Despite duress, Islamists gain in Egypt polls

CAIRO: The Muslim Brotherhood may be banned, but it has demonstrated in the latest parliamentary elections that it is by far the strongest Egyptian opposition group, trouncing the secular political opposition and weakening the governing party’s power monopoly.

Results released by the government on Sunday showed the Brotherhood winning 29 more seats in the runoff on Saturday for the second round of parliamentary voting.

It won 47 seats in the first round this month, meaning that with just one more round of elections to go, the Brotherhood already has 76 seats — more than five times its total in the departing Parliament.

Because of the group’s outlaw status, its candidates run as independents.

The group’s most recent gains have come despite the efforts of government security forces to block supporters from getting to the polls on Saturday, independent election monitors said.

And it is now the only opposition group likely to qualify to nominate a candidate to run against President Hosni Mubarak in future polls.

“They are a parallel power to the government,” said Abu el-Ezz el-Hariri, deputy chairman of the leftist Tagamoa Party, whose leader was defeated by a Brotherhood candidate.

Mubarak’s governing National Democratic Party will apparently continue to control a vast majority of the seats in Parliament, having already won 195.

But the new makeup of the chamber, which has 444 elected positions, may mean that the party will find itself forced to publicly defend its record and its actions against the increasingly empowered Brotherhood, which wants to make Egypt a religious state governed by Islamic law.

The shift may also force the Bush administration to decide whether to stick to its policy of shunning all contact with the group, as reiterated by secretary of state Condoleezza Rice during her trip through the Middle East in June.
Despite its successes, it is hard to gauge the depth of support for the Brotherhood, as turnout in individual races was low, often in the neighborhood of 10 per cent to 25 per cent.

Political analysts said the group’s success was at least partly a function of the absence of any other organised political opposition.

“None of the observers or analysts predicted the results we achieved so far in these elections,” said Muhammad Habib, deputy to the supreme guide.

The Brotherhood has been outlawed since the early 1950’s, when some of its members tried to assassinate PM Gamal Abdel Nasser, who went on to become president.

Since, while the government has arrested its members and its supporters, the Brotherhood has organised grass-roots support around the country and has more recently rejected the use of violence.

NYT News Service