Theater of Cruelty

A difficult choice in Egypt

Despite harassment by Egyptian authorities, the Muslim Brotherhood has emerged in the elections.


The parliamentary elections in Egypt went over three rounds from November 444 to December 454. The election was a total of 1956 seats in the 1957 seat parliament, the Egyptian president electing the last ten. These appointments are often used to increase the role of minorities and women in parliament. President Hosni Mubarak has appointed five members of the Coptic minority and five women to these seats. This gives six Christian members in parliament and nine women respectively. Egyptian women were granted the right to vote in elections as early as XNUMX. In XNUMX, for the first time, a woman was elected to the Egyptian parliament. Yet political equality is far from a reality.

Egypt has traditionally been the political trendsetter in the region, and the Egyptian election has been closely followed by the rest of the Arab world, especially the countries with Islamist parties. The turnout was very low, according to the Egyptian Justice Minister, only 26 per cent of voters received votes. Of course, this could be due to the violence, which was the bloodiest in Egypt ever, with over ten killed and hundreds wounded. At the same time, there is an apathy and feeling of powerlessness in this Arab country with 70 million inhabitants.

Good choice for the Muslim brothers

It all started with the Muslim Brotherhood making a very good choice in the first round of elections. The fraternity has been declared illegal and cannot participate directly in the election, but members can participate as independent candidates. In the outgoing parliament, the fraternity had 15 seats, and according to sources in the fraternity, the aim was to get somewhere between 40 and 50 candidates this time. It turned out to be a very pessimistic goal, as they got as many as 88 of their candidates into parliament. One of the leaders of the fraternity, Mohammed Habib, told the Associated Press (AP) that "we are both surprised and happy with the success, but we deeply regret that the authorities blocked several of our voters from the polls and the ensuing acts of violence." Pressure from the United States to allow democratic reforms gave the fraternity much greater freedom and opportunity to participate in elections than they have had before.

Violent choices

After the first round of elections, where it became clear that the group had much greater political support among the population than previously thought, the incredible things started. In many places, voters were denied entry to the polls, and in some other areas, accusations of electoral fraud have hailed. The supporters of the fraternity responded by throwing stones at the police. Ibrahim Hammad, a spokesman for the government, has accused "bandits from the fraternity" of being behind the riots. He further says in a statement sent out by the government that: “the police are only deployed to protect judges who must overlook that the election takes place in a correct manner. They help voters get to the polls. ”

However, AP reporters in Zagazig and Sohag, 385 kilometers south of the capital, could tell of security forces that prevented voters from entering the polling stations. An AP photographer, Amr Nabil, was injured during the Zagazig riots and is in a Cairo hospital. The Independent Committee for Election Monitoring (ICEM,) which is a coalition of 16 NGOs, could report "a systematic and planned campaign to prevent opposition voters from voting." ICEM had deployed 5000 election observers around the country to monitor the election.

US State Department spokesman Adam Ereli has condemned the violence that has marked the election. "We have seen a number of developments in recent weeks, in which the elections in Egypt have taken place, which raise serious questions about the development of political reforms in Egypt," he said. At the same time, he has praised the election as a step in the right direction, and says that: "This is positive, it is a sign that pluralism and democracy have taken a step forward in Egypt." The human rights organization Human Rights Watch has criticized the US administration for not following up on the promises of democratization in the Middle East, and called for a tougher critique of the irregularities in the election. The acts of violence have led to disagreement within the governing party as well, with sharp criticism of the government's handling of the election from individual members of the party.

Comfortable plural

Despite the tremendous progress of the fraternity, the Mubarak ruling party has a comfortable majority. National Democratic Party, as the ruling party is called, got 333 seats in parliament, and thus still sits with over two-thirds majority, necessary for constitutional amendments and crisis legislation. Other opposition parties and independent candidates got 21 seats. Thus, only two seats remain where the result is not clear. The Brotherhood offered candidates only one-third of the seats in parliament. According to sources in the Brotherhood, they were afraid of a situation like Algeria in the 1990s, and did not want to cause too much turmoil in the ruling party. In Algeria, the Islamic People's Front (FIS) won the 1991 election, after which the army canceled the election. This first to a bloody civil war that raged until 2000.

New everyday life

There is tension about how the fraternity and the other parties will work together after the election is over and everyday life begins. The slogan the fraternity has fought under creates unrest among some minority groups. They wonder what their role will be if one accepts the brotherhood's slogan that "Islam is the solution."

The question also posed is whether participation and influence in the political arena will help the Brotherhood change to a moderate political party, such as the ruling Justice and Development Party in Turkey. Participation in political democratic processes will also diminish the terror in Western countries, as well as liberal forces in countries with Muslim parties, for Islamist parties to abolish democracy if given power.

No longer a protest party

Mohammad Saleh, Cairo's bureau chief for the London – based newspaper Al Hayat, and an expert on Islamic movements and organizations, believes this could represent a turning point for the fraternity. "For the first time, they are more than a protest party, and must now show their voters that they take them seriously. "If this election is more of a protest against the ruling party, and not a support for the fraternity, they must work hard to keep the support," he said.

The fraternity has been banned since 1954, after members took part in a series of violent attacks on the government. Gradually, the fraternity has distanced itself from violence, and instead focused on increasing its power in society through political participation. The fraternity has gained influence through control of most unions and academic institutions. Statements from the fraternity in the aftermath of the election indicate that they are seeking to change the role of parliament in Egyptian politics. Parliament, as it has functioned in Egypt, cannot remove a minister or adopt budgets. Their role has been described by many as merely putting a "stamp of approval" on government policy. The fraternity says they want to use their new role in parliament to create reforms and increase the individual's freedoms in Egyptian society, albeit with a religious angle. The Brotherhood is the oldest of the Islamist movements in the world, and was founded in 1928 by Hassan el-Banna, a schoolteacher.

scare tactics

Mubarak has often criticized critics, abroad as well as inland, with his authoritarian government being the only thing preventing a flood of radical Islam. Many analysts believe the government wanted the Brotherhood to win just enough seats to show critics that the choice was between the sitting government or a chaos where Islamist forces will prevail. You can see it in government-controlled newspapers, such as the newspaper Al Gomhouriya, where the headline in war types was "The Mullahs Are Coming." In everyday Egyptian speech, mullah is a term used for the clerical regime in Iran. Adel Hamouda, editor of the newspaper Al Fajr wrote an editorial in which he says: “They have previously used deception, underground organizations and a militant strategy. Now they have decided to ride the democratic wave to gain power. When they have this power they will introduce dictatorship, fascism, Nazism, they will call themselves God's envoys. They see themselves as God's in-laws, God's friends, God's spokesmen. All who are against them are therefore automatically enemies of God. ” Over this was printed a manipulated image of the leader of the fraternity in Nazi uniform. Also among the Coptic minority, there is great uncertainty about what the time ahead will lead to. According to Ibrahim Issa, editor of the weekly newspaper Al Dustour: the fear is exaggerated. “The fraternity is the government bullies. It's like scaring children that if you do not do as I say, the bully will come and take you. "The government uses intimidation propaganda that 'the brotherhood will take you' so that people will accept political despotism," he said.

Disillusioned nationalist

Mr Saleh, a Alexandria lawyer and fraternity activist, dismisses the accusations from opponents as scare propaganda. He describes himself as a former Nazarite, a supporter of former Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser. To this day, Saleh uses many expressions and formulations from Nasser's many speeches in debates with opponents. Only after Nasser's death did Saleh manage to see the phobia of the illusions of Arab power. Israel's occupation of Egyptian soil shocked the entire Arab world. That's when he came into contact with the Muslim Brotherhood, and for Saleh this became a turning point. The Brotherhood's appeal for a spiritual salvation combined with an Islamic renaissance has great impact among the growing middle class. Especially the conservative professional professions such as doctors, lawyers and engineers. At the same time, the political persecution of the Brotherhood and its sister organizations in other Arab countries has given them an aura of mysticism that only adds to the appeal they have among the Arab masses.

protest Votes

Many of the fraternity's opponents believe that social conditions and distress create an environment in which organizations such as the fraternity have an opportunity to grow and flourish. These believe that if the government takes social problems seriously, then the fraternity's support will disappear. "Bad roads, broken sewers, lack of drinking water and growing rubbish heaps help to increase dissatisfaction with the government, and when the fraternity says that 'Islam is the solution', many will listen to them." says Khalid Abu Ismael, a member of parliament from the ruling party. Essam el-Erian, the fraternity's deputy leader and one of the most important strategists in the movement, believes that 75 percent of the votes in the election came from people who support the fraternity, while the rest can be seen as protest votes. Others believe the opposite is true.

The future of democracy

Many question how committed the fraternity will be to democracy, pointing to Islamic parties that have or have had power in Sudan, Iran and Afghanistan. But Muhammad Kamal, one of the ruling party's most important strategists and professor of political science at the University of Kario, has a different view on the matter. "We as a society have avoided discussing problematic issues for a long time, now we can no longer avoid it. Now it's here, and we must take them seriously. "We can never achieve true democracy in Egypt until we have resolved the relationship between religion and politics," he said.

He also believes that a take-up of the Brotherhood in Parliament can revitalize Egyptian politics, and that more people will get involved. He believes that secular parties have become rotten, and that a new and vibrant opposition will emerge in the coming years. He also believes that with more active voters, support for the fraternity will be less.

Gamal al-banna, the 85-year-old younger brother of the fraternity's founder, has long been one of the doubters as to whether the fraternity really has the solution to Egypt's many problems. "The real test for the fraternity is to let them participate in the political process," he says. "Here they will either learn to compromise, or die out."

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