The most important and democratic innovation of Egypt's parliamentary elections that began on Monday is that we don't know who will win. We can probably assume that the Muslim Brotherhood will win much of the vote, but in contrast to Egyptian elections over the past 60 years, today there's no "ruling party" that was always the sure winner.
In many ways, Egypt now resembles a newly formed state that is trying to sketch out a map of its political forces on a blank page. This map will determine the character of the state, parliament's authority and the power of the next president.
This sense of renewal became clear in on Monday's huge voter turnout, the most important seal of approval that can be bestowed on these elections and the government that will emerge from them. Hope also stems from the large number of candidates and the number of new political parties that have sprung up this year, including the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party.
For now, the various movements and parties are divided among four major blocs. One is the National Democratic Alliance for Egypt, which includes diverse movements ranging from the Freedom and Justice Party to the left-wing socialists. The Islamic bloc, meanwhile, includes all the Salafist movements that seek to set up a theocratic Islamic state. This bloc has said it will cooperate with the Muslim Brotherhood, but it isn't clear that the Brotherhood wants to cooperate with this more radical group.
The third bloc calls itself Completing the Revolution Alliance; it's made up of most of the protest movements that developed before and during the revolution. These are mainly movements of young people that are likely to join one of the other blocs at some point. The fourth bloc comprises secular and liberal parties, including the Free Egyptians Party, the left-wing Tagammu party and the social democrats.
There are also several independent parties that have chosen not to join a bloc, including both religious and socialist parties as well as veteran opposition parties like Al-Wasat and Wafd.
It's doubtful that these blocs will remain in their current set-up as the election process moves forward, ending on January 4 with another two rounds of voting. After that there will be elections for the upper house of parliament, which will continue until March. It's even possible that after the partial result from the round that ends on Tuesday, we'll start seeing new political constellations.
Once the elections are over, two serious challenges await the new parliament: forming the next government and drawing up a new Egyptian constitution. Expect an explosive political struggle over the powers to be granted the next president, who is likely to be elected only in June, and over the status of religion and state.
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