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The Egyptian Vote - an Assessment

Egyptians voted Sunday in a run-off parliamentary election that is expected to produce a landslide victory for the National Democratic Party of President Hosni Mubarak. The country's two major opposition groups, the Muslim Brotherhood and the liberal Wafd party, decided to boycott the second round of voting to protest alleged fraud in last week's first round.

Many human rights groups and international observers believe the election campaign has been tarnished from the beginning by a government crackdown that left many members of the Muslim Brotherhood in jail. The ruling NDP captured 209 seats outright in the first round of voting. That left 283 seats to be decided in the second round. Most of Sunday's contests pitted one NDP candidate against another, assuring a resounding victory for the party. The Muslim Brotherhood, which is officially banned but fields its candidates as independents, failed to win a single seat outright in the first round of balloting, although the group had won about one-fifth of the seats in the 2005 elections.

Jason Brownlee

Jason Brownlee

Jason Brownlee is a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, a Washington think tank. When asked by VOA’s Susan Yackee to offer his assessment of the vote, he said that in terms of impacting the existing power configuration in Egypt, that impact will be minimal.

“The parliament in Egypt is not a co-equal branch with the executive in Egypt. It is largely an institution for grand-standing for parliamentarians, and it does not have a lot of power to constrain the president or even cabinet ministers.”

But in Brownlee’s view the poll was important in the context of Egypt preparing for a presidential poll next year. He believes that, at the very least, it gave the opposition the opportunity to make a statement.

“This election is very significant because Egypt is headed toward presidential elections in 2011, and to qualify in those elections, a party has to have a seat in the legislature. Therefore, in having boycotted the second round of elections, the opposition parties are sending a message that the election next year will be very limited and not representative of the spectrum of the country’s political forces.”

As for the prospects for the 2011 election, Brownlee believes that the scenario is rather preordained, and that barring any health issues, President Mubarak, who has ruled the country since 1981, will be the NDP’s candidate. He adds that, given existing rules, really only one opposition party would qualify to field a candidate.

As for the possible impact of the parliamentary elections on U.S.-Egypt relations, Brownlee believes that this impact will be minimal. “The U.S. and Egypt have much more pressing things on their minds than elections,” says he. In his view, from the U.S. perspective, the Middle East peace process and American power projection in the Persian Gulf region are much higher on the list.