Last February, Mubarak's 30-year dictatorship ended. Another one replaced him. Egypt's military holds absolute power.
Authoritarian dominance is unchallenged. Elections are more theater than real. Egypt's multi-round complex process complicates them further. So do logistics. Understanding what to do is daunting.
The hybrid ballot lists parties and individual candidates. Voters choose from both. Candidates represent professionals and worker/farmers. Influence peddling and fraud are rife.
Egypt's process perhaps has no parallel anywhere. Voters cast three votes, including for scores of new parties and candidates they don't recognize.
Egypt's junta deliberately designed a hard to comprehend complex system despite strong opposition from participating parties.
Individual candidates will be chosen by popular vote. Party totals may not determine representation in Parliament. Party listed candidates will get seats based on how high they're listed.
At issue is controlling the process and outcome.
Vote-counting is especially prone to fraud. One of Stalin's memorable quotes was, "It is enough that the people know there was an election. The people who cast the votes decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything."
Some results will be announced after each round. Party list ones won't come until January.
Human rights activist Hossam Bahgat complained about Egypt's allegedly first ever "free and fair election," saying "we've opted for one of the world's most complicated electoral systems."
Of course, regime supporters call it free and fair. Independent observers see it otherwise.
Procedurally it works as follows:
• 6,700 candidates are participating;
• Lower House People's Assembly voting is held on November 28, 29, December 14 and January 3; 498 members are chosen for five-year terms - 454 by proportional representation, another 44 in single-seat constituencies, and 10 more members nominated;
• Upper House Shura Council voting will be on January 29, February 14 and March 4; 264 members are chosen for six-year terms; 174 are directly elected; the president appoints the others;
• Presidential voting will occur sometime from mid-2012 to 2013; no date was announced.
Egypt's governorates, divided into varying numbers of districts, vote on different days, further complicating the process. Cairo, Alexandria and seven other governorates began voting on November 28. The remaining 18 will vote in two later rounds.
Voters will complete two ballots, choosing a party and individual candidates. Each district will elect four to 12 party MPs. They'll also choose popularly elected ones.
In Cairo, for example, 36 party candidates will be chosen in four districts, as well as 18 popularly elected ones in nine districts.
Allocating party seats in Cairo works as follows:
• if party A gets 50% of the vote, their top 18 candidates are chosen;
• if party B gets 25%, their top nine ones are picked;
• if party C gets 25%, their top nine also are seated.
Seats are divided equally between professional and worker/farmer classifications. If the top two candidates from each category win a majority of votes, runners-up will be passed over for the highest standing candidate of the alternate working class. Try sorting that out.
The process is so complicated, it's hard understanding and explaining it properly. Imagine how Egypt's voters feel. Most are flying blind.
Egypt's Anti-Democratic Tradition
Last year's parliamentary elections were corrupted by fraud, violence and repression. Mubarak's National Democratic Party (NDP) dominated. Opposition parties won only seven seats. Another seven went to independent candidates.
Muslim Brotherhood candidates were entirely shut out. This year, they're expected to emerge dominant with less than a majority overall. Voting so far is reasonably orderly and peaceful. Of course, outcomes matter most.
Egyptians will eventually realize they've again been had like so many previous times. Entrenched junta power won't yield. Egyptians wanting civilian rule won't get it.
The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) will retain power to propose and veto legislation, convene and adjourn parliament, appoint and replace the prime minister and cabinet members, and have final say on how Egypt's governed. Elected officials will serve them.
Traditional authoritarian rule runs the country. Elections don't choose those running it. They provide a veneer of democratic change, not the real thing.
During single-party elections from 1957 - 1972, candidates were screened for party loyalty. In the 1960s, dual-member constituencies were introduced with seats reserved for worker/farmers. It hardly mattered. In 1976, Anwar Sadat allowed left, center and right parties to compete. Independents could also run.
In 1979, however, candidates opposing Egypt's peace treaty with Israel faced repression and electoral fraud. Mubarak's 1984 and 1987 elections marginally improved the process. More parties could run, including ones Sadat excluded. Muslim Brotherhood candidates were allowed to run under the auspices of an allied secular party.
However, the 1984 Election Law excluded smaller parties from parliament. None getting less than 8% support won seats. Instead, their votes were added to the party receiving a plurality.
In addition, the dual-member constituency system was replaced by multi-member districts in which party lists competed. Parliament remained a bourgeoisie preserve. Opposition parties were marginalized. Generals dominate to this day.
They've run Egypt since Nasser's Free Officers Movement gained power in 1952. They have major economic interests. Real opposition isn't tolerated. Egypt's Emergency Law enforces power. First enacted in 1958, it remained in effect since 1967, except for a brief 1980 period. In 1981, its current version was enacted.
It permits suspending constitutional rights, instituting martial law, enforcing censorship, curtailing anti-regime protests, marginalizing opposition, restricting assemblies and free movement, arrests and indefinite detentions with or without charges, trials in military tribunals, and overall extralegal police state harshness.
Amnesty International's 2010 Egypt Report said Emergency powers are used "to detain peaceful critics and opponents as well as people suspected of security offenses or involvement in terrorism."
Some are detained administratively. Others get unfair military trials. Many are tortured. Death sentences are imposed. Freedom of speech, assembly and association are restricted or denied.
Egypt's police, other security forces, and army enforce hardline control. Activists, dissidents, anti-regime Islamists, other opposition forces, and anyone perceived threatening entrenched power can be arrested, detained, tortured and/or killed.
A still in force 1996 press law criminalizes defamation insults, and libel to suppress press freedom and speech, including against bloggers. Academia isn't safe either. State authorities control appointments, promotions, and university administrations.
As a result, subtle self-censorship prevails. Opposition professors have been fired. Activist students are harassed. Women are regularly mistreated. A 2008 Egyptian Center for Women's Rights report said over 80% of women suffer public sexual humiliation from groping to criminal assaults.
Gays and other minorities are also targeted. Men accused of homosexual acts are arrested. Though religious freedom is allowed, police at times clash with Christians. Street children are especially abused. Thousands live in Cairo.
Human Rights Watch estimated over 11,000 arrests and detentions for weeks in unsanitary, hazardous conditions, "often with adult criminal detainees who abuse them." In addition, they're denied adequate food, water, bedding and medical care. So are other prisoners.
A Final Comment
Institutionalized police state power runs Egypt. Generals are in charge. Parliamentary and presidential elections won't change things. Egyptians are stuck with systemic injustice they abhor.
Their liberating struggle just began. So have others across the region. They face repressive regimes unwillingly to yield power. They'll crack down hard to keep it. Washington supports the worst of them.
Democracy's nowhere in sight. Expecting it is a foolish leap of faith. Military rule remains solid.
Only sustained activism can change things, but never easily, quickly, or without thousands of casualties on Egyptian and other regional streets.
And it can get just as nasty in America and across Europe if social justice protests reach critical mass. Hopefully it won't deter committed activism for long denied change.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.