x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Elections are the first solution for Egypt's reforms

Elections will give 82 million Egyptians their chance to say what they want the country's future to be like. Then the political class will have its instructions.

Egypt has its official dates for parliamentary elections, the first of the post-Mubarak era and potentially the most meaningful in the country's history.

The People's Assembly will be chosen between November 28 and January 10, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces said this week, and voting for the upper house Shura Council will take place from January 29 to March 11. Both houses are to assemble on March 17. But there is still no date for presidential elections, and so-called emergency rule has been extended until next June.

The long-awaited election dates promptly raised political temperatures, as a group of parties led by the Muslim Brotherhood threatened to boycott the vote, and called for mass protests today. Their main grievance is that the rules set out by the military allow for only two-thirds of the seats at stake to be contested by political parties, with the other posts in parliament reserved for individual candidates.

This is a tumultuous time in Egypt's political life, as the existence of 47 parties demonstrates. There appears to be a danger of a division along religious-secular lines, but it would be wrong to treat that as a certainty.

The Muslim Brotherhood, for example, is proving to be less monolithic than many observers suspected. No doubt even the aloof military council is the scene of lively closed-door debates over how much power should or must be yielded, and on what terms.

Elections, then, will have the advantage of sweeping away some of the froth churned up by this year's events, and revealing at least the outlines of what 82 million Egyptians want - their self-determination, after all, is at the heart of this year's momentous events. In that context it would be both surprising and a mistake if the Brotherhood, so long suppressed and barred from politics, chose to exclude itself from these elections over procedural issues. Fears of an "Islamist takeover" aside, the Brotherhood should be represented in the next government because it has a genuine constituency in Egypt.

The new government will have enough to do, starting with proposals for constitutional change and negotiating a new relationship with the military that still holds significant but ill-defined power, and has a lucrative stake in the economy.

Expectations for these elections will be very high, but it should not be a winner-take-all scenario. There will be time enough to fine tune political institutions once there is an elected government in place.