The Engineers Syndicate elections held over the weekend witnessed another resounding vote against the formerly presiding Muslim Brotherhood.
The Unified National List coalition, supported by the liberal-centrist Free Egyptians Party, garnered significant gains in the general syndicate and its 23 branch syndicates nationwide.
The list’s Tarek al-Nabrawy won the presidency of the general syndicate, with a reported 70 percent of the vote.
Nabrawy replaces the Brotherhood’s Magdy Khlousy as syndicate chief. His coalition has entirely sidelined the Islamist bloc in both the general syndicate and the provincial branch syndicates.
The Brotherhood, which had maintained leadership of the Engineers Syndicate for over 20 years, boycotted the election, as did its allies.
Voter turnout was reportedly low during the two days of polling, particularly in comparison to the hotly contested 2011 elections when the Brotherhood and other Islamist groups were running for seats. Some 250,000 engineers from over 400,000 eligible syndicate members voted, including a number of senior officials such as Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb and the ministers of transport, communication and irrigation.
In Cairo, the number of voters on the second day of elections was significantly greater than the first day, when polling stations were virtually vacant.
The National Unified Front coalition comprises two contingents. The Misr al-Mustaqbal bloc’s constituents are employed primarily in state-controlled engineering and contracting companies. The liberal-centrist Independence Current, to which Nabrawy belongs, opposed the Brotherhood’s domination over the syndicate and its politics.
After losing office the general assembly after a vote of no confidence in January, the Brotherhood and their Islamist allies in the centrist Wasat Party chose not to field any candidates in this round of elections. Khlousy and most of his allies also chose to boycott the vote.
The Brotherhood lost most of its council seats in the Doctors Syndicate in December’s elections, and also lost their seats in the Veterinarians Syndicate in March, where the Islamists pulled out of the vote.
The Brotherhood-dominated Teachers Syndicate council was dissolved by court order and placed under state sequestration, and the Minister of Education appointed a temporary caretaker council until new elections could be staged.
State-controlled and mainstream media both jumped on the occasion to celebrate the Brotherhood’s withdrawal from this weekend’s election. The Veto website cheered, "Terrorist Brotherhood boycott engineers' elections,” while the privately owned Al-Dostour newspaper trumpeted the "disappearance of the terrorist organization from the Engineers Syndicate elections."
Although the official election results won’t be announced until Monday, Nabrawy was quick to celebrate his victory on Saturday night.
“No longer will the Engineers Syndicate serve as a base for terrorism,” Nabrawy told television host Ahmed Moussa in an interview on the privately owned Al-Balad satellite channel.
When Moussa asked Nabrawy what he would do to counteract “the Brotherhood’s use of the engineers’ funds to finance terrorism in Egypt and Gaza,” Nabrawy responded that the new syndicate council would file reports of such cases to the prosecutor general. The prosecutor would then investigate all financial irregularities and misappropriation of funds perpetrated by the Brotherhood-led council.
However, Nabrawy added, "We do not seek to punish or exclude any engineer for their political beliefs. No engineer will face disciplinary measures unless they are responsible for clear breaches of the law or the syndicate's regulations."
Moussa congratulated Nabrawy on his win and violently denounced the Brotherhood with the words, “Their final destiny is execution. They will be executed.”
Although Nabrawy adopts a tone opposing the politicization of the syndicate elections and affairs, his victory is a byproduct of the prevalent Islamist-anti-Islamist division in the overall political landscape of Egypt.
The coalition of independent and non-politically affiliated candidates known as the Abu Zeid list, headed by engineer Mostafa Abu Zeid, trailed behind Nabrawy’s coalition in the elections, which some suggest could be due to its lack of engagement with the Islamist question.
However, the independent list did make a number of significant gains in the branch syndicates, where it won dozens of council seats.
Benaa, a group that shies away from defining itself as pro- or anti-Brotherhood, failed to gain any significant presence in the syndicate after running a campaign focused on youth involvement.
Akram Ismail, an engineer who ran in the elections, commented that the Brotherhood’s absence in the polls directly affected the voter turnout, since the group catalyzes both its opponents and supporters.
“When fear is the main motivation for people to vote and when polarization has a measure of sectarianism and power lust, then the end result is not democracy,” Ismail wrote on his Facebook page.
“Democracy is when the voting is over a work plan and the strategy of the syndicate’s council in managing the syndicate’s affairs,” he continued. “The low turnout is an indication that engineers only care about the elections to empower some blocs, or of fear from others.”
Nabrawy, though, insisted that the focus of his new council will be on the persistent problems of the syndicate, from insufficient and inadequate services for members to low salaries and poor pensions.
For the engineers themselves, the act of casting their ballots was perceived both as a political act of participation, but also an expression of hope in improved sector conditions.
Voting at his polling station outside Cairo Stadium, engineer Mahmoud Selim says, “Voting is an act of democratic renewal. Engineers have freely voted for a new and more representative syndicate council. We hope it will serve us all and protect our rights.”