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New Europe | Page 9 November 21-27, 2010 New Europe content partner Goodbye, Scarecrow By Kristina KauschWhy should we pay attention to the 28 November legislative electionsin Egypt? Once more, many might say, an Arab country holds a riggedpoll, producing yet another rubber-stamp Parliament with no mean-ingful impact on policy-making. But this weekend’s parliamentary elec-tions will be significant for at least three other reasons. The polls willshed some light on how much clout there really is behind the freshwave of mobilisation following Mohamed ElBaradei’s return to Egypt’spolitical arena. The elections are expected to see most of the MuslimBrotherhood’s deputies bid farewell to Parliament. And they will rep-resent an important step towards the presidential elections in the au-tumn of 2011 that are expected to bring three decades of HosniMubarak to an end. Questions with regard to the opposition’s real ca-pacity to unite behind the common cause of change have partly beenanswered ahead of the polls. The ‘National Association for Change’(NAC) opposition coalition, led by ElBaradei, focused its efforts ondenouncing the precarious state of the electoral framework, and even-tually sought to unite all opposition parties behind the idea of discred-iting the elections via boycott. However, the NAC’s plans wereeffectively ruined by the Muslim Brotherhood’s, the Wafds and a fewother parties’ decision to run. Even if the boycott had worked, its po-tential impact is unclear. The aim of denouncing electoral fraud to theworld suggests the existence of a caring environment that, once in-formed, will take action. But the fact that elections in most Arab coun-tries are a farce has long been known to anyone who wants to listen.Beyond occasional moralist statements, the accumulated evidence ofEgyptian electoral fraud has not been enough to push Egypt’s inter-national allies to even batting an eyelid; so why would a boycott? Ulti-mately, both options appear to be just different ways of dealing with theoutrageous impotence of contesting an election void of choice.With opposition results widely judged to have long been settled, theBrotherhood is expected to witness a significant reduction of its pres-ence in Parliament. The Brothers’ 2005 landslide victory was inter-preted by many as a concession by the regime to the then USadministration’s democratisation pressures. As the desired ‘scarecroweffect’ has sunk in with its international allies, the regime has sought toreverse this opening. Observers expect the Brothers to retain no morethan 15-20 of their previously held 88 (of 454) seats. In spite of a banof religious slogans, the group maintained its traditional slogan ‘Islamis the solution’, thus providing the regime with a legal justification mas-sively to disqualify its candidates. Increasingly split over the participa-tion issue, the Brotherhood’s contestation will however allow the groupto maintain local visibility and build a solid power base in the long term.As the only opposition group that has been reaching out to the peoplein a systematic and sustained manner, the Islamists are likely to be well-positioned to attract broad support for the moment the ailing NationalDemocratic Party (NDP) will fall.Perhaps most importantly, the 28 November elections are more thanjust a dress rehearsal for the 2011 presidential elections. The distribu-tion of seats will be decisive in qualifying potential presidential candi-dates. The Egyptian Constitution stipulates that candidates for thePresidency must, among other requirements, have occupied for oneyear a leadership position in a political party that has won 3 per cent ofseats in the parliamentary elections. The recently introduced require-ments for presidential candidates now effectively bar anyone except forHosni Mubarak, his son Gamal and a handful of other leading NDPfigures, from running. In order to smoothly engineer next year’s pres-idential succession, the NDP will also need a united front in the Egypt-ian Parliament. Over the past weeks, the deep rift within the ranks ofthe NDP backing different favourites has come increasingly to the fore.Contradictory statements by senior party members, the repeated post-poning of the NDP’s announcement of its official presidential candi-date, and the party’s filing competing candidates for single seats, provideevidence of an increasingly fierce battle. A year ahead of the presiden-tial succession, it is becoming increasingly clear that none of the possi-ble contenders will get Egypt’s presidency on a silver platter. Kristina Kausch is researcher at FRIDE