Israel’s neighbour and sometime peace partner, Egypt, has also been
holding elections. Following September’s presidential election, which
represented a modest step forward for democracy, legislative elections
are now being held; the second of three stages is currently under way.

Some media reports
confusingly refer to these geographic stages as “rounds”, but what
happens is that each stage consists of two rounds: electorates are for
single members, and if no-one wins a majority in the first round the
top two contenders go to a run-off the following week.

So far the elections have been a big success for the opposition Muslim
Brotherhood, which is officially banned but whose candidates are
allowed to run as independents, campaigning under the slogan “Islam is
the solution.” They already have 47 seats wrapped up, and are on target
for their goal of 100. In a parliament of 454 they will still be
heavily outnumbered, but it’s a big improvement on their previous total
of 15.

Expect plenty of hand-wringing in the west to the effect that Muslims
are committed to Islamic extremism and therefore aren’t fit for
democracy. In reality, the opposition’s success is a natural reaction
to autocratic government, and it’s likely that religion is of secondary
importance. As Negad el-Borai, an election monitor quoted by AP,
put it, “The people are saying we hate the ruling party, we hate the
government and we will get anybody to rule us except you.”

And there’s more bad news for African autocrats: in Kenya, president Mwai Kibaki has been defeated
in a referendum on a new constitution that opponents claimed would have
entrenched him in power. The “No” vote, symbolised by an orange, won
57%, to 43% for “Yes”, a banana. As the BBC explains, “The fruits were
chosen by Kenya’s electoral commission as non-party political symbols
and to aid illiterate voters.”