• November 23, 2005
  • 4 minutes read

Real dialogue” with the regime on political reform

Real dialogue” with the regime on political reform

Brotherhood poll success ups pressure on Cairo
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 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.

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, although it would still need further government endorsement.

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 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 leftist and liberal opposition to the NDP.

However, Salama Ahmed Salama, an al-Ahram newspaper columnist, suggested that his government would 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.

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

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.”