* A single leader that’s been in power for 30 years, ruling with the tools of Emergency laws.
* A political system dominated by a single party, while all other parties are marginalised – the largest opposition party is technically outlawed and banned from any activities.
* Elections rife with voting irregularities and allegations of vote fixing.
Few in Egypt can refute these statements as anything but true, so you’d think that any serious politician in Egypt who knows how stacked the cards are against him or her, would forgo participating in “sham” elections.
Why in the world would any political party not part of the governing administration not boycott the elections?
That’s precisely the dilemma that Egypt’s opposition politicians are faced with.
The man leading the charge for boycotting Egypt’s upcoming elections is Dr Mohammed ElBaradei. The noble laureate has been campaigning for change in Egypt since returning in February.
His changes are simple: End the rule of emergency laws in Egypt, reform the outdated election criteria to run for office and ensure safe, free and fair elections under domestic and international observers.
But in Egypt’s political arena its not that simple. In 2005, the Muslim Brotherhood won a quarter of the seats of Egypts lower house of parliament (they run as independent candidates because their organisation is legally banned).
It sent shockwaves through the halls of the ruling power – a wake up call that elections could not be entirely free out of fear that Islamist parties would sweep into power was felt all the way in Washington DC.
Perception of opposition
So, this time around, the government does not want to chance it and find itself faced with a large Islamist opposition in parliament and in the public arena. Instead, they want the perception of a present opposition, so long as it remains largely ineffective and dormant – particular on the streets, where the government is already struggling to control soaring prices, unemployment and anger.
Enter Egypt’s oldest party, the Wafd Party. Its long history as the party that fought for the country’s independence from colonial rule still earns it street credit. But nobody takes the party seriously as a check on the country’s rulers.
Many are afraid that a secret agreement between the ruling party and Wafd could see a political deal reached.
The ruling party would give Wafd a certain percentage of seats in parliament (this would be done through ballot box rigging at the time of the elections but agreed to before hand).
The secular Wafd party would then have a respectable voice in parliament (at least quantitatively, not qualitatively), giving the perception that it has re-emerged in the political arena and thus displaced the Muslim Brotherhood as the official and loudest opposition voice.
In exchange, the Wafd party would be allowed to field a presidential candidate in next year’s elections, creating the image of a multi-candidate election that almost every independent observer believes will most likely be determined by the ruling government, not the ballot box.
The ruling National Democratic Party will win, and with a token opposition party in parliament to point to and deflect criticism that Egypt is run by a single party system, it will be relieved to have marginalised the Muslim Brotherhood.
Opposing a boycott
Many opposition parties argue that it’s almost better to be part of a corrupt system to act as a check on power-hungry parties than to be on the sidelines watching the ruling power run amok in the country.
So while Mohammed ElBaradei’s call for boycotting the elections continue to grow, he may soon find that some of the biggest opponents to that boycott are from the opposition itself.
Come the middle of September, when key members of the opposition bloc are expected to make a decision on the elections, we will learn whether they are part of the pageantry of Egyptian politics or really want the change they speak of.