Muslim Brotherhood cements its leadership of Egyptian opposition
By Michael Slackman
CAIRO The Muslim Brotherhood, an organization outlawed in Egypt, has demonstrated in recent parliamentary elections that it is by far the strongest opposition party in the country, winning enough seats in Parliament to dilute the governing party’s monopoly on power and trounce the secular political opposition.
With one more round of elections to go, the Brotherhood has already won 76 seats - more than five times the number of seats it held in the last Parliament. It has successfully positioned itself as the only significant opposition voice in the next Parliament, and the only opposition group likely to qualify to nominate a candidate to run for president in future elections.
"They are a parallel power to the government," said Abu el-Ezz el-Hariri, deputy chairman of the leftist Tagamoa party, which saw its own leader defeated by a Brotherhood candidate.
The Brotherhood’s electoral victories may also have an impact with the U.S government, which will have to decide if it will continue to shun the largest opposition force in Egyptian politics or revise its policy. In June, during a visit to the Middle East, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the United States would have no contact with the Brotherhood because it was an "illegal organization."
The race for the 444 elected seats of Parliament, which began early this month, was split into three rounds, each followed by a runoff in contests where none of the candidates received 50 percent of the votes.
The second round runoff was held Saturday, and results Sunday showed that the Brotherhood had won 29 more races - despite the efforts of government security forces to stop the party’s supporters from getting to the polls, independent poll-watchers said.
While President Hosni Mubarak’s National Democratic Party will continue to control a vast majority of the seats in Parliament, having already won 195, the new makeup of the chamber may mean that it will find itself forced to publicly defend its record and its actions against the increasingly empowered and ideologically driven members of the Brotherhood.
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 percent to 25 percent. Political analysts said the Brotherhood’s success was at least partly a function of the absence of any other organized 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, as the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood is called. "We had long prepared for this, but the voter turnout exceeded our predictions."
The Brotherhood has been outlawed since the early 1950s, when some of its members attempted to assassinate Prime Minister Gamal Abdel Nasser, who went on to become president.
In the years since, while the government has arrested its members and its supporters, the Brotherhood has rejected the use of violence and has organized grass-roots support around the country.
It has used its network of supporters and contributors to provide social services in many poor neighborhoods, and it managed to provide the only effective alternative to the governing party, in part by melding a political platform with the appeal of religion. While the party says that it supports democratic principles, its goal is to create a state ruled by religious law, called Sharia.
The group’s slogan, "Islam is the Solution," became a rallying point for many people who reject the National Democratic Party’s monopoly on power and who are dissatisfied with the glacial pace of economic and political change in the country. The Brotherhood’s candidates run as independents.
"It means that people are frustrated and people are not happy," said Hossam Badrawi, one of the National Democratic Party’s leading members pushing for democratic reforms, who lost his seat in Parliament to a candidate backed by the old guard of the ruling party.
Mona el-Naggar contributed reporting.