Voting will continue for two days for the Council of Senators, an advisory body without any legislative powers to replace the Shura Council, which was dissolved in 2014.

A voter fills out her ballot at a school used as a polling station during Egypt's senate elections in Cairo, Egypt. August 11, 2020.
A voter fills out her ballot at a school used as a polling station during Egypt's senate elections in Cairo, Egypt. August 11, 2020. (Mohamed Abd El Ghany / Reuters)

Egyptians have begun voting for members of a newly created second chamber of parliament, with restrictive measures in place aimed at curbing a resurgence of novel coronavirus infections.

The upper chamber of parliament was revived as part of constitutional amendments approved in a referendum last year. The Council of Senators will be an advisory body without legislative powers. 

Polling stations are open for two days of voting, starting Tuesday. Nearly 63 million people out of a total population of more than 100 million are eligible to vote, according to state news agency MENA. 

Security has been tight, with police at polling stations and patrolling Cairo streets. The military said it had deployed troops to assist the vote.

As in Egypt's main parliamentary chamber, supporters of President Abdel Fattah el Sisi are expected to dominate.

Officials say the senate will enhance political participation, but the build-up to the elections was low key, which commentators attributed to the coronavirus pandemic, a lack of awareness about the new chamber and apathy.

"Of course, the government is using us to beautify the picture," by giving the impression of political competition, Mohamed Anwar al Sadat, who heads the opposition Reform and Development Party, said.

"We should be realistic ... today in Egypt the space for practising political work has become narrow."

Partially elected senate

Last year, a referendum approved constitutional changes that could allow Sisi to stay in office until 2030, widening his powers over the judiciary and establishing the Senate.

The Council will include 200 elected members and 100 appointed by the president. It replaces the Shura Council, which was dissolved in 2014.

One hundred Senate members will be elected as individual candidates and 100 from a closed list system, where people vote for parties.

The only closed list to be submitted is headed by the strongly pro-government Mostaqbal Watan party, though it included two parties from a coalition that rejected last year's constitutional changes.

Battling Covid-19

Measures to guard against the coronavirus include the sterilisation of voting stations and obligatory masks. Authorities said face masks would be handed out to voters for free.

Officially confirmed cases of the virus in Egypt have rebounded slightly after a sharp fall, with some officials and doctors warning of a second wave of infections.

Authorities have reported just over 95,000 infections and 5,000 deaths.

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Gains for women?

Outside a polling centre near the Cairo University, at least a dozen people, mostly women, lined up to cast their ballots. Everyone in the line wore face masks and observed social distancing regulations.

Mahasin Abdel Aziz, said she approved of the 25 percent quota for women in the Senate, passed in the April 2019 referendum.

 She said the country has not seen “such an honourable representation of Egyptian women in Egypt’s political life.”

The results were expected within a week on August 19 and the runoff will take place in September.

Lasheen Ibrahim, chairman of the National Election Authority, called voting “a national duty" and warned in televised comments Saturday that those who boycott the election could be fined up to $32 (500 Egyptian pounds), under an Egyptian law that has existed for years but was never really implemented.

'Limited powers meaningless'

For the past two weeks, Cairo and other cities and towns across the country have been awash with posters and banners of candidates, mostly pro-government businessmen and politicians.

Ahmed Abd Rabou, a visiting assistant professor at the University of Denver, argued that a senate with such “limited powers” is meaningless.

“It has no value, but to introduce proposals, studies and consultations” to the country’s institutions, he said in a Facebook post.

Opposition voices have largely been shut out, and thousands of people, including many pro-democracy activists, have been arrested. Freedoms won in 2011, when mass protests ended President Hosni Mubarak’s nearly three-decade rule, have largely been rolled back.

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Source: TRTWorld and agencies