Al-Ikhwan’s Last Opportunity?
So far, the Islamic Ikhwan movement in Egypt has not announced whether it will participate in or boycott the local councils elections scheduled by President Husni Mubarak for April 8. Although the Ikhwan have historically adopted the principle of participation in each of the previous elections, recent political developments in Egypt over the past few months indicate a potential clash between the government and the Ikhwan if the latter decided to nominate their figures in those elections. Recent constitutional amendments strictly prohibit participation in any elections on religious basis, not to mention that raising Islamic slogans is no longer acceptable. Hence, the Ikhwan”s famous slogan “Islam is the solution” is no longer usable by any Ikhwan candidates if the movement decided to participate in the elections.
It is no secret that these elections were originally scheduled for 2005 but were suddenly put off by the Ikhwan”s major shocker in the parliamentary elections that year when they won 88 seats at the expense of the ruling National Party and other legitimate parties. Even when the government and its party promoted a variety of reasons to justify delaying the elections, the Ikhwan”s resounding surprise in the parliamentary elections did indeed force the government to search for other means to face off the growing popularity of the movement on the street; hence came the constitutional amendments then the enactment of a number of laws that creates many hurdles before allowing any Ikhwan candidate to start participating against the candidates of the ruling party.
The Ikhwan believe that direct engagement with the public through electoral campaigns and linking the interests of the people with the movement through a variety of commercial, economic and service activities will increase its seats even a few of its leaders, ranks and file paid a hefty price in the form of security campaigns or military tribunals. Despite all this, participation itself may be a goal for the Ikhwan, at least to maintain political presence and attain recognition regardless of the number of seats won.
Since the Ikhwan boycotted the parliamentary elections in 1990 as part of an agreement with other political parties and forces in protest of the government”s refusal to their demands of political reforms, the movement has participated in every round of elections since then. Several leading figures within the movement have expressed their conviction that the decision to boycott is an unloaded weapon that may work for the benefit of the government which often ignores the demands of the Ikhwan because the movement does not enjoy legal legitimacy even if it had strong presence on the popular level. By and large, it is most likely that the Ikhwan will participate in the upcoming local elections even if only by a limited number of candidates. This indicates that the struggle between the movement and the government is heading toward another round of escalation. Hence, the campaigns targeting the Ikhwan activists in several provinces over the past few days are nothing but the beginning of more measures that will eventually reach a peak during the elections.
Till now, however, neither the Ikhwan nor the other political forces are aware of the electoral system upon which the parliamentary elections of 2010 will be held and whether this system will allow independents, including the Ikhwan, to participate, and if so, in what percentages vis-à-vis the other parties. Hence the movement may see that the local elections may be its last opportunity to directly exchange contact with the street and the public. The Ikhwan, needless to mention, are not known for missing any opportunities.