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EGYPT: After elections, the government and opposition must talk

January 10, 2011 |  3:09 pm


Egyptians are feeling frustrated as both the regime and the opposition seem unable to address challenges emerging from November’s parliamentary elections.

Carnegie logoEven though most citizens boycotted the elections, the opposition was divided on whether to even participate, and serious election violations occurred. Now the National Democratic Party, or NDP, is excluding the opposition in the wake of its victory.

“A few violations occurred,” President Mubarak conceded, while expressing his regret for the limited representation of the opposition.

Yet he quickly confirmed the integrity of the elections and the legitimacy of the People’s Assembly. So did scores of NDP leaders and writers, who called the elections a “well-earned triumph for NDP candidates” -- even though weak opposition parties and movements hardly offered much competition.

This interpretation ignores four major facts about the elections.

First, oppressive measures and restrictions were imposed on the opposition before the elections. Second, a serious lack of integrity and transparency, and the inability of the Supreme Electoral Commission to objectively supervise the elections, marred the electoral process. Third, the NDP relied on incentives and intimidation by state institutions to guarantee an NDP victory in a number of districts. Fourth, the state implemented widespread use of violence and bribery.

While the ruling party used such tactics, the opposition did not help its chances with its indecisiveness about whether to boycott the elections. Today it appears ridden by internal rifts, personal conflicts and a total lack of coordination.

Undoubtedly, the political environment in Egypt has contributed to ongoing crises within opposition parties. Conflicts arise about choices such as whether to boycott or withdraw from elections, talk with the government, search for compromise, suggest radical changes, or initiate reform by working from within the regime. Amid the persistence of weak strategic coordination, the opposition has failed to agree on a national agenda of any real substance.

The NDP is using these internal rifts to brush off the opposition. But the opposition’s rather sorry state has become a source of worry for citizens, who still see in the opposition real hope for democratic change.

Egypt is at a critical point in history. The crisis of legitimacy and ongoing tension between the government and opposition are no doubt perilous. The government should reconsider whether to exclude the opposition from participating while the opposition must reorganize to get past this crisis and seize the opportunity to engage in real national dialogue.

A little more than a month after the parliamentary elections, it is time for the government to let openness toward the opposition override its conceit. It is also time for the opposition to agree on a national agenda that favors dialogue with the government and can form the basis for needed constitutional and political reforms. Both sides must act before Egypt’s next major campaign -- the presidential election later this year.

-- Amr Hamzawy in Beirut

Editor’s note: The post is from an analyst with the Carnegie Middle East Center. Neither the Los Angeles Times nor Babylon & Beyond endorses the positions of the analysts, nor does Carnegie endorse the political positions of The Times or its blog.

Photo: Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak addresses the annual conference of the ruling National Democratic Party in Cairo after it won a sweeping electoral victory. Credit: AFP/Getty Images