All quiet in the Valley of the Nile. The political landscape that has emerged after the long-time delayed legislative elections in Egypt was easy to foresee: the victory of the biggest pro-Sisi coalition in all the seats reserved for party lists, the return of Mubarak-era tycoons to the political arena and the sweep from Parliament of Islamist movements of any stripe, included the pro-regime Salafi Nour Party, which will keep a marginal presence. The new Popular Assembly will be fragmented and without teeth, pretty much as Al Sisi’s advisers had designed when they issued the electoral law. Despite some likely posturing, it will be a rubber-stamp Parliament. Just another step in the path towards the reconstruction of the old autocratic order.
However, the electoral process has revealed a significant difference between the architectures of Al Sisi’s and Mubarak’s regimes. At least in terms of style. While the latter ruled with the help of a hegemonic party, the defunct National Democratic Party (NDP), the former prefers to rely on the support of several parties, in theory, not directly associated with the Ittihadiya Palace.
Why Al Sisi has a different approach towards Parliament than Mubarak? Too possible reasons come to my mind:
1) to keep the appearances. The new regime should not be a exact copy of the old one. In fact, although the regime has imprisoned some of the main symbols of the revolutionary youth that launched the January 25th Revolution and it has ignored all its demands, the official propaganda keeps insisting that it is an inheritor of that revolt. All dictatorships need to craft a certain historical narrative for their supporters, even if they are completely farcical.
2) to create a “royal presidency”. Maybe Al Sisi has learnt one of the few clear lessons from the Arab Spring: Monarchies are better prepared than Republics to cope with popular revolts. Countries such as Morocco or Jordan have not experienced an upheaval close to the likes of Egypt, Libya, or Syria. These monarchies have become very adept at manipulating the political scene in order to use it as “valvula de espape” whenever there are political tensions. Even though the Palace is the authentic ruler of the country, they have created a fiction of a democracy, with its Parliament, Government, periodical elections and political parties, who can always be blamed for the poor performance of the system. The King seems to be always above the fray.
Al Sisi may want to imitate these shrewd Arab monarchs. The General has allowed the return of the old corrupted elite to Parliament, but he has disassociated from it. At least, formally. Sooner or later, the Popular Assembly will become again the scene of dark and unsavoury deals, and the scent of corruption will taint the institution representing popular sovereignty. Then, Al Sisi will rise above the fray. His army of sycophants will denounce the political parties as a bunch of selfish players that only seek their own interest, and the subdued media will argue that only the great President defends the interest of the nation. However, it is not always easy to transplant political models from other countries with different histories. Will the plan really work?