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Look Who’sComing to Dinner
Look Who’sComing to Dinner The banned-but-tolerated Muslim Brotherhoodposts a strong showing in the first two rounds of this year’s parliamentary election as traditional opposition parties melt downByآ Noha El-Hennawy   WE DECLARE THAT Islam is the solution,” bellowed the voices amplified through megaphones thrust out the windows of cars roaring up and down
Sunday, December 4,2005 00:00
by Egypt Today,

Look Who’sComing to Dinner


The banned-but-tolerated Muslim Brotherhoodposts a strong showing in the first two rounds of this year’s parliamentary election as traditional opposition parties melt down
Byآ Noha El-Hennawy

 

WE DECLARE THAT Islam is the solution,” bellowed the voices amplified through megaphones thrust out the windows of cars roaring up and down city streets across Egypt last month as the banned-but-tolerated Muslim Brotherhood did everything it could to rally the electorate to its cause.

 

In the first round, 34 of 51 Brotherhood-backed independents made it into Parliament. In the second round, 13 Brothers scored an early victory, while 41 were contesting the run-offs at press time. Another 49 members were expected to run in the final round scheduled for December 1.

The results caught few analysts by surprise, says Ahmed Thabet, a Cairo University political scientist and expert on Islamist groups.

“It is not really a surprise, because the Muslim Brotherhood has been working in an organized way for a long time,” says Thabet. “That [success] is due to the strength of their organization, the fact that they have a large number of supporters, sympathizers and cadres. Additionally, they are in constant contact with the masses through the mosques.”

In the first phase, 114 of the governing National Democratic Party’s 164 candidates won their seats. In the second phase, 47 out of 144 NDP candidates were defeated as only eight won clear victories and avoided a runoff election. At press time, 89 NDP candidates were contesting the run-offs, while dozens of independent candidates loyal to the NDP reportedly re-joined the party on the eve of the second-round runoff.

The election is taking place in three stages. Among the eight governorates voting in the first round held November 9 were Cairo and Giza, while nine cast ballots in the second round held November 20. The final round was scheduled for December 1. Separate runoff votes were held six days after the primary poll in each round in electoral districts where a candidate failed to garner 50 percent plus 1 of all votes. Only the top two finishers went head-to-head in the runoffs.

Analysts, poll monitors and rights groups agreed that the Muslim Brotherhood’s strong showing this year owed largely to the impartiality of police and security officers safeguarding the polls.

“In [the] 2000 [parliamentary election], police intervention against the Brotherhood was obvious,” Thabet says. “Moreover, there was no full judicial supervision of the voting and much of the group’s senior leadership was in jail back then.” Still, Al-Ikhwan established itself in the outgoing parliament as the biggest opposition bloc with 17 seats, while the nation’s main opposition parties held a grand total of 16: seven Wafdists, six members of Al-Tajammuah party, two Nasserists and one Liberal.

But Abdel Moneim Aboul Fottouh, a member of the Brotherhood’s leadership body, known as the Guidance Bureau, downplays his group’s success, contending that the NDP has again emerged the clear winner.

“The Muslim Brotherhood did not achieve great success,” Aboul Fottouh says. “In the first stage, we secured only 34 seats while the NDP and its followers secured 114 seats. I do not see that as a big success and that is due to the fact that the opposition is besieged. Ultimately, it could not achieve the success it deserved. However, the NDP achieved success, which it did not really deserve, because it continues to control the apparatus of the state,” claims Aboul Fottouh, who belongs to the Brotherhood’s dovish camp.

Ministers and top state officials were the first NDP members to secure early victories this year, including Kamal El-Shazly (Minister for the People’s Assembly Affairs), Housing Minister Mohamed Ibrahim Suleiman, Finance Minister Youssef Boutros Ghali, PA Speaker Fathi Sorour, and Presidential Chief of Staff Zakaria Azmi.

Egyptian NGOs reported dozens of alleged violations at the polls, although the complaints were far fewer in number this year than in 2000, despite the groups being allowed almost complete freedom to monitor the electoral process, as they were during this fall’s presidential election. The most common reported violations included allegations of bribery, allowing voters to vote without voting cards or IDs, and apparent inaccuracies in the voters’ roll.

Although the first round passed peacefully, violence marred the second round as two people were reportedly killed in Alexandria. In another first, the Brotherhood stood accused of physically assaulting NDP supporters with chains and knives in the embattled second city, which was home to sectarian violence in October on the eve of the election.

Al-Ikhwan contested the results of the first poll, claiming a rigged vote saw the election of NDP candidates in a number of constituencies including Damanhour, where MP Mostafa El-Fiqqi topped Gamal Heshamt, one the Brotherhood’s leading figures. Matters came to a head when a judge who monitored the vote at a Damanhour poll station published her account in the independent daily Al-Masry Al-Youm on November 24 alleging that election results were forged in favor of El-Fiqqi.

The Brotherhood also voiced allegations of misconduct in a Dokki district where the group’s Hazem Abu Ismail was defeated by Amal Othman, one of the most prominent members of the NDP’s old guard.

According to Aboul Fottouh, 665 members of the Brotherhood were arrested during the course of the polling.

The election results revived fears among the nation’s liberal elite of an Islamist rush to power.

“I would say this [fear] is due to a lack of knowledge. Although extremists are few in Egypt and in the world, they have a loud voice,” says Aboul Fottouh. “The ideas they have leaked — and which do not represent our ideas at all — made some people think that as soon as the Brothers reach power, they would work on a radical transformation.

“The modern civil state in Egypt is an Islamic state,” he continues. “We want to reform it not to uproot it or bring something new we want to curb corruption and infractions inside that state.”

The new parliament is expected to hammer out the details of the constitutional reforms President Hosni Mubarak pledged during his election campaign. These are expected to curb the broad powers of the presidency and shore up the authority of the legislature prior to addressing calls for judicial reforms and the enactment of a permanent anti-terror law to replace the emergency laws that have been in effect since 1981.

While Aboul Fottouh maintains that the group seeks genuine political reform, Thabet believes the Brotherhood does not really support the comprehensive constitutional amendments called for by the opposition.

“The Brothers are not very enthusiastic about political reform, especially about curbing the president’s authorities, rejecting hereditary succession, amending the constitution and empowering the legislature. What they are concerned about is ending detentions and being granted the liberty to operate as a party,” says Thabet.

The group’s leaders have consistently claimed the right to be officially recognized as a political party. However, their demands have fallen on deaf ears as the president and legislators alike have consistently stated that the nation will never allow the formation of religious parties.

Thabet believes the group’s strong presence in Parliament will lead them to embrace more democratic values and turn into a genuine civil political force. “It would make them practice politics, get accustomed to political participation and the public process and force them to mingle with other political forces, which could help them learn more about democratic traditions and believe in genuine pluralism,” the analyst suggests.

“In past sessions of Parliament, their contributions have been limited to hounding thinkers and trying to legislate against novelists, artists and movie makers. This attitude, if maintained, would present a real obstacle to their transformation into a civil political force,” says Thabet.

Opposition parties failed miserably in the election’s first two phases. The National Front for Change, which was formed almost one month ahead of the elections and grouped together 11 leading opposition parties and groups, won only six seats and was expected to contest run-offs in only nine constituencies.

Two of the six seats went to Al-Tajammuah Party, two to Al-Wafd, one to the would-be Al-Karama Party (a Nasserist offshoot) and one to the National Coalition for Democratic Transformation.

Worse, the first round saw three leading opposition parliamentarians lose their re-election bids, among them embattled Al-Ghad Party leader Ayman Nour, Wafdist caucus leader Mounir Fakhri Abdel Nour and independent Mona Makram Ebeid.

Ayman Nour, who finished second to Mubarak in the presidential elections, lost his seat in Bab El-Sahaereyya district to NDP candidate Yehia Wahdan. Coptic businessman Abdel Nour, who heads Vitrac, the region’s leading jam maker, was defeated by NDP candidate Sherine Abdel Aziz in El Wayli district, while Ebeid lost her seat to the NDP’s Mohamed Guweili.

“Opposition groups usually start working a month or two ahead of the elections and stop communicating with the masses after the elections,” Thabet says. “Additionally, the coordination between the members of the so-called ‘front’ was weak.”

But Hussein Abdel Razeq, secretary-general of Al-Tajammuah, offers a different account, albeit one the nation has tired of hearing. While acknowledging the opposition’s failure in the first two rounds, he lays the blame at the feet of “state restrictions imposed on political parties.”

“There are long-term reasons for those negative results,” says Abdel Razeq. “Since the creation of political parties in 1976, the state has laid siege to the opposition and confined it to its headquarters. Simply put, the state prevented opposition parties from communicating with the masses.”

Al-Tajammuah and others on the “front” will have to do better if they expect to appeal to voters in the key 2010 Parliamentary poll that will precede the 2011 presidential race
 


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