Egypt's main opposition coalition announced today it will boycott upcoming parliamentary elections, deepening the political crisis in Egypt and practically ensuring that Egypt's next legislative body will be dominated by Islamists.
The National Salvation Front (NSF) coalition of leftist, liberal, and socialist parties announced it would not take part in the elections, scheduled to begin in April, because the law governing the elections is unfair, and the president has not met their demands to change the cabinet or amend the new constitution.
The coalition also rejected an invitation from President Mohamed Morsi to participate in a “national dialogue.” The meeting went ahead without them today, aired live as Morsi sat at a table with mostly Islamist figures. Almost all major opposition parties and figures boycotted the discussion.
“We are not going to run in a process only aimed at giving legitimacy to a regime that proves day after day they aren't capable of running this country,” says Khaled Dawoud, a spokesman for the NSF.
The opposition coalition says fair elections can't take place while loyalists of the Muslim Brotherhood, whom they argue are biased, occupy key positions in the government. They also strongly object to a recently-approved election law, which they say is tailored to improve the chances of the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party in the elections. “It's unconstitutional and unfair,” says Mr. Dawoud of the law.
The vote will elect a new parliament to replace the one dissolved last year after a court found the law the elections were based on to be unconstitutional. It will be conducted in eight stages over a two-month period. The president's office changed the dates for two rounds after a controversy erupted because the original schedule had them falling during the Coptic Orthodox Church's celebration of Palm Sunday and Easter.
Some members of opposition parties say they thought they had a chance to improve their showing in these elections. The popularity of the FJP and Morsi has slipped as the political crisis and economy have worsened since his election. Political polarization grew after Morsi issued a constitutional declaration granting himself vast power late last year, and brought a new constitution to a vote over the objections of the opposition.
The head of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party Mohamed Aboulghar had argued for participation. “My feeling is the popularity of the Brothers is in the lowest level now,” he says..Though his party agreed to abide by the decision of the NSF to boycott, he says members have not answered the question of their next steps. “What are you going to do next? This is the most important thing. What are you going to do in the long term?… This is a question we should answer.”
FJP and Brotherhood members portrayed the decision to boycott as a sign of the opposition's weakness. “There simply is no justification for the opposition to boycott elections … unless they are really worried about the world finding out the truth of their popularity – or lack thereof – on the ground,” said FJP media advisor Murad Ali, according to the Brotherhood's website.
Hani Sabra, a Middle East analyst at the Eurasia Group, says regardless of the outcome, an election will not defuse Egypt's political crisis. “A parliamentary election in Egypt given the current level of political polarization is not a stabilizing event.... I don't think that even if you have a definitive result that that means Egypt has entered a new stable political era. There needs to be some sort of broader reconciliation process and some governing by consensus in Egypt, which is not happening.”