Old Mubarak allies fare poorly in first Egyptian vote

McClatchy NewspapersDecember 5, 2011 

CAIRO — In a symbolic victory for Egypt's revolutionaries, results from the first round of parliamentary elections show a popular rejection of any vestiges of deposed President Hosni Mubarak's regime, with his old political allies trailing far behind Islamist and liberal blocs.

Only weeks ago, analysts had predicted that Monday's runoffs would be between the Muslim Brotherhood's Islamist candidates and remnants from Mubarak's now-disbanded National Democratic Party, which once boasted 2 million members and claimed to win 86 percent of the vote in the 2010 polls.

Instead, parties led by former regime figures barely registered at the ballot box last week, leaving voters in most runoff districts Monday to choose between conservative and ultraconservative Islamists. So far, only a couple of parties anchored by former Mubarak allies won parliamentary seats in the first round of voting, according to partial results.

"Most expected the remnants to be on a par with the Islamists, and this didn't pan out at all," said Hani Shukrallah, a political commentator and the editor of the newspaper Ahram Online. "They've become more or less useless. The NDP was a big patronage system, and now people aren't convinced it can still deliver after the revolution."

Analysts warn that the former National Democratic Party candidates known as "felool," Arabic for "remnants," could gain ground in the next two rounds of voting in more rural provinces, but any large-scale regrouping of the party seems out of the question. The old-guard parties' dismal showing in round one was validation to Egyptian political observers that even if most voters are weary of disruptive demonstrations, they still support the revolution that unseated one of the world's longest-serving autocrats.

Keeping the felool out of office for good is a rare common goal for the newly empowered Islamists and dejected liberals who are squabbling over just about every other aspect of Egypt's future. The united stance against the old guard foretells a power struggle between the incoming elected Parliament and the unelected ruling military council, whose powerful generals and caretaker prime minister, Kamal el Ganzouri, are emblems of the former regime.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the nation's highest authority, has reiterated that it alone may install a transitional government. The council is vague on exactly how much power the incoming Parliament will wield in its main task of picking the framers of a new constitution.

Leaders of the Brotherhood's triumphant Freedom and Justice Party, however, already are suggesting that if the generals don't loosen their grip, an Islamist-dominated Parliament would issue a no-confidence vote for the military-appointed interim government in an attempt to collapse it and replace it with one presumably chosen by the elected lawmakers. Undoubtedly, such a fight would be cast before the public as further cleansing Egypt of the felool.

After Mubarak's ouster last winter, revolutionaries worried that his former party's legions of members, including businessmen with wide name recognition and deep pockets, would regroup and steal back the government. The old party's most famous figures weren't eligible to run — they're in jail on corruption charges — but other holdovers formed up to eight new parties to contest elections.

Revolutionary groups sprang into action to unmask the former National Democratic Party members, spray-painting black circles on their campaign posters or spreading their names and party affiliation via Twitter and Facebook.

"The state didn't isolate or suspend the felool, so we did," said Sherif Diab, an organizer of the anti-corruption activist group Catch the Remnants, which exposes former National Democratic Party members to the public. He added that the first phase of elections "accomplished almost 85 percent of our target."

Total figures for single-candidate races will be released after runoff votes are tallied, but so far the old-guard candidates haven't made a dent. In the first round of voting for slates of candidates, felool parties were trounced.

The Muslim Brotherhood-led coalition took 36.6 percent of the vote, followed by a surprise 24.4 percent for more fundamentalist Salafi Islamists. A coalition of liberals came in third, with 13.4 percent, according to figures from Egypt's High Election Commission.

The Freedom Party, one group that includes former National Democratic Party members, fielded eight tickets and 14 individual candidates in round one of the vote. Just one candidate made it to a runoff — in the home province of the ancient city of Luxor — and only two of its tickets garnered significant numbers, placing third and fourth in the province of Fayoum.

Mahmoud Nafady, the secretary-general of the Freedom Party, denied any links to the former regime and chalked up his party's losses to Islamist propaganda, electoral irregularities, poor coordination among non-Islamist blocs and picking "the wrong candidates."

Nafady never listed former regime connections as a hindrance, and he bristled at the perception of his party as an engine to reclaim power for the felool. In fact, he said, he predicts that his bloc will bounce back to win 13 seats in the 498-member Parliament by the end of voting next month.

"The term 'former NDP member' is now used as a weapon against anyone who has enemies, so every time they want to tarnish someone's reputation, they tag them as NDP members," Nafady complained. "I chose to be a politician. That means I don't use religion and I don't join any party that imposes political cartels."

Few Egyptians miss the irony of former National Democratic Party associates crying foul over election violations. Mubarak-era elections were notoriously, and blatantly, rigged, with perhaps the most egregious polls last year, when all Brotherhood Parliament members were "defeated" overnight and the ruling party claimed 86 percent of the vote. A judge has since voided the results.

Now it's the former regime's politicians who are expressing outrage over allegations of ballot-stuffing, discarded or missing ballots and campaign violations galore.

Even more startling are the overtures of some parties led by Mubarak allies to their longtime archenemies from the Muslim Brotherhood.

While they privately warn of dark Islamist agendas for Egypt now that Mubarak is out of the way, a few are publicly conceding defeat, a once-unthinkable gesture from politicians whose reported closeness to Mubarak's regime made them virtually untouchable before the revolution.

"We are not afraid of the Islamist bloc," said Rami Lakah, deputy chief of the Reform and Development Party, which is widely regarded as a felool collective. "We consider this a new page in the history of Egypt, and we are willing to cooperate with every political power in Egypt to rebuild the country."

(McClatchy special correspondent Mohannad Sabry contributed to this article.)

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