Egypt Returns to Mubarak-era Politics

Egypt Returns to Mubarak-era PoliticsEgypt Returns to Mubarak-era Politics

In a dusty courtyard in Egypt’s Nile Delta, men gather to ask for favors at the home of retired police general Sayyed Azb.

Some are seeking jobs, others want certificates proving they are literate or help in securing building licenses - a throwback to the patronage politics of Hosni Mubarak that many Egyptians had hoped would disappear when the autocrat fell three years ago.

What Azb has to say suggests the chances of a fresh start when Egypt elects a new parliament in the next few months are slim. In an impromptu address, Azb, who once served as a parliamentarian representing Mubarak’s now-defunct National Democratic Party (NDP), offers his visitors the services he hopes will win their votes in the next parliamentary election.

“You reap what you sow... This is the nature of the Egyptian people... Personal services come first,” says Azb, smoothing the sleeves of his grey galabiya, the traditional garb of those he hopes to woo at the ballot box.

Egypt has struggled to achieve the kind of democracy many demanded during the protests on Cairo’s Tahrir Square that helped to end Mubarak’s 30 years in power.

Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the army chief who ousted elected president Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood last year after more protests, went on to win a presidential vote himself.

He has since tightened his grip and rolled back political reforms introduced since the 2011 uprising, succeeding partly because many Egyptians chose stability over greater freedoms.

Egypt has been without a parliament since 2012, when a court dissolved the first democratically-elected chamber in more than 60 years, overturning a major accomplishment of the uprising.

The Muslim Brotherhood, which won the largest number of seats in the parliament, has been banned. Thousands of its members now languish in jail.

New legislation on electing the parliament has disappointed activists, who say the law makes it easier for Mubarak-era cronies to restore their influence while sidelining smaller parties born after the 2011 revolt.Another law outlining electoral constituencies has yet to be published, but Azb expects it to favor smaller districts - a return to the Mubarak days when local figures with cash and connections dominated the polls.

Dates for the next vote have yet to be set. But former NDP members, from small-town notables such as Azb to big names like ex-foreign minister Amr Moussa, are planning their comebacks.

New faces have emerged, but they are not those of the youth activists who dominated Tahrir Square during the 18-day revolt.

Azb’s adversaries in Kafr Shokr include film director Khaled Yousef, a staunch Sisi supporter. Another candidate is a local factory owner who hopes to reap the political rewards of the jobs he provides.

The course of Egypt’s transition has raised concerns that the most populous Arab nation will fail to build state institutions free from corruption and nepotism that can deliver political stability and economic growth.

Khaled Dawoud, spokesman of the liberal Dostour Party, said the laws were designed to cement Sisi’s hold and stifle debate.

“We are back to the days when political parties are being attacked day and night,” Dawoud said. “We keep reading in the press that the president’s relations are directly with the people and so he doesn’t need parties. The general mood among the public is that we need to unite and support Sisi and we don’t need to bother with a parliament.”