How Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood Will Win
How Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood Will Win
Friday, November 4,2011 08:36

 The performance of the Islamist party Ennahda in the October 23 Tunisian elections, in which it won 41.5 percent of the seats, has refocused attention on the upcoming Egyptian elections scheduled to begin on November 28. Some analysts have minimized the Muslim Brotherhood's prospects for success by pointing to polls suggesting that the group -- the largest and best organized in Egypt -- hovers between 15 to 30 percent approval. It may be true that the Brotherhood isn't as popular as we might think. But elections aren't popularity contests. In fact, as the campaign unfolds, it appears likely that Egypt's Islamists will do even better than expected, just like their Tunisian counterparts. 

In the run-up to the Tunisian elections, Ennahda was polling around 20 percent. Yet they ended up with nearly double. In elections -- particularly founding elections in which new parties need to introduce themselves to voters across the country -- organization and strategy are what counts, not high approval ratings. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood excels on both counts. While most liberal and leftist parties are effectively starting from scratch, the Brotherhood already has a disciplined ground game, fine-tuned from three decades of contesting syndicate and national elections.

During last November's parliamentary contest -- arguably the most fraudulent Egypt had ever seen -- I had the chance to witness the Brotherhood's "get-out-the-vote" operation up close. One Brotherhood campaign worker, perhaps unaware it would sound somewhat implausible, told me that the organization has an internal vote turnout of nearly 100 percent. In other words, everyone who is an active Muslim Brotherhood member is expected to vote and actually does. Even if this is a stretch, it is true that the Brotherhood, in part because it is a religious movement rather than a political party, has the sort of organizational discipline of which competing parties can only dream.