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Brothers and Salafis to sweep pallid poll
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 02 - 02 - 2012

Islamists are expected to take the upper consultative body of parliament, the Shura Council, after several secular parties withdraw
The first stage of elections for the Shura Council -- Egypt's upper consultative house of parliament -- began 29 January in 13 governorates, writes Gamal Essam El-Din. Islamists, especially the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) and the Salafist Nour Party, are expected to sweep the two-stage polls after a number of secular parties, notably the Free Egyptians Party founded by Coptic businessman Naguib Sawiris, decided to withdraw from the race.
In a statement on 28 January, the FJP said the elections for the Shura Council are highly important because its members will join deputies of the People's Assembly -- Egypt's lower house of parliament -- in selecting the constituent assembly tasked with drafting the constitution.
The FJP's chairman, Mohamed Mursi, said that the election of the Shura Council "is another step on the road of turning Egypt into a fully-fledged democracy."
According to the Constitutional Declaration issued 30 March by the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), the Shura Council includes 270 seats of which 180 will be elected directly while the remaining 90 will be filled by appointment of the head of the state for a period of six years.
The two-day first stage of the elections includes competition for 90 seats, of which 30 will go to individuals and 60 to party-based candidates. They were held in 13 governorates: Cairo, Alexandria, Gharbiya, Daqahaliya, Menoufiya, Damietta, North Sinai, South Sinai, Fayoum, Assiut, Qena, the Red Sea and Al-Wadi Al-Gadid. Run-off elections will be held on 7 and 8 February.
According to Abdel-Moez Ibrahim, chairman of the Supreme Elections Committee, 25 million Egyptians are eligible to cast their vote in the first stage. Yet although Ibrahim urged citizens to turn out in droves to vote, a very small number did. Several reasons are cited for low turnout rates in Shura Council polls, the most important of which is that a large number of citizens believe that the "Shura Council is insignificant" and thus elections are pointless. Worse, many ordinary Egyptians are unaware that there is an upper house of parliament by the name of the Shura Council in Egypt. A number of secular parties said they "are not ready to spend money on election campaigns for an insignificant house".
Salah Abu Ismail, an Islamist presidential candidate, even asked SCAF to amend the Constitutional Declaration to abolish the Shura Council. Abu Ismail and Mohamed El-Baradei, another significant political figure and former chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), believe that polls for the Shura Council are a waste of time and money, and that the real purpose of the polls is to delay presidential elections.
But many analysts beg to differ. Shawki El-Sayed, a former Shura Council member and a high-profile lawyer, argued that, "Egypt has had the bicameral system since 1923 and it proved to be a good foundation for a healthy political life."
"It is not Shura Council's fault that the former regime of Hosni Mubarak refused to give the Shura Council adequate supervisory and legislative powers, like the Senate in the US for instance," said El-Sayed, adding that "regardless of the results of the elections, it is important in the new constitution that the bicameral system be maintained and that the Shura Council gains real supervisory and legislative roles."
El-Sayed also urges that a number of secular figures -- especially young people belonging to revolutionary movements -- be appointed to the council. "Do not forget that in Egypt before 1952, we had two effective houses -- the senate and the house of representatives -- and we want this to be replicated again," said El-Sayed.
Other than philosophical arguments, analysts cited the current cold weather and political instability as reasons for the low vote turnout. Major General Hamdi Badin, head of the military police, said: "Unlike the long lines of citizens who were standing in front of polling stations waiting to vote in the elections of the People's Assembly, the Shura elections attracted a very few number of voters." "The polling stations were very quiet and turnout rates increased to some extent in the afternoon, with most voters women," he added. Tensions in front of the Maspero building on the first day of voting also distracted the attention of citizens.
In the absence of other competition, the Shura Council elections have become a battlefield between Islamists. The Muslim Brotherhood's FJP fielded 87 candidates, while the Salafist Nour Party fielded around 85. A number of independent candidates, and some remnants of Hosni Mubarak's dissolved National Democratic Party (NDP), joined the fray.
FJP candidates were mostly concentrated in Alexandria, a stronghold of the Muslim Brotherhood, and in the Nile Delta governorates, particularly Gharbiya. The most prominent candidates are Ali Fateh El-Bab, a former MP, in Cairo; Wafaa Mustafa Mashour, the daughter of the late supreme guide of the Brotherhood, in the Upper Egypt governorate of Assiut; Nagui El-Shehabi, chairman of the Generation Party, which is a member of the Democratic Alliance led by the FJP; and Mohamed Touson, deputy chairman of the Bar Association in Cairo.
The number of former NDP members running as candidates is estimated at around 120.
The Shura Council was founded by late president Anwar El-Sadat in 1980. It was primarily intended to supervise the performance of the national press, give advice to governments in terms of producing reports, and have a hand in licensing political parties.
In recent years, the Shura Council was granted some powers, such as discussing laws, the state budget and international agreements. The final say on these issues, however, was left with the People's Assembly.


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