On How to Draw Electoral Districts

If this seems like a boring title, read on. This article from Foreign Policy sheds much light on how Egyptian politics works, or at least used to work, and may again:

The attempt to restore the Mubarak-era way of doing business reflects the nature of the coalition that backed Morsy’s removal in July. The most critical opposition to Morsy’s rule outside Cairo came from the large families and tribes in the Nile Delta and Upper Egypt, which comprised the Mubarak regime’s base and benefitted from its clientelist approach to politics.

“These traditional powers are the critical mass of voters,” Abdullah Kamal, a journalist and onetime official in Mubarak’s now-defunct National Democratic Party (NDP), told me. These clans, he continued, “had sympathy” for Mubarak, voted for Mubarak’s former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik in the 2012 presidential elections, and would likely back Army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi if he runs for president.

For decades, these clans wielded substantial political influence. They were empowered by the Mubarak regime’s use of relatively small electoral districts, which allowed them to mobilize their family members and local supporters to win elections. And since Egypt’s parliament was largely a mechanism for distributing state resources, the clans typically used their electoral victories to deliver resources back to their districts and thereby entrench their local support. Following the 2011 uprising, however, the new electoral system entailed much wider electoral districts that diluted these traditional powers’ support. Meanwhile the Islamist parties rode their internal unity to overwhelming, nationwide victories.

While the details for Egypt’s next parliamentary elections will be determined by the government, it is widely anticipated that the next system will feature smaller districts that will re-empower the old tribal networks. Influential players within the Egyptian state are pushing for a system that would shrink electoral districts considerably.

This is likely common knowledge to those who have followed Egypt for years, but it paints a very different picture than the argument issued after the revolution. Newer, non-Islamist parties complained about the large districts because they lacked the organizing power necessary to campaign across the whole area, as well as the social base of their competition and its charitable networks. What may have been meant is that they didn’t have the time to recruit and organize these stalwart power bases of old National Democratic Party support.

That could be a very unfair accusation. But the powers that drew the electoral districts – and I would have to research more to remember who did so (was it the Brotherhood-dominated Parliament or a state appointed electoral commission?) – made what could have been a revolutionary decision to break these ‘feloul’ power brokers, and it worked out very well for Islamists.

Gerrymandering. Politics is the same the world over, isn’t it? Alright, forgive me if it was still a little boring.

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