Waiting for the Brothers

Waiting for the Brothers

 It is no secret that the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) is gearing up for November’s parliamentary elections. Sources within the organisation, and observers close to its senior ranks, have confirmed that they will field around 200 candidates.

The “outlawed” MB won 88 seats in the 2005 elections, a fifth of Egypt’s 454-member parliament, 10 of whose members are presidential appointees. The group subsequently lost two seats when one MP died and another was prevented by a court order from representing his constituency.

While the group’s general policy is to contest every possible election — student, syndicate and even clubs — this time round the Brotherhood is taking its time to announce its position regarding the elections.

“Until the MB’s elected shura council [which represents Brotherhood branches across Egypt] meets and makes a decision anything published in the press about our participation is speculation,” Mohamed Mursi, the group’s parliamentary spokesman, told Al-Ahram Weekly. Observers say the council is expected to convene within the next few days but Mursi would not confirm a date.

The Brotherhood’s tardiness in officially announcing whether it will be fighting the election follows a call from former IAEA director Mohamed El-Baradei to boycott the poll in the “absence” of guarantees for a free and fair vote. The boycott is officially supported by the National Assembly for Change (NAC), a coalition of opposition groups and individuals of which the MB is also member. In a statement on 11 September the NAC said that its “leadership”, together with El-Baradei, had decided to “completely boycott” the legislative elections in the absence of “any guarantees that the vote won’t be rigged”. The statement said that contesting the elections would lend the electoral process “fake legitimacy”.

A series of constitutional amendments in 2007 ended full judicial supervision of elections. Critics of the change say it gives greater leeway for the kind of rigging that already marred parliamentary elections under judicial supervision. And in light of emergency laws which are accused of restricting political activism and giving the security apparatus a free hand in detaining people, the opposition can be forgiven for being wary of the election battle that awaits them.

Outside the NAC four licensed opposition parties — the leftwing Tagammu, the Nasserist, Wafd and the National Democratic Front — had already demanded “guarantees” from the government for free and fair elections. In response, the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) said it would not introduce any changes to the electoral process. Two days later a vote by the general assembly of the Wafd Party confirmed that it would contest the elections. Now all eyes are turned to the Brotherhood, which has yet to deliver its final announcement. Not that its leaders have any qualms about contesting the elections despite the NAC’s boycott call. Says the Brotherhood’s Mursi: “Our representation in the NAC is for coordination with other political forces for reform. As members we are not obliged to support all its decisions.” He added that there is “no consensus” within the NAC itself over the boycott. “No one can claim that the majority of the NAC’s members agree that the elections should be boycotted.”

In 1990 a then unified opposition, including the MB, did boycott the elections. And while the MB initially seemed open to the NAC’s boycott proposal it appears to have ruled it out when it became apparent that no consensus among opposition political forces would emerge.

“Nobody, not even proponents of the boycott, takes it seriously,” says Diaa Rashwan, a seasoned political analyst at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.

“The Brotherhood has valid reasons to contest the elections,” Rashwan told the Weekly. “Those who want to boycott or have already decided to do so are not active on the electoral level.”

Rashwan’s allusion was to Ayman Nour’s Ghad Party and the liberal National Democratic Front. Both are boycotting the elections. Unlike the MB, neither party can claim a significant grassroots presence.

More importantly, says Rashwan, the MB has “achieved” a great deal by contesting every possible election, not least the advent of “trained cadres” and a consolidated “political presence”. Even so Rashwan predicts that the Muslim Brotherhood is unlikely to field more than 200 candidates, though the number of seats up for grabs in November has increased from 454 to 518 following last year’s presidential decree allocating a quota of 64 women- only seats. As a result the MB is expected to field around 10 female candidates.

The group, says Rashwan, is perfectly capable of fielding twice the number of candidates but will refrain from doing so to avoid “provoking” the regime and other opposition political forces.

“The MB knows that the coming elections are going to be very different,” he says. Much has changed since 2005, when Egypt was facing pressure from the former US administration to “democratise”. Many believe that the Brotherhood was allowed to operate in a relatively relaxed election, despite widespread claims of rigging and violence. The 2010 elections, however, will precede the 2011 presidential poll and President Hosni Mubarak has yet to announce whether he will be standing.

“The Brotherhood knows it won’t be allowed to win 88 seats this time. And no one from their Guidance Bureau will be allowed to make it to parliament,” says Rashwan.