Egypt’s Brotherhood set for showdown
Friday, November 18,2005 00:00
By Agence France Presse (AFP)

Egypt’s Brotherhood set for showdown
Ruling NDP likely to try and prevent further Islamist gains


CAIRO: Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood is set for a showdown with the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) in Sunday’s second round of parliamentary elections after making strong gains in the first phase.

Observers warned on Thursday that President Hosni Mubarak’s NDP would seek to prevent the Islamist movement from making further gains in the two remaining rounds.

The Brotherhood, which put up candidates running as independents, garnered a record 34 seats after Tuesday’s runoffs, doubling in just one phase its total from the last legislative elections in 2000.

Justice Minister Mahmoud Abulleil announced the official results, confirming that the NDP had only won 112 of the 164 seats up for grabs in the first phase.

The shock results gave the Brotherhood unprecedented political clout, with more than 20 percent of seats won so far, even before polling begins in most of their Nile Delta and Upper Egypt strongholds.

After conducting an aggressive welfare-oriented campaign under the slogan "Islam is the solution," the Brotherhood was massively mobilized during the first phase.

The movement’s leader, Mohammad Mehdi Akef, had accused the NDP of orchestrating mass fraud but took a more conciliatory stance in an interview with the independent daily Al-Masri Al-Yom published Thursday.

He criticized "biased" media coverage but stressed that polling had been marred mainly by "individual irregularities" and not "widespread fraud as had been the case in the past."

"Even Mubarak does not tolerate rigged elections. He advocates democracy and freedom," he said.

Amr Shubaki, a political analyst for the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, had an explanation for Akef’s about-face.

"Akef has a long experience of double talk ... It is quite clear that the Muslim Brothers have good reason to worry about the risk of a dangerous confrontation with the regime in the next phases of the vote," he said.

Similarly strong showings in the next two phases of the elections, which are due to kick off respectively on November 20 and December 1, would give the Islamist movement close to 100 seats in Parliament.

Legal parties need 5 percent of Parliament - or 25 seats - to field a candidate in presidential elections.

But independents require the approval of at least 65 members, according to a recent constitutional amendment which the Brotherhood says was designed to prevent it from running.

Mustafa Kamel al-Sayyed, a political science professor at the American University in Cairo, predicted the regime "will never accept a massive parliamentary representation for the Brothers." While state-owned newspapers refrained Thursday from dwelling on the prospect of further gains by the Islamists, opposition dailies warned the coming rounds could be explosive.

In a statement Thursday, Akef made it clear that the first-phase results boosted his case for the movement to be legalized.

"Giving people freedom of organization, expression, to form parties and associations and to vote will strengthen the ties between the nation’s sons," he said.

The first phase of polling left the secular opposition dead in the water, with only five MPs. - AFP