“Egypt’s parliament approved a revised election law setting rules for a parliamentary poll later this year, but opposition politicians denounced the new statute and repeated a threat to boycott the vote,” Reuters reports:
The Islamist-dominated upper house will now send the text to the Supreme Constitutional Court to check the legality of the voting procedures for a new lower house. The court has 45 days to review the bill. Members of the opposition alliance said the adoption of the new law gave them no reason to participate in the polls.
“There are many signs that the Mursi government and the Muslim Brotherhood have no intention of allowing fair elections,” said Mohamed Abolghar, head of the opposition Egyptian Social Democratic Party and a member of the NSF. Abolghar said the NSF would not participate in the polls unless Mursi met conditions announced by senior opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei on Monday, including the appointment of a panel to draft a new elections law.
“The law passed today gives us no new assurances of legal elections,” Heba Yassin, a spokeswoman for the leftist Popular Current party, told Reuters. “This law will only help the Morsi government and his Islamist allies in their effort to dominate all of Egypt’s institutions.”
The Brotherhood is trying to frame the election process for its own advantage, analysts suggest, amid indications of widespread disillusionment with the Islamist group, as demonstrated by its deteriorating performance in student and trade union elections.
“After overwhelming wins in student union elections last year, the Brotherhood looks likely to have a drastically reduced influence on campuses,” the Financial Times reports:
Results compiled by the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, an Egyptian rights group, also show the Brotherhood and other Islamists likely to lose elections for the national students’ union. Elections for syndicates representing pharmacists and journalists have also been won either by independent candidates or by those openly hostile to the Islamist group, which controls the presidency and legislature.
Salafis, or puritan Muslims, who polled well in parliamentary elections that concluded in early 2012, are faring worse than the Brotherhood on many campuses.
The results reflect opinions polls showing support dropping for Morsi, the former Brotherhood leader, whose approval ratings dropped from nearly 80 per cent in September to less than 50 per cent this month, according to the Egyptian Center for Public Opinion Research.
Recent sectarian violence, perceived to be condoned or excused by the Brotherhood, is also prompting ordinary Egyptians to take a stand, says a prominent analyst.
”There is more frustration with extremism,” said Hisham Kassem. “The people are beginning to see how unnecessary it is, okay, that it does not improve their life in any way.”
“In fact, it takes it to the opposite direction,” he noted. “But, right now, there is only one solution in the short term, which is the firm application of the law. Many feel the government has failed to do just that.”
The shift in opinion may prompt the anti-Islamist opposition to reconsider its decision to boycott the forthcoming polls, the FT suggests:
Regardless of the reasons for the Brotherhood’s losses, they suggest a potentially novel political dynamic that could provide a fresh incentive for secular, liberal and leftist opposition groups to campaign fiercely in the upcoming parliamentary elections. Until now most of these groups have said they would boycott the poll because the Islamists have skewed the electoral rules in their favour.
Furthermore, the liberal-secular National Salvation Front would be making a strategic mistake by abstaining from the parliamentary elections since such boycotts “generally have disastrous consequences for the boycotting party,” judging by the results of a Brookings study of 171 election boycotts.
“Liberal and secular parties have criticized the removal of a ban on using religion slogans in campaigning, which some say opens the door for political abuses of faith among a deeply religious population,” Reuters adds:
Abdel Ghaffar Shokr, another member of the NSF, said the upper house of parliament is dominated by Islamists who refused to listen to secular politicians.”A candidate should campaign on how he will help solve the problems of society, not on his religious beliefs,” he said.
Tarek Radwan, Egypt analyst at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center in Washington, said permitting religious slogans could increase polarisation along sectarian lines, particularly in the wake of Muslim-Christian violence this month.
The fallout from last weekend’s sectarian clashes continues to make headlines this week, with religious leaders, officials from Egypt’s presidency and international organizations all weighing in.
A Wednesday report from Human Rights Watch urged the Egyptian authorities to bring the perpetrators of the violence to justice, and called on President Morsi to ““to acknowledge the deep and longstanding problem of sectarian violence in Egypt and take decisive steps to address it before it escalates further.”
Father Makary Habib, personal secretary to Coptic Pope Tawadros II, identified five demands for President Morsi to counter sectarian tensions: “We demand the president to apply the law to everyone, ensure safety and security in the entire country, activate fully the principle of citizenship, amend religious discourse, and teach Coptic history in schools.” Habib said that “we are tired of painkillers” and that “we need concrete steps” towards permanent solutions.
A non-government reconciliation session was held yesterday in Khosous, the town where sectarian violence first broke out last Friday, with representatives from Al-Azhar, the Coptic Church, the Salafi Call, and the Muslim Brotherhood taking part. Presidential spokesperson Ihab Fahmy defended a statement made earlier this week by presidential advisor Essam al-Hadaad, saying that al-Hadaad did not blame Christians for starting the violence and that he only stated what happened.
“Human Rights Watch urges Egypt to solve Muslim-Christian strife,” Aswat Masriya (English), 4/11/13.
“Presidential Statement did not blame Christians says spokesperson,” Egypt Independent (English), 4/10/13.
“Coptic Church submits demands to Morsi,” Egypt Independent (English), 4/10/13.
“Haddad’s statement not reflective of presidency: Church official,” Daily News Egypt (English), 4/10/13.
“Dignitaries attempt to resolve sectarian tensions,” Ahram Online (English), 4/11/13.
“Killing of Christians helped bring down Mubarak: Brotherhood’s Al-Erian,” Ahram Online (English), 4/11/13.
“Abbasiya Cathedral suspects arrested: Egyptian Security Official,” Ahram Online (English), 4/11/13.