Egypt's young election success

2015-12-05 07:34
An Egyptian woman casts her vote at a polling station in Egypt's northern coastal city of Alexandria, in the country's parliamentary elections. (AFP)

An Egyptian woman casts her vote at a polling station in Egypt's northern coastal city of Alexandria, in the country's parliamentary elections. (AFP)

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Cairo - With the final stretch of legislative elections held earlier this week, Egypt at last has a parliament after a hiatus of three-and-a-half years.

And for many, the surprise story of the polls is a newly-founded party led by 25-year-old former student activist Mohammed Badran, which took second place with 50 of the legislature's 596 seats, according to unofficial results.

What's perhaps less surprising is that this dark horse is a strong supporter of President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, whose complete dominance of the political scene has overshadowed the polls.

Few expect the new assembly to pose much of a challenge to the former army chief, who was voted into power a year after deposing the country's first freely elected president, Mohammed Morsi, in the wake of mass protests in 2013.

Many fear that it will be more like the compliant assemblies elected under dictator Hosni Mubarak, who was ousted during the Arab revolutionary wave of 2011.

But one thing has clearly changed since the days of Mubarak's ruling National Democratic Party - there are a range of parties in the new parliament as well as many independents. 

According to unofficial results reported by state-run newspaper al-Ahram, the two leading parties are the pro-al-Sisi Free Egyptians with 65 seats, founded by Coptic Christian tycoon Naguib Sawiris, and Badran's Nation's Future, also backed by business figures.

No 'President's party'

In an interview with dpa during the election campaign, Badran gave an idea of what Egyptian parliamentary politics could look like over the next few years.

The politician, who initially founded Nation's Future as a youth campaign aimed at supporting the new constitution drafted after Morsi's ouster, is quick to deny that it is "the President's party".

But, at the same time, he says that "we don't have any disagreements with President al-Sisi."

"As long as the president supports the people and tries to realize their aspirations we will be with him. If he stops, we will be against him," he says.

Many observers have noted the influence of big business in the elections, but the former student union leader bristles at suggestions that his party will represent above all its financial backers.

"The party won't represent anyone except the people of Egypt, more than 50% of whom are below the poverty line," he insists.

Several of his businessmen backers are seen as having been linked with the Mubarak regime before its fall, but, Badran says: "The four [big businessmen] who support the party didn't belong to a regime, they belonged to a state and they dealt with all the different regimes to protect their interests."

Ambitions

Badran has made no secret of his ambitions, saying more than once that he would like to be a future prime minister.

Speaking to dpa in his party's headquarters in a villa in Cairo's plush Heliopolis suburb, with two armed police special forces guards outside and a group of young volunteers chatting in an adjoining room, he makes it clear this is a medium-term objective.

"It's not the case that a 25-year old could become prime minister of Egypt, but he can dream, and build himself up, so that one day he can become prime minister and everyone will say he has the ability," he says.

Under Mubarak, prime ministers were usually technocrats. Their main role was to implement the president's policies, and take the blame when things went wrong. Asked if, as a future prime minister, he would instead want to set out government policy himself, Badran is cautious.

"It's not a question of technocrats or political governments," he says: "I want somebody who has ability and a record of success, regardless of his ideological orientation."

Critics of al-Sisi's rule have said that the parliamentary elections were marked by a lack of political debate, especially since all 120 seats elected under a list system were won by a catch-all list of al-Sisi backers including both Nation's Future and the Free Egyptians.

Badran's outlook seems to fit this sort of political contest without politics, as he couples his declared support for al-Sisi's positions with rather more criticism of lower-ranking officials than policy suggestions.

And he affirms that his party has no guiding ideology: "What do we need an ideology for when people don't have enough to eat?"

"We may have differences on economic practice [inside the party] - whether it should be capitalist or socialist, whether it should support small or large industry, should it support state ownership. But we agree on taking the right decision for the country," he says.

As for his own ambitions, when asked if he would admit to a more daring aspiration of being president of Egypt one day, he smiles. "That is in God's hands. Who can tell?"

Read more on:    egypt  |  north africa

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