Visiting Fellow Dalia Dassa Kaye discusses Egypt's parliamentary elections with the Pasadena Star News
As Egypt launches their parliamentary elections, Dalia Dassa Kaye comments on the uncertainty over the Egyptian parliament's authority in the post-Mubarak era.
Congressman Dreier leads international delegation to observe Egypt's parliamentary elections
The Pasadena Star-News
by Brenda Gazzar, Staff Writer
Rep. David Dreier, R-San Dimas, is leading an international delegation that includes bipartisan members of Congress to observe the launch of Egypt's first parliamentary elections since dictator Hosni Mubarak's ouster nine months ago.
Dreier is a board member of the International Republican Institute, which was founded by Ronald Reagan in 1983 to push democratization efforts in the former Soviet Union.
"I've been to about a dozen polling stations today to observe the election and I will tell you it's a great day for the people of Egypt and for the cause of freedom," Dreier said Monday by phone from Cairo.
The first phase of parliamentary elections that began Monday is the culmination of an 18-day popular uprising that put a dramatic end to Mubarak's three decades of authoritarian rule.
Despite some reforms under Mubarak, Egyptians have long endured government corruption at the highest levels, rigged parliamentary and presidential elections and physical intimidation at the polls.
Joining Dreier in Egypt are Congressmen Donald Payne, a New Jersey Democrat, and Ed Whitfield, a Republican from Kentucky, as well as lawmakers from Somalia, Germany, Macedonia and other countries.
While some of the polling stations in the crowded metropolis of Cairo arrived later than they should have, and people waited for hours in long lines to vote, most people didn't seem to mind, Dreier said. With few exceptions, people were very happy to wait," he said. "People were very happy to do whatever it took to exercise the franchise to vote."
Predictions of low voter turnout and violence in the wake of protests that left dozens dead last week did not materialize Monday, but uncertainty about Egypt's future still prevailed.
"The most immediate concern is whether the military will really transfer control to civilian leadership, which is supposed to happen by June 2012," said Dalia Dassa Kaye, a visiting fellow at UCLA's Burkle Center for International Relations and a senior political scientist with the RAND Corp.
"This will be the real test, not the first parliamentary elections from the U.S. perspective."
It's not yet clear what authority the Egyptian parliament in the post-Mubarak era will even have, she said.
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Pasadena, said the U.S. government should be very encouraged by Monday's voter participation. The U.S. also should continue to use its influence with the Egyptian military to provide a smooth transition to civilian rule, he said.
How the reform effort will ultimately fare, however, will be a function of two factors, he said.
It's "how willing the military is to let go of the extraordinary power it has on Egyptian society and how quickly the Egyptian economy can come back (because) the economy alone can cause the revolution to fail," Schiff said.
The last few months have not been very encouraging, Schiff said, with Egypt's military rulers trying to insulate themselves from civilian oversight and control while retaining emergency powers exercised under Mubarak.
However, Schiff said he was still optimistic since the Egyptian public has shown its ability to mobilize and demand the military cede control.
While the highly organized Muslim Brotherhood movement is expected to do well in these elections, it's not clear how it would govern should it ever gain a majority, Schiff said.
"One of the key issues will be whether they respect the peace treaty with Israel, which has been an anchor of stability in the region for decades," he said.
The Muslim Brotherhood has been talking in moderate terms and there are Islamist groups of far greater concern than the Brotherhood, Schiff said.
Should Egypt ever take a hard turn toward an extreme Islamist state like Iran, that would "be devastating to U.S. interests," Schiff said.
Dreier, however, was optimistic that the parliamentary elections would ultimately work to diminish the threat of radical extremism.
"This is an election focused on job-creation, economic growth and security," Dreier said. "For that reason, even though the Muslim Brotherhood will certainly do well in this election, the imperative to focus on economic growth will diminish a lot of the rhetoric in the past which is virulently anti-Western."
The election will be held in stages and is divided by provinces. After voting for the 498-seat People's Assembly ends in January, elections for the 390-member upper house will last until March.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Published: Friday, December 02, 2011