist parties, led by the Free Egyptians Party, founded by billionaire businessman Naguib Sawiris, the Egyptian Social Democratic Party and the Tagammu (Unionist) Party and finally (4) The Revolution Continues Alliance which includes Tagammu off-shoot the Socialist Popular Alliance, the Egyptian Socialist Party, Egypt Freedom, Equality and Development Party; the Muslim Brotherhood off-shoot the Current Party and the Revolution Youth Coalition.

If all goes well - and I am sure it will - before July 1 Egypt will have a new constitution, an elected president, an elected upper and lower house, and an elected government. Then - as Egyptians say - every Egyptian deserves not one but 1000 congratulations.

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