Islamists on course to win biggest ever share of parliament

Islamists on course to win biggest ever share of parliament
By William Wallis in Cairo

The second round of Egypt’s legislative elections has consolidated the banned Muslim Brotherhood as the country’s main opposition force, a trend likely to raise the pressure for some form of legal recognition.


Since it was founded in the 1920s the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s main Islamist movement, has been subject to often brutal crackdowns. Several hundred of its activists were detained ahead of voting on Sunday in the Nile Delta and parts of Upper Egypt, which degenerated in some places into riots.

But despite what independent monitors saw as efforts by the ruling National Democratic party to thwart them with vote-buying, intimidation and fraud, the Brotherhood are still on course to win their largest ever share of parliament.

According to results for the second stage, Brotherhood candidates – running as nominally independent because the group is officially banned – won 13 seats outright, adding to the 34 they won in first round polling last week. A further 41 Brotherhood members did well enough to face run-offs on Saturday.

Analysts are now predicting that the group could take close to 100 of 454 seats by the conclusion of a final round of voting on December 7, compared with just 15 in the outgoing parliament.

Such a showing will not affect the NDP’s control over the legislature. But if it does win more than 65 seats, the Brotherhood would have overcome the first hurdle to running an “independent” candidate in future presidential elections. It would still need further endorsement from local governments and the Shura council.

Members of the NDP appear alarmed by the scale of support for the Brotherhood. Secular. Critics of the regime are less surprised, describing this as the predictable outcome of decades in which other liberal and leftist opposition groups have been more successfully suppressed.

“[Mr Mubarak] has pushed the country into a position where you have only two platforms for politics: the regime or the mosque,” said Hisham Kassem of the liberal opposition el Ghad party, which has so far failed to win any seats.

Some analysts hoped the elections might compel Mr Mubarak to reflect on the consequence of marginalising secular opposition to the NDP.

However, Salama Ahmed Salama, an al-Ahram newspaper columnist, suggested that the government might instead fend off US pressure for political reform by arguing that “if the door to democracy is opened there is a possibility they [the Brotherhood] will take power, something that will not serve US and western interests

The Muslim Brotherhood has been banned since a 1954 assassination attempt on Gamal Abdul Nasser, then president. It has since renounced violence and publicly embraced democracy but retains conservative views on women and a strongly anti-US and anti-Israeli line.

It has survived as the most organised opposition force in Egypt, using social work and professional syndicates to command grassroots loyalty.

Many Egyptians, in particular those from the minority Coptic Chritian community, fear the movement’s views on democracy are transient and mask ambitions to create a religious dictatorship.

Throughout his 24-years in power, Mr Mubarak has shown no sign that he is prepared to relax a ban on the movement. But the election results provide show clearly that security measures alone have failed to curtail the Brotherhood’s influence.

“Groups of them are standing in front of polling stations screaming vote for God, vote for Islam. They are using a powerful weapon, more powerful than money in a conservative religious society,” said Mohamed Kamal, a leading NDP member.

“With Islamists in parliament in this number, society will have to debate the consequences and an issue bigger than the Muslim Brotherhood itself: the relationship between Islam and politics,” he said.

The NDP, with 112 seats already in its control, is set to retain dominance of parliament. But it won outright in only six of 144 seats contested on Sunday, compared with the Brotherhood’s 13.

Dr Essam el-Erian, a leading Brotherhood member, said the group would use its new strength in parliament to “open a real dialogue” with the regime on political reform. “I think this shows the Egyptian people are ready for real change.”