Egypt of December 2015 is looking a lot like Egypt of late 2010 and the final months of Hosni Mubarak‘s three-decade rule. The country’s longtime military president had little political sophistication; then as now, there were struggles between the military and businessmen for economic and political power, human rights abuses, economic woes, and jihadi groups in the Sinai. But today, these things appear more pronounced.
The membership and mission of the recently elected 598-seat House of Representatives bear similarities to the parliament chosen a few months before the January 2011 uprising, but each is more exaggerated. Other developments in Egypt echo the dysfunction of 2010, raising questions about whether another upheaval might be brewing.
The composition of the new parliament does not represent all Egyptians—few of whom voted, whether by choice or various forms of exclusion—but it does reflect the state of formal politics: The military and security services are more involved than ever, wealthy business people and scions of old families are back, the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi Islamists are mostly excluded, and youth are repressed or manipulated. Some 75 retired army or police generals will account for about 13% of seats in the new parliament; that’s half again as many as in 2010 and 10 times as many as were elected in 2012. Business people will take about 25% of the seats, up from the 20% they occupied in 2010 and the 15% in 2012.
The Muslim Brotherhood, which won about half the seats in parliament in 2012, has been excluded; its Freedom and Justice Party was outlawed in 2013, as the Brotherhood was in 2010. The Salafi Nour Party, the only Islamist party participating in this year’s elections, won only 12 seats (2%), down from about 25% in 2012. Most of the youth-oriented parties that sprang up in 2011 have broken up or been marginalized; a new party that won a surprising 50 seats is led by a 24-year-old supporter of President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi and called Future of the Homeland. That’s eerily reminiscent of the Future Generation Foundation headed by former presidential scion Gamal Mubarak.
Egypt’s new parliament is being called upon to lend its imprimatur to undemocratic actions initiated by the presidency, as Mubarak-era parliaments were, though now those actions are far more extreme. The House’s first task will be to validate some 260 laws passed by decree since the 2013 coup that toppled Mohammad Morsi and brought Mr. Sisi to power. The constitution adopted in 2014 says that validation must take place within 15 days of parliament convening, leaving no time for serious review of the decrees. For Egyptians, this sort of executive manipulation of the legislature is familiar. In 2007, deputies approved presidentially drafted amendments to 34 articles of the constitution in a single vote; while those amendments were undemocratic, they were mild compared with many post-2013 decrees, such as a law against protest that has allowed thousands to be jailed. It is unclear whether Mr. Sisi will also persuade the new parliament to vote away many of the enhanced powers the 2014 constitution gave the assembly.
Even before parliament has convened, President Sisi is already using it by declaring that it represents the completion of the road map back to democracy he promised after removing Mr. Morsi. In Mr. Sisi’s retelling of events, the road map included only a new constitution (rewritten in January 2014), presidential elections (conducted in May 2014), and the just-concluded parliamentary elections. The original post-Morsi plan, however, included other steps that have been forgotten, such as the creation of a “committee to foster national reconciliation” with Mr. Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood.
There are other disturbing similarities to late 2010: Beyond the political shenanigans, inflation driven by food prices is rising, labor protests are building against low wages, and public outrage is surfacing over deaths from police brutality. Unlike in 2010, however, there is no dynamic youth-led movement to protest peacefully: The former leaders are mostly in prison or exile. Instead, what Egypt has in 2015 is an increasingly violent and multifaceted insurgency, composed of and supported by Islamists and others alienated from the limited formal politics showcased in the new parliament, which threatens to take the country into uncharted waters.