Egypt voting results show Muslim Brotherhood’s power

Egypt voting results show Muslim Brotherhood’s power


CAIRO, Egypt — A surprise showing in the first round of Egypt’s parliamentary elections has given the Muslim Brotherhood its strongest political foothold heading into today’s vote, hinting at what democracy might look like in the Arab world’s largest country.

Secularists and Christians were unsettled by the Brotherhood’s initial showing, with the country’s oldest Islamic fundamentalist group taking 34 seats, doubling its presence in parliament.

The victories have established the Brotherhood as the leader of the opposition and have proved what the government feared: that the banned group is popular among Egyptians despite, or because of, crackdowns and the government’s media campaign against it.

Strong support for banned group


The unanswered question remains: Does Brotherhood success stem from its platform — summed up in its slogan, “Islam is the solution” — or to widespread discontent with President Hosni Mubarak?

Stunned by its own showing, the Brotherhood expects to win more today and in the Dec. 1 third round.

Some members of the Coptic Christian community were worried by the Brotherhood’s showing.

“What worries me is the [Brotherhood’s] vague call for implementing Islamic law,” said Georget Qelliny, a former lawmaker.

She added she was skeptical of the Brotherhood’s pledge to protect the rights of all Egyptians.

Banned since 1954, the Brotherhood is not allowed to run as a political party, but it fields candidates as independents.

The group, founded in 1928, calls for implementing Islamic law but hasn’t been specific about what this means. Its members are conservative — advocating the veil for women and campaigning against perceived immorality in the media — but the group insists it represents a moderate face of Islam.

In the last year, Brotherhood members have presented themselves as advocates of democratic reform and have tried to reach out to Christians, although most in the Christian minority oppose them.

The government generally tolerates the group, which renounced violence in the 1970s, but hundreds of members have been detained in recent months amid increased protests against Mubarak, Egypt’s leader for 24 years.

U.S. watches with concern


The United States has been urging Mubarak, its ally in the Middle East, to allow greater democracy. But U.S. officials are eyeing the Brotherhood with concern.

“A willingness to participate in the democratic system isn’t proof that somebody is a democrat,” Elizabeth Cheney, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for the Near East, said this fall. “You have to be willing to protect that system and defend the rights of others.”