With more than 90 per cent of the ruling NDPâ€™s candidates standing unopposed in next monthâ€™s municipal election no one doubts the results, reports Gamal Essam El-Din
When the deadline for nomination in next monthâ€™s municipal elections passed on 13 March a total of 57,000 candidates had registered. The figure is not as excessive as it sounds: a staggering 52,000 seats on 4,500 councils at the village, district, town and governorate levels are being contested.
The ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) will contest every seat, fielding 52,000 official candidates. Ahmed Ezz, the NDPâ€™s secretary for organisational affairs, said the final list was whittled down from 82,000 NDP hopefuls.
While registration for the NDPâ€™s candidates appears to have been an easy process — Ezz says as many as 74,000 were able to register just an hour before the door closed on nominations — the same is not true for the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood and opposition parties. On 15 March the Brotherhood called a press conference at which Mahdi Akef, the groupâ€™s supreme guide, told reporters that of the 10,000 candidates it had hoped to field only 5,754 were able to complete the necessary papers and of these just 498 were allowed to register.
Since it decided to contest the municipal council elections more than a month ago the group has been subjected to a heavy-handed security crackdown. More than 850 members have been arrested, including 187 of its municipal election candidates. In the press conference Akef predicted that such repressive tactics would backfire, warning that in closing channels for peaceful opposition the peopleâ€™s â€œonly option is to explodeâ€.
The arrests have provoked criticism from abroad, not least in Washington. On 12 March a White House spokesperson expressed concern at â€œthe continuing campaign of arrests in Egypt of individuals who are opponents of the current governing party and are involved in the upcoming local elections,â€ adding that US President George Bush â€œexpectsâ€ President Hosni Mubarak to ensure that municipal elections, scheduled on 8 April, are free and fair. In Cairo a Foreign Ministry spokesman described the statement as â€œunobjectiveâ€.
The Brotherhood was not the only group that faced obstacles in registering candidates. Opposition parties say that at least half of their own candidates were prevented from standing, while those who did mange to register their names will find the odds stacked against them.
The daily opposition Al-Wafd reports that only 700 out of 1,700 members who had hoped to stand were able to complete the nomination procedure. The Tagammu and Nasserist parties fared even worse, with just 400 out of 1,200 candidates successfully nominated. This means that the NDP will face no opposition in more than 90 per cent of seats.
With such a bleak picture in which the NDP dominates more than 95 per cent of the list of candidates, pundits say that there will be no competition in next monthâ€™s municipal elections to start with. In other words, NDP candidates would win at least 90 per cent of contested seats — unopposed.
Amr Hashem Rabie, an analyst with Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, expects the municipal elections to be a rerun of the Shura council poll of March 2007, certainly in terms of the results. The NDP won 99.9 per cent of Shura council seats.
While this is clearly a political setback, Rabie views the elections as clarifying the complex relationship between the Muslim Brotherhood and the regime of President Hosni Mubarak. â€œThe pre-election security tactics underline the extent to which the regime views the Brotherhood as the biggest threat to Egyptâ€™s national security. It has decided that its only course is to drive the Brotherhood from political life.â€
The decision, says Rabie, has been reinforced by Hamasâ€™s popular success in Gaza. Hamas is itself an off-shoot of the Muslim Brotherhood.
As far as the regime is concerned, believes Rabie, any complaints from the White House are far outweighed by â€œthe dangers of integrating the Brothers into political lifeâ€. He also sees the removal of the Brotherhood from the political arena as integral to any plans for Gamal Mubarak to succeed his father as president in 2011.
Mohamed Ragab, NDP spokesman in the Shura Council, points out that while the White House asked the Palestinians to conduct free and fair elections in 2006, when Hamas won the Americansâ€™ response was to say that they could not recognise a terrorist organisation.
â€œDoes the White House want to repeat the same scenario with Egypt? Does anyone think we are stupid enough to compromise national security simply to please Washington?â€ he asks.
The war between the authorities and the Muslim Brotherhood, argues Rabie, is distorting political life to a dangerous extent and should be brought to a halt. â€œI would encourage the Brotherhood and the regime to embark on some sort of dialogue,â€ he says, â€œwhich should be conditional on the Brotherhood declaring a national programme based on the principles of citizenship and civil society.â€ In the absence of such dialogue Rabie thinks the greatest danger is that â€œBrotherhood members will eventually turn to underground work.â€
Rabie is also critical of opposition parties which, he says, have been too quiet for their own good. Rabie thinks it â€œregretableâ€ that opposition party leaders failed to expose even the obstacles their own candidates faced as they attempted to register for the elections. â€œUnlike the Brotherhood, they did not hold a press conference to protest against the unfairness of the difficulties they face though doubts loom that there is a secret deal with the NDP in which they will get some seats in return for keeping silent.â€
A total of 330 committees have been tasked with scrutinising the thousands of appeals filed by candidates. They will report on 22 March, allowing the final list of candidates to be announced on Sunday.