On Monday, Egypt will begin a long, complicated process of elections to choose the country's first democratically chosen government. Over the course of several months, Egyptians will choose a new, 498-member parliament and a new president from a pluralistic range of parties and candidates.
Egypt's elections are a political milestone. The vote for parliament is a crucial step in the reformation of the country and its results will determine who will draft Egypt's new constitution. Yet the elections come at a tumultuous time. Less than a year after protesters gathered in Cairo's Tahrir Square to demand the resignation of former president Hosni Mubarak, demonstrators are back to demand the resignation of the country's ruling military council. More than 40 people have been killed, and over 2,000 wounded in clashes over the past week. Egypt's military rulers have vowed that despite the violence, the elections will go on as scheduled. However, it remains unclear how many of the country's 50 million elegible voters will head to the polls.
Even if the vote goes as scheduled on Monday, many hurdles remain.
"It would be hard to exaggerate how badly the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has prepared for these pivotal transitional elections, Georgetown professor Mark Lynch writes in Foreign Policy. "The election law is baffling and incoherent. Election preparations seem haphazard. The rules keep changing. People barely know what or who they are voting for."
Elliot Abrams of the Council on Foreign Relations calls the current election system ridiculously complex. "It would confuse a bunch of PhD statisticians, much less an electorate that is about 30 percent illiterate," he writes on the Council's website.
Egypt's elections will start at the end of November, and are expected to run in 3 phases until March 2012. Three separate votes will elect parliament's higher house (or the People's Assembly), parliament's lower house (Shura Council), and the president. The presidential elections likely will be held at the end of next year.
Complex enough? There's more.
As the International Foundation For Electoral Systems (IFES) explains, new members of parliament will be elected both through a system of selecting individual candidates and selecting candidates though a proportional list. District lines for the party lists and lists of individual candidates are not the same. A certain number of candidates need to be farmers, and party lists must include a minimum of one female candidate.
In addition to holding three separate votes for the presidency and two houses of parliament, not all parts of Egypt will vote for those offices on the same day.
And the results? Hard to say.
According to the Egyptian weekly Al Ahram, 8,627 candidates have registered as independent candidates -- 6,591 for the People's Assembly and 2,036 for the Shura Council -- 590 party-based lists registered for the People's Assembly, 272 for the Shura Council. Some of the parties have formed alliances. The largest are the Democratic Alliance, the Egypt Bloc, the Islamist Bloc and the Completing The Revolution Alliance.
Egypt's religious parties are expected to win significantly in the 2011 vote. The Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice party is set to win a large portion of the votes, and a number of other religious parties have emerged. The Brotherhood is currently one of Egypt's largest and best organized political groups. Yet it remains unclear how much the Brotherhood's decision not to join the recent protests in Tahrir will influence the electorate's perspective.
Take a look at a list of some of the main parties in this year's election below.