الانتخابات البرلمانية المصرية 2020... حقيقة أم مسرحية؟
“Is there more engagement with young people?” Abdel Fattah al-Sisi echoed a journalist’s question at the World Youth Forum on Tuesday, “Of course. And that’s a really, really important thing.”
Even as the President assured the foreign journalist of the care taken to engage with the youth platforms of Egypt’s political parties, four of those parties were calling for the release of 70 political figures recently imprisoned for expressing their views.
Flashing cameras at the Sinai Peninsula’s Sharm El-Sheikh captured the winter circus of the World Youth Forum this week, replete with the attendance of Sophia the robot, a theatrical show on Santa Claus and terrorism, and Sisi’s annual bicycle tour. Headlines in Egypt’s newspapers, meanwhile, have captured the rhetoric: the youth conference is an “interactive platform” for communication between “the youth and the leaders” of the country, and “youth should be enabled” and “parties strengthened” to produce a new set of leaders.
But the three-day performance in Sharm El-Sheikh masked the real drama around political engagement that has been playing out behind the scenes in Egypt’s tightly regulated public spaces throughout the year. Parliamentary elections are set to run in less than a year’s time, and politicians have already begun forming campaigns and alliances in preparation.
Preparations are also underway to issue electoral laws in time for the November 2020 ballots. Parties have been meeting to consult over the bill’s wording, and Egypt’s Al-Shorouk newspaper reported that several parties have made the “initial demand” that political detainees must be released from prison before discussion of the electoral laws can take place.
Informed sources told Al-Shorouk that the heads of four parties called for the Nation’s Future Party, which holds the majority of seats in Parliament, to intervene to push for the detainees’ release. Farid Zahran, head of the Social Democratic Party, said that his party, the Reform and Development Party, the Conservative Party and the Adl Party joined to deliver the Nation’s Future Party with a list detailing the names of 70 politicians currently in jail.
Among the 70 names were senior members of several political parties and movements, including Abdel Nasser Ismail, deputy head of the Socialist Popular Alliance Party, Abdulaziz al-Husseini deputy head of the Karama Party, and Khaled Dawoud senior member of the Civil Democratic Movement and former head of the Dostour Party.
Dawoud was just one of a round-up of political figures who were arrested this year in the wake of a rare outbreak of protests in Egypt at the end of summer. After people across the country were prompted by a viral series of videos to take to the streets on September 20, security forces responded with a campaign of arrests over several weeks that seemingly hit people at random, sweeping up at least 111 children in its wake, as well as appearing to target certain figures connected with politics, human rights, and journalists.
Sisi talks the talk when it comes to empowering youth and including them in political processes, yet he does not walk the walk, and #Egypt’s record on freedom of expression speaks louder than Sisi’s interviews and speeches. Can Egyptians hope for a better future?
Egypt seems at a major road: The democratic process is underway and critical minds are not in short supply, but the state exercises censorship on many a front even as Sisi speaks of inclusivity. The upcoming elections will be a good test.
The call to release the politicians comes at a crucial time, as the Nation’s Future Party has been hosting sessions for MPs to participate in forming the electoral laws which will shape not only elections to the House of Representatives next November, but also regulate local elections, and elections to the newly reinstated House of the Senate. The four parties pushing for the release of political prisoners have also called for a law which reflects “balance, diversity, and represents the whole political spectrum.”
MP Abdel Hadi al-Qassabi, Deputy head of the Nation’s Future Party, and head of majority coalition the Support Egypt Alliance in Parliament, said “there’s no need for the fear or frustration from some of the participating parties regarding the seriousness of the discussions.” The Nation’s Future Party also reportedly agreed to push for the release of the prisoners.
After the second round of discussions of the law, al-Qassabi said that the legislation has been referred to a group of experts, who he assured would be working hard on checking the electoral laws’ constitutionality. The law would then be returned to the heads of the present parties, said Qassabi, who may dispute certain points, “although they couldn’t dispute over the benefit of great Egypt.”
Yet a security pushback against those who may have been political hopefuls in 2020 has ensured that many of those holding opposition viewpoints have already been firmly pushed off the political stage as work on the electoral laws is in progress.
Vice President and co-founder of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party Ziyad al-Elaimy was arrested in June this year, together with 11 other politicians, academics and journalists. Al-Elaimy is thought to have been a leading figure in the “Coalition of Hope,” an alliance made up of several parties who met over two months last spring in Cairo. Egypt’s Mada Masr reported at the time that the alliance was aiming to bring together politicians, party leaders and journalists to field candidates for the House of Representatives in 2020.
Rather than mounting a movement to gain seats, the 12 members of the “Coalition of Hope” instead became defendants in the “Hope case” at the State Security Prosecution, charged with planning “to bring down the state.” They were also accused of affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been outlawed in Egypt since 2014. A Parliamentary source said at the time that all of those involved in the Coalition for Hope were “extremely” opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood.
From the “Coalition for Hope” Ziyad Al-Elaimy and Hossam Moanes, a member of the Karama Party who previously headed the presidential campaign of Hamdeen al-Sabbahi, are on the list of 70 names, for whose release the Nation’s Future Party has said it will petition.
Egypt’s parliamentary elections in 2020 will be the first after Parliament passed new constitutional amendments. The amendments increased the current term of Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi by two extra years, and removed limits to allow him to run for an additional term in office. They also specified the right of Egypt’s Armed Forces to “preserve democracy and the Constitution, protect the basic principles of the state and its civilian nature, and protect people’s rights and individual freedoms.” They pushed the judiciary further under the power of the executive, giving Sisi the final say over the selection of four of the country’s top judges.
Back at the youth conference, Sisi continued to tell the selection of invited journalists about Egypt’s efforts to bring young people into politics. Egypt’s Parliament would vote that day to confirm the appointment of 16 new provincial governors, he said, 11 of whom come from military backgrounds. He also reminded them of the new president’s academy to “orient and train” tomorrow’s political leaders.