Egyptians will head to the polls Monday in the first parliamentary elections since the uprising that toppled former President Hosni Mubarak in February.
The country's military rulers, who took over from Mr. Mubarak, are determined that voting will proceed on time despite increasing doubts about the election’s legitimacy and security after a week in which at least 40 people were killed and more than 1,000 injured by security forces as they protested for the end of military rule.
The surprising surge of protests has reenergized the liberal and leftist revolutionaries who had lost momentum as demonstrations floundered over the summer and the Muslim Brotherhood – Egypt's most organized group – prepared to dominate the polls.
Some of these groups are now calling for a boycott of the vote, saying that any elections held under military rule are illegitimate. Yet the revolutionary momentum is unlikely to dampen the strong prospects of the Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP). The Brotherhood did not support the protesters, instead calling for calm so that elections could proceed.
“[The FJP] will pay a price [for not supporting the protests], but not a high price,” says Ibrahim El Houdaiby, an analyst and former member. “They have their own constituents who understand what they’re doing. They’re not betting on the votes of the revolutionaries.”
Monday's vote, which will extend through Tuesday, is the first round in a three-round election for the lower house of parliament. The voting for each round has been extended to two days in an attempt allay concerns about voters being disenfranchised, but the elaborate voting process is leading to worries that confusion will be rampant.
Strong grassroots support
With an organizational network long in place, the Muslim Brotherhood jumped out of the starting gate and hit the streets campaigning.
They are already well-known to many voters because of the charitable work they do – such as providing medical care, often in places like Ezbet El Haggana, a Cairo slum where the party organized a march shortly before the protests in Cairo's Tahrir Square began.
Hundreds of party members linked arms and chanted slogans for the Brotherhood’s party as they marched through the slum's dirt alleyways, avoiding the mud where water ran through the middle of the street. Area residents stuck their heads out the windows of dilapidated buildings, staring in seeming shock at the political activity.
Residents said the FJP was the only party that had bothered to come to their neighborhood.
Khalifa Abbas, a security guard at a local school, said he would vote for the Brotherhood’s party because they cared about the downtrodden and would make Egypt a better place.
“In the police station, poor people who are innocent get tortured and mistreated while the thieves aren’t prosecuted. Those who did injustice are not brought to justice,” Mr. Abbas says. “We want Islam. We want justice.”
What will the next parliament do?
Unless the ruling military council gives up control, the next parliament will likely be largely powerless to make changes to address Egypt’s needs.
Its most important responsibility will be in choosing a committee to draft Egypt’s new constitution, though recent moves by the military make it unclear how much freedom the parliament will have to even choose the members of the committee.
Yet many candidates' stump speeches do not focus on the constitution, but on the ills that plague Egypt.
They promise better education and healthcare, and speak of justice and ending corruption.
Bassem Kamel, a candidate for the more liberally-oriented Egyptian Social Democratic Party, says that with most candidates offering the same message, what will distinguish them is personal trust of voters. That’s something the Brotherhood has earned with many through its long presence in their neighborhoods.