Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Egypt's New Parliament

Members of Egypt's parliament attend the inaugural session in Cairo on Sunday.The Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi is no longer officially alone at the top of the Egyptian government, although the amount of change Parliament will bring is still up in the air. Some context is probably necessary. Egypt was one of the many Middle Eastern countries caught up in the Arab Spring and accordingly saw the overthrow of the regime headed by Hosni Mubarak, which had long stifled political opposition. This in turn ushered in the ascendancy of the Muslim Brotherhood and Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s first president to be freely elected. The strong grounding that the Muslim Brotherhood had in, you guessed it, Islamic faith and Morsi’s grab for greater power to erase the remnants of Mubarak’s government turned the people and military against him, leading to a military coup that put al-Sisi in office starting in 2013 and the designation of the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization, powerless to submit candidates for representation in the new parliament. (Do look into this further if you are interested. There is plenty more to note about this time of upheaval.)

            al-Sisi has acted as a force of stability in the face of all this institutional change, so it seems like parliament will further these aims as opposed to striking out on its own path, especially considering that all 120 seats allocated to parties went to a coalition that ran on a pledge to lessen the legislature’s power over presidential impeachment. 28 were selected by al-Sisi himself, and the remaining 448 went to individual candidates, among them politicians from the Mubarak period and public figures.
            Connecting this to what we have been learning in class, the voter turnout for these parliamentary elections was horrid, with a 26.5 percent turnout in the first stage of voting. This presents a different side of voter apathy when compared to the United States, for there are substantial problems in Egypt relating to the economy and political expression that would probably rile up US voters. Instead of stemming from a situation of contentment or laziness, Egypt’s apathy seems to reside in the government’s ability to change what is wrong. Constant upheaval lessens what people expect of their government and makes involvement in the voting process seem trivial. Of course, the banning of the Muslim Brotherhood and boycotts from 11 other parties also limited voter choice and limited overall motivation for the supporters of these parties.
            Beyond providing an interesting case study for voting practices, the actions of this new parliament are important to U.S. foreign policy. al-Sisi has proven to be effective in not tolerating extremist groups, a good quality when contrasted to the chaos surrounding ISIL, but an effective, active parliament would further the spread of democracy, another foreign priority of the U.S. The U.S. would mainly influence this by either sending military assistance to Egypt in hopes of establishing a strong relationship with the current regime to combat terrorism or withholding assistance, which in turn might apply pressure for further change.
Do you think Egypt’s new Parliament manifests a chance for stable democracy in the region? Is this even what Egypt needs at the present time? What about the United States? Should our government focus on establishing democracy or strengthening a regime that has already proven to take hard stands against extremist groups? Finally, what are some critical traits a government needs to have to spur voter turnout?

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