Islamists win two-thirds seats in Egypt’s parliament; the polices they pursue on the Nile River By Keffyalew Gebremedhin

January 24th, 2012 Print Print Email Email

The election to the new Egyptian parliament is just finalized after three-stage processes that lasted from November 2011 to January 2012. The candidates competed for 332 of the 498 seats in the Lower House and two Islamist parties have captured a total of 232 seats.

Seats were allocated to the winning parties in a complicated manner, mainly pairing ballots to a split of worker/farmer seats. What matters is the that Egyptians have spoken and, therefore, the judgment is that they and the international observers are content with the outcome of the election and it has been found clean, fair and transparent.

On Saturday, the Egyptian Supreme Electoral Commission made public that Islamist parties have taken the most seats, with the Moslem Brotherhood (Freedom Justice Party — FJP) and Salafists Nour Party in a controlling position. The Moslem Brotherhood won 38 percent, i.e., 127 seats and the Nour 29 percent or 96 seats.

This means that the total number of seats under the control of Islamist parties is 223 + plus designation, which means about 70 percent of the total seats.

Over 80 years behind it in politics and mostly kept under the leash by Egypt’s rulers, this is the first time in modern Egypt that the Moslem Brotherhood emerges as the dominant power in that country. This victory gives the Brotherhood the post of parliamentary speaker. And it is reported that the party has nominated its secretary-general Mohamed al-Katatni for the post, whose reputation so far is that of a moderate.

Liberal parties not performing well

Trailing far behind are the moderates or non-Islamist parties, with the Wafd party taking 36 seats (11.0 percent), the Egyptian Bloc 33 seats (about 10.0 percent) and the Revolution Continues party 2.0 percent.

Some of the already known parties such as the Free Egyptians, Al-Gad and the Democratic Front did not meet the threshold required for parliamentary representation and did not qualify, when the offshoots of Mubarak’s National Democratic Party (NPD) garnered 4 percent of the seats, i.e., 13 seats.

The New York Times sees the two Islamist parties as “rivals rather than collaborators.” More importantly, the Moslem Brotherhood party has indicated that it would “respect personal liberties.” As far as the party’s agenda are concerned, Mohamed Katatni is quoted saying, “The top priorities of the next parliament are social justice, retribution for martyrs, fulfilling goals and demands of the revolution and the advancement of Egypt.”

Which way Egypt?

Egyptian policy is likely to be driven by the country’s fundamental interests, such as its desire to exercise control over the waters of the Nile, economic growth and regaining its lost leadership in the Arab World. By the faint sign of things so far, Egypt seems interested in revitalizing its activities with Nile upstream states and forging closer relations with Libya and the Sudan. It would not also come as surprise, if Egypt makes gestures toward Iran, while keeping its relations with Israel in the deep freezer.

As far as the Nile issue is concerned, following that country’s brief hiatus Egypt’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Kamel during the first week of January undertook a tour of six Nile Basin countries: Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Congo, South Sudan and Sudan. Not much has come and achieved by way of outcomes.

Foreign ministry Spokesperson Amr Rushdi simply said on 18 January that the minister was interested in strengthening relations with the Basin countries. A step in that direction is The minister’s invitation to his counterparts in the DR Congo, Tanzania, Rwanda and Kenya to visit Cairo. The intention of the visit is made clearer by the remarks of the foreign minister in Juba, South Sudan, where he said, “We realise that our brothers in South Sudan are aware of Egypt’s interests and the importance of the Nile water for Egypt.”

Perhaps in the minister’s calculation is the need to galvanize support and sympathy to Egypt’s position on the framework agreement signed by the six upstream states of Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda that is ready to come into effect once the Egyptian government and the parliament manage to pronounce themselves on it.

Its delay and postponement by a year by next May — more likely to be longer than that — is the outcome of the signatories desire to enable the Egyptian government to seize the opportunities and join them. If not, at the latest the agreement may come into effect by 2013. although it is not still clear how much successful it would be without Egypt.

The question now is whether the policies of the new Egypt on the Nile would be any different from the Mubarak era. Certainly, there may be differences of style, more frequent visits and interactions with upstream countries and offer of token Egyptian assistance, since one major accusation against the Mubarak regime was that of ignoring Africa.

Nevertheless, given what some of the candidates in the different parties in Egypt uttered during the campaigns and the so-called think tanks and research centers have been suggesting to formalize that, it is unlikely that there would be any meaningful changes in Egypt’s policies regarding the Nile question.

It is possible that Egypt may only bombard upper riparian states of the Nile Basin with a series of new proposals, whose motives may only be to delay the coming to force of the new framework agreement, or if possible, derail its implementation altogether.

Along that line and completely moving away from the principle of equal access to the Nile waters by all states of the Basin, as being advocated now by the upstream states in their framework agreement, Egypt has started testing the waters with a new notion of packaging projects involving southern African states into a new cooperative framework.

Theoretically, integrated approach to development may have greater benefits where the infrastructures and possibilities exist through efficiencies and economies of scale; but not in conditions where the incremental gains may prove more productive.

In the circumstances, if the idea of project packaging on a wider geographic scale that now is being floated is serious, the burden of another decade-long negotiations would certainly render it a non-starter, much less it being practicable.

Fortunately, eleven years of negotiations with Egypt on the forums of the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) have equipped upper riparian states with the much-needed ESP (extra-sensory perception) to differentiate between Egypt’s serious and clever moves. The first is a reflection of its intentions to attain given objectives, while the latter action taken for mere affects sakes the purpose of which is to bid time.

If Egypt goes via this latter approach its intention is the latter, since what Egypt may want is to prevent implementation of the framework agreement signed by the six upstream states.

Already Egyptian experts have started warning, “Unless there are serious studies on joint or integrated projects in fields like electricity and agriculture followed by implementation of these projects, the water file will be a cause of conflict among Nile Basin states,” according to Al Ahram in an article entitled Basin bonding.

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