With just ten day left before Egypt's parliamentary election, would-be candidates keep getting disqualified.
On Wednesday, Egypt's Supreme Administrative Court barred both a prominent businessman and a famous bellydancer from participating in the October 18 poll. The ruling comes just weeks after Egypt's High Election Commission decided to disqualify over 250 would-be candidates for testing positive for drugs.
The upcoming parliamentary contests will take place in the midst of a tense political environment, in which political contestation is all but outlawed. President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has ruled virtually by fiat since the military deposed Egypt's first democratically elected president, the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohammed Morsi, in July 2013. Sisi was elected president himself last summer, and has since labeled the Brotherhood a terrorist group, cracked down on protests and the opposition press, all the while maintaining a high degree of popularity.
Parliamentary elections have been repeatedly delayed, and Egypt's few remaining serious political parties are struggling to get organized before next week's elections.
"It's clear there isn't an atmosphere where political parties can mount a serious challenge," said Nathan Brown, a professor of Middle East Studies at George Washington University. "It's nearly impossible in Egypt now to be an opposition movement with an electoral face."
Part of what makes that difficult is how vigorous both the Election Commission and the Supreme Court are in vetting — and disqualifying — candidates.
The Supreme Court's decision on Wednesday effectively ended the political career of Ahmed Ezz, a prominent Egyptian businessman who had close links to the regime of deposed President Hosni Mubarak. Since Mubarak's ouster in 2011, Ezz has repeatedly tried to run for political office, but has been blocked over and over again on a series of technical decisions by Egypt's electoral commission.
Wednesday's ruling by the court rejected an appeal by Ezz and ratified the commission's previous decisions.
Brows says that Ezz's exclusion by the Supreme Court will play well domestically, since the businessman is so closely linked to the discredited Mubarak regime.
"The courts are most likely influenced by the broad public mood," he explained. "Even if these disqualifying decisions aren't always based in the most solid legal ground."
But the rationale behind barring Sama Masry — a famous belly dancer and Youtube personality — is less clear. She had hoped to run for a seat in the working class Cairo district of Gamalya, but the court ruled on Wednesday that she was not suited to be a parliamentarian because she "lacked a good reputation." In its ruling, the court elaborated: "Good traits are required for people to possess in general, and for parliamentarians in particular, and without the availability of these traits, situations and values in all aspects of his parliamentary work will be disrupted."
In making its decision, the court said that it viewed video clips of Masry performing on Youtube and worried that she strayed too far from the "path of good manners, morals and modesty."
In her videos, Masry often sings politically themed songs while shaking her hips. The lyrics tend to be nationalist attacks on the Muslim Brotherhood and the USA, tinged with humor and sexual metaphors. In one of her most famous videos, "Hey Obama," she criticizes Barack Obama for supporting "terrorism" and praises the Egyptian army for being "very strong."
Though Masry is an outspoken supporter of the Sisi government, Brown says the decision to bar her is not shocking given her provocative performances and the conservative makeup of the court.
"Almost all judges date back to the Mubarak period, and they tend to be on the older side,' he said. "You could say they are a bit stodgy."
Despite the court's recent decisions, plenty of candidates are vying for a seat in the incoming parliament. According to the latest numbers for the electoral commission, 5,420 independent candidates and 600 party-affiliated candidates are running for just 568 seats.
But Brown predicts that given the state of political life in Egypt, the incoming parliament will be ill-equipped to function effectively.
"I expect to see inexperienced politicians, trying making a name for themselves by grandstanding," he said. "We won't see a parliament that will be able to counter-balance Sisi himself."
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