Partisans Without Parties

The New Shape of Egyptian Parliamentary Politics

A voter inks his finger after casting his ballot at a polling station during the run-off to the first round of parliamentary election in Dokki, Giza governorate, Egypt, October 27, 2015. Amr Abdallah Dalsh / Reuters

It is tempting to describe Egypt’s parliamentary elections, which started in mid-October and will continue through December 2, as history repeating itself. When the leading party list in 2015 is headed by a former military man and leading official in the mukhabarat (state intelligence) and most of Egypt’s political opposition is boycotting the election, the state of affairs evokes an authoritarian past. Some say this is Egypt reverting to Mubarakism—just without former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Yet today’s Egypt is not Mubarak’s Egypt. Rather, it is a state transitioning from single-party rule to a new system whose pecking order is still being hashed out.

In today’s Egypt, there is no intermediary akin to the former National Democratic Party (NDP), the party that dominated parliament and tethered legislators to Mubarak’s regime. To be sure, the NDP lacked ideological coherence and suffered from infighting, but it also served as a useful tool for the regime to co-opt the country’s various power bases, including rural notables, the officer corps, and business elites that benefitted from privatization. The NDP was a mechanism by which these bases could pledge loyalty to the regime; in return they were rewarded with access, influence, and patronage.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is constructing a new system that transitions the nation away from its historic single party rule, even if what he is building is an equally or even more authoritarian structure. Egypt’s party landscape is notoriously weak, with over one hundred registered parties but few commanding much attention or credibility. Despite a lack of party dynamism, Egypt’s new parliament will still consist of party-affiliated politicians as well as a smattering of independents, the latter of whom have not lived up to electoral expectations but still benefit from Egyptian electoral rules that allocate three quarters of the parliament’s seats to them. The atomizing of Egyptian politics will leave legislators’ searching for order in an otherwise fractured body and even weaker executive

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