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The 2010 Parliamentary Elections: Losing the Elite Coalition

Authoritarians do not rule alone, and Mubarak was no exception.81 To stay in power for three decades, Mubarak relied on a patron-client network of economic elites who were granted access to economic resources in exchange for loyalty to the regime and a willingness to abandon fellow elites who ceased to adhere to the regime’s interests. Mubarak’s ndp served as the primary vehicle through which elites hoarded state resources. Thus, nomination to run for parliament became a means of rewarding past loyalty as well as securing future allegiance.

However, in the centralized political structure controlled by the presidency, the ndp was a weak and depoliticized institution. Few members were actually loyal to the party, but rather sought to employ it as a means of membership in the elite coalition. Doing so led to plum political appointments, access to government contracts, and other forms of self-enrichment.82 Electoral contestation boiled down to a contest among various elites competing for power within the ruling party. Thus, the People’s Assembly, far from serving as a check on executive authority, instead was an extension of the executive that served to perpetuate a patron-client relationship that maintained Mubarak’s grip on power.83

Most Egyptians grew to accept this arrangement as an inevitable political reality, and thus did not bother to vote.84 To ensure that the public would not use the ballot box to challenge their power, ndp candidates deployed armed thugs to intimidate opposition supporters.85 Likewise, security forces fraudulently engineered electoral outcomes in favor of the ndp, creating inaccurate voter registration lists and destroying ballots cast for opposition candidates. In districts with a strong opposition following, central security forces used tear gas, rubber bullets, and live ammunition to prevent citizens from voting.86 Leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, for example, were regularly targeted during elections and routinely detained and imprisoned during preelection raids.87 ndp candidates did not shy away from directly intervening in the electoral process to ensure their success. This included stuffing ballot boxes and committing other types of electoral fraud.88 To maintain the facade of democratic politics, opposition parties and civil society leaders were permitted limited participation in elections—so long as they did not win enough seats to effect change and alter the status quo.89

By most accounts, the 2010 elections were the most farcical in Egypt’s history.90 Established political opposition groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood and the Wafd Party, were nearly shut out from parliament, as 97 percent of parliamentary seats went to the ndp. Street battles occurred in dozens of districts across the country as police attacked voters and opposition leaders.91 The crackdown extended to the media, university students, and cultural expression. For instance, private businessmen who owned media outlets were pressured by the regime to dismiss outspoken editors, opinion writers, and talk-show hosts who criticized the government.92

The crackdown on the opposition was so severe that it eroded the regime’s elite patronage networks. Not only were these elections rigged—there was nothing unusual about that—but the results also removed members of the old political elite from power. Since 2002, Gamal Mubarak had become increasingly assertive in his power over the ndp and installed his supporters in powerful positions in the party, the cabinet, and parliament. Consequently, Hosni Mubarak’s longtime inner circle of elites became increasingly marginalized. The Mubarak regime may have won control of parliament in 2010, but it failed in its pursuit for indefinite power.93

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