Narrow Choice for Egyptians in Vote That's Supposed to Stabilize

  • Main Islamist group driven underground, hunted as terrorists
  • Secular, leftist groups cite pressure not to contest vote
An Egyptian man casts his ballot in the Egyptian parliamentary elections at a polling station in the Giza district of the capital Cairo, on October 18, 2015. Photographer: Mohamed El-Shahed/AFP via Getty Images
An Egyptian man casts his ballot in the Egyptian parliamentary elections at a polling station in the Giza district of the capital Cairo, on October 18, 2015. Photographer: Mohamed El-Shahed/AFP via Getty Images

The Brotherhood, one of Egypt’s strongest political movements throughout much of its 87-year history, isn’t alone in being driven to the margins: leftist and secular groups that played a part in the uprising of 2011 are nowhere to be seen. The impact has become visible. Turnout for the first day of balloting on Sunday was about 16 percent, state media reported, citing Prime Minister Sherif Ismail.

That figure, indicating lower voter participation than in previous elections, suggests the current polling may not bring the political stability army chief-turned-president Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi says is key to restoring investor confidence.

“The next parliament will not reflect the real forces in Egypt. It will only represent those who support the current regime,” said Samuel Tadros, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Hudson Institute. “A significant part of the population -- maybe 20 percent -- rejects the political formula in which this election is taking place. The parliament will just be a continuation of the status quo.”

Turnout Urged

El-Sisi has been urging citizens to vote, and the government gave public sector workers a half day off from work on Monday, in an apparent bid to encourage turnout on the final day of the current round of balloting in 14 governorates.

“I know it’s not going to bring any change,” said Ahmed Mahrous, 36, at a polling station in Giza outside Cairo. “But I came here to complete this whole transitional phase, and now if the government fails, then at least I did what I had to do.”

Foreigners who once held about $10 billion of domestic bonds fled in 2011, and haven’t returned. Currency reserves are less than half their 2010 levels, and would be even lower without life-support from Egypt’s Gulf backers, who now have problems of their own after the oil slump.

Cycle of Violence

Mass Protests

Not Sure

The election started over the weekend in 14 provinces, and a second and final round is set for November. Egyptians have headed to the polls at least seven times since 2011, and many are wondering whether voting again is even worth it.

“We’ve seen a failed parliament before and the people running now are largely wealthy individuals who are more likely in it for their own agenda and interests,” said Mohamed Shebl, a 41-year-old clerk and father of three. "We need to see real changes, not more people going into government to advance their business ties."

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