Hisham Kassem reviewed political developments in Egypt over the last year. He argued that the amendment of Article 76 of the Constitution, which allowed for the country’s first ever multicandidate presidential elections, served two purposes for the Mubarak regime: (1) it defused the regime’s legitimacy crisis and the opposition’s increasingly vocal criticism; and (2) it shifted the focus of political parties—with the exception of the Muslim Brotherhood—toward the presidential election they could not win and away from the parliamentary elections where they could have had some success.

The 2005 parliamentary elections demonstrated the weakness of the older secular opposition parties, and Kassem was skeptical of their willingness and ability to reinvent themselves. The new and yet-to-be legalized parties (Al Ghad, Al Karama, Al Wasat) have charismatic leaders and the potential to attract constituencies but are vulnerable to regime harassment. The arrest of Al Ghad’s president Ayman Nour, for instance, has caused profound damage to the party’s structure and frightened away many newcomers. Kassem assessed that the ruling National Democratic Party is fragmented and might have difficulty reaching consensus on a presidential candidate should President Mubarak leave the scene in the next few years.

Synopsis prepared by Dina Bishara, Junior Fellow in the Democracy and Rule of Law Project.