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Prime Minister Kamal Ganzouri

SCAF member Mokhtar al-Mullah said that parliament's authority to choose the 100-member assembly that will draft the constitution will be constrained by military-approved "parameters" agreed beforehand. Meanwhile, the SCAF announced the formation of a 30-member civilian advisory council that will advise the military and provide input on the selection of the constitutional committee.

ADVISORY COUNCIL:

1) In a December 8 decree, the SCAF announced the formation of a 30-member civilian advisory council that includes presidential candidates Ayman Nour and Mohamed Salim al-Awa along with Wasat leader Abu Ela Madi, former NAC coordinator Hassan Nafaa, Wafd leader Sayyid al-Badawi, Nour leader Emad Adel Ghaffour, and Free Egyptians leader Naguib Sawiris. The council “will assist the SCAF in all matters of concern to the country and public opinion” until the presidential election, expected no later than the end of June. The council’s first priorities will be to provide input on draft legislation regulating the presidential election and the formation of the 100-member constituent assembly that will draft Egypt’s next charter. The Brotherhood announced that it has withdrawn its two representatives from the council, Mohamed Morsi and Mohamed Yassin, over concerns that the council would encroach on the powers of parliament.  The council is expected to hold its first meeting on Sunday, December 11. [al-Shorouk, Arabic, 12/8/2011] [al-Ahram, English, 12/9/2011] [al-Ahram, English, 12/9/2011] [The Daily News Egypt, English, 12/9/2011]

NEW CABINET:

2) Defending his track record as Hosni Mubarak’s prime minister between 1996 and 1999, newly appointed Prime Minister Kamal Ganzouri said he prioritized the public interest over Mubarak’s agenda. “There were things I did over my four years as prime minister that did not satisfy the president and those around him, even though they were in the public interest,” Ganzouri said. [al-Shorouk, Arabic, 12/9/2011]

3) The presidential powers delegated to Prime Minister Kamal Ganzouri are “only temporary” according to a military source, who said that parliament’s traditional legislative powers will be resotred as soon as the new assembly comes into session. [al-Ahram, English, 12/9/2011]

4) Prime Minister Kamal Ganzouri claimed that protesters denouncing the new cabinet represent “a very small minority.” Protesters are continuing their sit-in outside of the cabinet building for a sixteenth day. [al-Masry al-Youm, English, 12/9/2011]

CONSTITUTION:

5) At a press conference on December 8, SCAF member Mokhtar al-Mullah said that parliament's authority to choose the 100-member assembly that will draft the constitution will be constrained by military-approved "parameters" agreed beforehand. Al-Mullah outlined a new roadmap for drafting the constitution, starting with the formation of a 30-member military-appointed civilian advisory council announced in a separate SCAF decree that will function as an intermediary between the SCAF, parliament and the cabinet. Although the SCAF has offered assurances that the advisory council will represent all political forces, the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party has already withdrawn its representative, citing misgivings about the advisory council’s anticipated intervention in the constitutional process. According to the plan outlined by al-Mullah, these four bodies – three of which were chosen by the SCAF – will need to reach consensus on the composition of the 100-member assembly. [Al Jazeera, English, 12/8/2011] [EgyptSource, English, 12/8/2011] [al-Shorouk, Arabic, 12/8/2011]

6) Saad al-Husseini, a member of the FJP’s Executive Bureau, threatened that the Brotherhood will call people into the streets if the advisory council tries to choose the members of the constitutional assembly, which is the right of parliament. Al-Hussein said that a fairly elected parliament is the only institution that expresses the will of the people. [al-Masry al-Youm, Arabic, 12/9/2011]

ISLAMISTS:

7) A member of the Salafi Nour Party’s supreme committee claimed that democracy is “heresy” because it contradicts the Islamic principle of allegiance, whereby the people are bound to their chosen caliph by unconditional loyalty. Speaking at a rally in Giza, Shaaban Darwsh also called the liberal-oriented Egyptian Bloc a campaign of “Zionism and “Freemasonry” and said, “We must obliterate the liberalism that was introduced by Sadat and Mubarak and reinstate the rule of Islam.” [al-Masry al-Youm, English, 12/9/2011]

8) Kefaya founder and former parliamentary candidate George Ishak demanded that the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis reveal the sources of their campaign funding. In November, an Egyptian government report found that a leading Salafi association, Al-Sunnah al-Mohammadiya, received almost $50 million this year from religious associations in Qatar and Kuwait, but it is unclear whether any of these funds were spent on the campaigns of Salafi parliamentary candidates. [al-Ahram, English, 12/9/2011]

U.S. POLICY:

9) State Department spokesman Mark Toner said that the U.S. has halted tear gas exports to Egypt. According to Toner, there are no current licenses for exporting tear gas canisters to Egypt, and the last shipment of canisters took place a week ago. [al-Masry al-Youm, English, 12/9/2011]

ECONOMY:

10) SCAF member General Mokhtar al-Mullah said that the military has not accepted a $3.2 billion dollar financing package from the IMF because to avoid burdening Egypt’s next government with excessive debt. Al-Mullah said that the government will consider an international loan in cases of “extreme need.” [The Daily News Egypt, English, 12/9/2011]

11) Egypt has negotiated a 25 million-euro grant for development projects with the European Union and World Bank, for projects in five Upper Egyptian governorates over the next four years. [al-Masry al-Youm, English, 12/9/2011]

Photo Credit: Associated Press

Tantawi al-Arabiya

The Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party dominated the run-off voting on December 5-6, winning 34 out of the 52 seats contested. Meanwhile, the SCAF stated that the upcoming parliament will not be representative of the Egyptian people, and that those appointed to write a new constitution will need to be approved by the interim cabinet and an ''advisory council."

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Anti-Tantawi graffiti

Although the SCAF was recently forced to back down from a proposal to exercise oversight over the process of writing Egypt's next constitution, a new statement by General Mokhtar al-Mullah confirms that the SCAF is still intent on manipulating the content of the new charter to protect the interests of the military establishment. At a press conference on December 8, al-Mullah said that parliament's authority to choose the 100-member assembly that will draft the constitution will be constrained by military-approved "parameters" agreed beforehand. Under the interim constitution ratified in March, the People's Assembly was given exclusive control over the composition of the constituent assembly, but now the SCAF is asserting its right to intervene in the selection of the 100-member body. 

As justification for this intervention, al-Mullah pointed to preliminary election results, which suggest that Islamists could occupy as many as 70 percent of the People’s Assembly seats. While al-Mullah acknowledged that "we are seeing free and fair elections," he nonetheless believes that voting under "unstable conditions" will distort the composition of the next parliament.  And an unrepresentative parliament, he argues, cannot wield exclusive control over the constitutional process.

This is just the latest in a series of maneuvers by the SCAF attempting to codify a privileged status for the military in the new system. The SCAF is taking a serious political risk by inserting itself into the constitutional process again, so soon after political forces and protesters in Tahrir Square overwhelmingly repudiated the draft constitutional principles issued by Deputy Prime Minister Ali al-Selmi in late November. The principles – interpreted as a blatant attempt to hardwire the military’s political and economic privileges into Egypt’s legal framework – provoked the massive and violent anti-military protest on November 18 that nearly delayed elections.

When Prime Minister Essam Sharaf's embattled cabinet was forced to resign in late November, the status of the controversial set of draft constitutional it drafted -- which would guarantee the military's political and economic privileges in the new system -- was left in limbo. Critics of the document hoped that the cabinet shakeup had left the proposal dead in the water, and the Muslim Brotherhood issued a stern warning to the new government that anyone intent on resuscitating the principles "would die with them."

But the public outcry doesn’t seem to have deterred the SCAF, and al-Mullah’s statement makes clear that the military is still determined to leave its mark on Egypt’s constitutional design. 

Al-Mullah outlined a new roadmap for drafting the constitution, starting with the formation of a 35-member military-appointed civilian advisory council that will function as an intermediary between the SCAF, parliament and the cabinet. Although the SCAF has offered assurances that the advisory council will represent all political forces, the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party has already withdrawn its representative, citing misgivings about the advisory council’s anticipated intervention in the constitutional process.

According to the plan outlined by al-Mullah, these four bodies – three of which were chosen by the SCAF – will need to reach consensus on the composition of the 100-member assembly: "There will be an agreement beforehand on the form of this constituent assembly between the cabinet, the advisory committee for the military council, and the parliament,” al-Mullah said. The last time the SCAF publicly aired a proposal to manipulate the constitution, protesters brought down the cabinet.  After today’s announcement, will they set their sights on the SCAF?

 

Mara Revkin is the assistant director of the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East and editor of EgyptSource. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Photo Credit: Gigi Ibrahim

 

 

Soldiers restrain voters outside a polling station

Tom Friedman’s column in The New York Times on December 7 supports an argument—that liberal forces in Egypt did less well than Islamists in the first round of elections because their anti-military protests had alienated “some more traditional-minded Egyptian voters, who still cling to the army as a source of stability”—that is emerging as part of the conventional wisdom.  That is certainly a story that the SCAF would like to have told, but my conversations in Egypt last week paint a different picture.  Most Egyptians with whom I spoke did not see supporting Tahrir demonstrators and voting in elections as two opposite choices; in fact, many did both, seeing electing a legislature as a necessary first step in dislodging the military from power.  I think it would be misleading to suggest that the votes that the FJP and Salafis got were protest votes against liberals rather than votes deliberately for the Islamists.

Where Friedman is correct is that the Tahrir protests “hampered the secular reformists in preparing to compete in the first round of elections.”  And there is a specific reason for that.  My observations last week in Port Said suggested that many, perhaps most, voters headed to the polls without knowing for whom they would vote.  Therefore, the last-minute campaigning by parties and individual candidates, however illegal, was absolutely critical.  Having a small army of volunteers deployed around polling places handing out small cards and pamphlets—as well as strategically-placed stations where voters could look up their specific polling place—probably made all the difference to voters befuddled by ballots full of unfamiliar names.

Let me give an example of how Tahrir factored in.  George Ishak, one of the founders of Kefaya, was competing for a seat in Port Said with FJP member Ahram al-Shaer. This was expected to be a hard-fought race and to go to a runoff.  It did not; al-Shaer was one of only a handful of candidates who won outright.  The reason became clear in a conversation I had with one of the principal organizers of Ishak’s campaign, when I noted that in two days of visiting polls I had not come across a single volunteer or candidate agent for Ishak.  The campaign had indeed organized a pool of such volunteers and even obtained official permits for candidate agents.  But when the Tahrir protests broke out a week before elections, they all got on busses and went to Cairo to participate.  Although the Tahrir protests were fizzling by the time the voting started on November 28, the Ishak campaign could not reconvene their volunteers in time.  And so Ishak lost the race.

Thus, I suspect Tahrir’s negative impact on liberal candidates was due more to the fact that they took their eye off the ball and less that public sentiment turned against them.  And it is unlikely that liberals would have been able to rival the Islamists in terms of numbers of volunteers in any case. Let’s see if they figure that out in time for next week’s second round.

The other point from Friedman’s column that needs discussion is his concern that Islamist parties have no idea how to “generate economic growth at a time when the Egyptian economy is sinking.”  Certainly I share his concern about the economy, which is headed straight downhill and might be ripe for a crisis in as little as two months from now.  And he is correct to worry that an Islamist-dominated parliament will scare foreign investors away, as well as many Egyptians.

What Friedman fails to mention, however, is that the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party has by far the most well developed economic platform of any Egyptian political party, and that it is generally market-oriented and business-friendly.  To lump the Brotherhood in with the Salafis and say that both “have been living underground, focused largely on what they were both against and confined in their ideology to platitudes like ‘Islam is the answer,’” is quite unfair.  Unlike the Salafis, the Brotherhood has decades of experience in electoral politics (admittedly not free politics) and has worked harder than any other existing party on its platform, including the economic aspects.  Having met recently with businessmen from the Brotherhood who worked on the platform, I can tell you that they care deeply about the economy and are realistic in their ideas about the need for foreign investment, tourism, etc.

All that said, I still have concerns that the Brotherhood will make poor economic policy decisions or resist good ones, but not because they don’t know any better.  My concern is that they will be buffeted by demands from the population (for public employment and continued fuel subsidies, for example) and will not be as investment and tourism-friendly as they might otherwise be due to pressure from the Salafists.  Those are pressures that any political party coming to power in this environment would face; the question is whether the Brotherhood will be better or worse at handling them than others would have been.

Michele Dunne is the director of the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East and an official observer of the first stage of the parliamentary elections. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Photo Credit: New York Times

 

Prime Minister Ganzouri with Field Marshal Tantawi

The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party claims to have won 34 of the 52 individual seats that were contested in the runoff round on December 5-6, raising the FJP's projected share of parliamentary seats to nearly two thirds. Meanwhile, the SCAF issued a decree on December 7 delegating presidential powers to Prime Minister Kamal Ganzouri, although the decree preserves the council's executive authority over the armed forces and judiciary.

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Islamist Movements on the Rise in Egypt

In retrospect, it’s almost a miracle that last week’s elections went forward as planned with massive turnout and relatively few irregularities, despite predictions of violence and calls for postponing elections after a week of lethal clashes in downtown Cairo and other parts of the country.  While Egyptians are relieved that elections were conducted relatively fairly and peacefully, the sweeping victory of Islamists – whose candidates won a 61 percent majority in the first round – raises new concerns about the policies and ideological positions that will emerge from the next elected parliament.

Egyptians in 9 governorates went out en masse on November 28, not to protest, but rather to cast their votes in the first round of elections since ousting Hosni Mubarak in February. Although the first stage of voting went relatively smoothly, it’s important to recall the broader context of unrest and insecurity in which the electoral process is unfolding. The last 10 days before voting witnessed extreme violence. The army and police used excessive force (tear gas, rubber bullets and live rounds) against civilians protesting in Cairo’s Tahrir square and other governorates against the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and a set of draft constitutional principles that would preserve and possibly enhance the military’s political and economic privileges in the future political system. The ensuing clashes between protesters and security forces resulted in over 40 deaths and more than 2,000 injured, according to the Ministry of Health. As a concession, the SCAF convened a series of emergency meetings with party leaders and presidential candidates and issued the long awaited anti-graft law, accepted the government’s resignation and announced a new timetable for a transfer of power to civilians by the end of June 2012. In addition, the SCAF urged all Egyptians to stand united, confirmed that elections would take place on time and extended the voting period by an extra day to encourage turnout and "avoid overcrowding and security issues."

The two-day polling process on November 28-29 went peacefully with minimal violence, although the process was marred by several irregularities and procedural violations, such as polling stations opening late, insufficient ballot papers and boxes, judges arriving late and party representatives campaigning inside polling centers in violation of a ban on campaigning 48 hours prior to the start of voting. These violations were widely documented by voters and NGOs observing the elections, although the High Electoral Commission has tried to downplay the impact of irregularities on the voting process, which saw a record turnout of  52 percent of the eligible voters.

The stunning success of Islamists – the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) received 36.6 percent of the vote while the Salafi Nour Party won 24.4 percent -- has raised anxieties among Egyptians, mainly the educated middle-class and Coptic Christian community. Results from the first round indicate that the FJP and Nour Party could hold up to 70 percent of the seats in the next parliament, although the final proportion will not be determined until after the third round of voting in January. For liberal parties, which won a disappointing 12.7 percent of the vote under the banner of the Egyptian Bloc coalition, the Islamist landslide is a slap in the face and a jolting wake-up call.

Many analysts expected a win for the FJP even though its Brotherhood-led coalition, the Democratic Alliance, had been troubled by internal disputes and defections in the weeks leading up to the election. While the FJP’s strong showing was widely predicted, the Salafis’ success was a bit of a surprise and shows how deeply rooted the conservative Islamist movement has become in Egyptian society, especially among the less educated lower classes in Cairo and the Delta. The prospect of an Islamist-dominated parliament raises a number of questions:

  • First is regarding the sincerity of the Islamist parties to abiding by democratic principles. The FJP has said that its priorities are ending corruption, reviving the economy and establishing a true democracy in Egypt. Mohamed Badie, the Brotherhood’s Supreme Guide, said the party will work to build an inclusive government and prefers a semi-presidential system based on the French model. Badie also denied making any deals with SCAF. Such statements imply that the FJP will be looking to create a wider coalition in the Parliament and will try to distance itself from the hardline Nour Party. On the other hand, the Salafis have been advocating for stricter moral codes and restrictions on personal freedoms reminiscent of policies backed by Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi establishment. They are among the newcomers to the game in Egyptian politics, and it is unclear exactly how they will play. Having once shunned democracy as inappropriately elevating man-made laws and institutions over Shari’a, Salafis are now choosing to participate in the formal political arena, and their parliamentarians could seek to enshrine conservative Islamist principles in new legislation.
  • Second, is the SCAF genuinely committed to transferring power to the parliament and a civilian president by end of June 2012? So far the ruling military council has been torn between the desire to preserve its political and economic privileges for as long as possible and the challenge of supervising a successful transition to democracy within a limited time frame. Under Article 56 of the Constitutional Declaration, the SCAF will hold the authority of the President and Parliament until elections are held. But on December 7, the SCAF issued a degree delegating presidential authority to newly appointed Prime Minister Kamal Ganzouri, while still retaining power over the armed forces and judiciary. Whether this decision signifies an actual loosening of the SCAF's grip on power remains to be seen, and there are signs that the military is already maneuvering to curb the authority of the next parliament.  in his most recent video interview, SCAF member Major General Mamdouh Shahin stated that the party winning the majority in the Parliament will not have the power to form the government. The statement was perceived as a power-grab by the Islamists, particularly the FJP, whose parliamentarians will likely demand the right to form a coalition government. Even before election results revealed an Islamist majority, the FJP’s head, Mohamed Morsi, stated on November 29 that the new parliament should be empowered to form a government representative of the political forces in the People’s Assembly, rather than a technocratic cabinet appointed by the prime minister. However, the generals’ appointment of Dr. Kamal al-Ganzouri as new Prime Minister confirms the speculation that the SCAF’s preferred scenario is for a technocratic government to hold power at least until the presidential election next summer. In addition, the inevitability of Islamist majority in parliament may make the SCAF even more reluctant to relinquish power, despite assurances that the military will respect the people’s choice.

Egypt is only in the early stages of a long transition that will fundamentally reshape the country’s political landscape. With Islamists rising to the forefront of the political scene, it is unclear to what extent they are prepared to govern and initiate the institutional reforms and economic policies that are badly needed to stabilize the economic situation and create a transparent and accountable government. Furthermore, it is unclear how Islamists will respond if the SCAF continues to resists calls for a transfer of power to civilian leadership by the end of June. While many questions remain unanswered, election results have clearly set the stage for a potential power struggle between the SCAF and Islamists. But the electoral process is just beginning (with four more rounds of voting to go before results for the People’s Assembly are finalized in January), and it is still too early to draw conclusions.  We should allow Islamists in Egypt as well as Tunisia, and Morocco some time to prove trustworthy of the votes that have given them a political mandate.

Ahmed Morsy is a Ph.D. candidate at the School of International Relations, University of St. Andrews. He previously worked on political party development with the National Democratic Institute’s Cairo office and has also worked for the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.

Photo Credit: Al Arabiya

 

 

 

 

  

Mohamed Badie

As Egyptian liberals and U.S. policy-makers nervously eye the prospect of an Islamist-dominated parliament, the Muslim Brotherhood’s leaders are trying to assuage fears that the group aspires to hold a monopoly on political power. In a televised interview on December 6, Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie reiterated his previous pledge that the Brotherhood will not field a candidate in the presidential election, expected to take place by the end of June 2012. Some had speculated that the Brotherhood would back down from this promise, after dropping earlier assurances that it would not seek more than 50 percent of the seats in the People's Assembly.

In confirming that the Brotherhood will not seek to control the excutive branch, Badie said the group “prefers a semi-presidential system” with a strengthened parliament. It’s not surprising that the Brotherhood would advocate enhanced powers for the legislature, in light of early election results suggesting that Islamists could occupy more than 65 percent of the seats in the People’s Assembly.

With liberal parties winning less than 15 percent of the vote under the banner of the Egyptian bloc coalition, an Islamist majority is statistically inevitably.  But rather than gloat about their landslide victory, the Brotherhood is trying to play nice with the losers.  In his interview with al-Mehwar TV, Badie flatly denied speculation that the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) intends to dominate parliament as part of an Islamist bloc formed with the Salafis (who won a surprising 24.4 percent of the first round vote). At the same time, Badie stressed that the party is keen on coalition-building, saying that “progress in Egypt is not possible without agreement among all political forces.”

Badie also expressed support for the SCAF, stating that “the armed forces have our sincerest appreciation and respect for protecting the Egyptian people and their revolution, despite the fact that the Brothers were among those most damaged by the military [under Mubarak’s rule].” At the same time, Badie stressed that the Brotherhood would “will push [the SCAF] to meet all of the demands of the Egyptian people” if the military attempts to stall the transition.

While Badie indicated that the Brotherhood will push back if the SCAF refuses to relinquish power as promised by the end of June, his statements suggest that the alliance of convenience between the SCAF and the Brotherhood – forged in the earliest days of the transition – is still fundamentally intact. A major flashpoint and source of tension between the two – a controversial set of constitutional principles proposed by Deputy Prime Minister Ali al-Selmi in November – is now moot, following the cabinet’s resignation last week. Satisfied that the principles – which would have restricted the parliament’s influence over the drafting of the next constitution – are now dead in the water, the Brotherhood’s secretary general warned this week that anyone who tries to revive the principles “would die with them.”  Armed with a powerful mandate and popular legitimacy, the Brotherhood will likely continue its cautious maneuvers to consolidate political power, by insisting that the majority in the People’s Assembly has the right to determine the composition of the constituent assembly and cabinet, while avoiding an overt confrontation with the SCAF.

Mara Revkin is the assistant director of the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East and editor of EgyptSource. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Photo Credit: IkwhanOnline

Salafi Campaigners

For decades, Egyptians knew only fraudulent elections under the harsh constraints of Mubarak’s authoritarian rule. Faced with pervasive ballot fraud, violence and intimidation by the repressive security forces, they largely withdrew from the political process, choosing to boycott rather than casts ballots that had no hope of bringing about meaningful change. But in last week's elections, Egyptians participated in unprecedented numbers, with 52 percent of eligible voters turning out at the polls on November 28-29.

The massive level of turnout proved that the political consciousness of Egyptians has been fundamentally transformed by the revolution. This newfound enthusiasm for political participation and pluralism has produced a spectrum of parties and movements unprecedented in their diversity. But ideological diversity inevitably gives rise to extremes, including the hardline fringe of the Islamist movement, whose Salafi candidates swept an unexpected 20 percent of the votes this week.

Looking at the Egyptian street today, the familiar image of the smiling well-dressed Egyptian man wearing a suit and that of the Egyptian woman wearing her hair down and dressed in a short skirt have been replaced by less modern styles that reflect conservative Wahhabi influence. Meanwhile, the Muslim Brotherhood, which failed to win a single seat during the semi-liberal era before 1952, is leading election returns and poised to claim at least 40 percent of the parliamentary seats.  While the Brotherhood has long been a powerful fixture in Egypt’s political scene, the rise of the hardline Salafis is a new phenomenon and begs the question: Where did this new surge in religious conservatism originate?

Before the 1952 military coup, Egyptian society was becoming increasingly modern and liberal in its character, beginning to resemble contemporary Tunisian society in its demographic and ideological makeup. But six decades of authoritarian rule took a serious toll on voter attitudes and reversed the liberalizing trend seen before 1952.

Authoritarianism supported the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood and accelerated its project – Islamizing Egypt – which has now been in progress for 83 years. Some analysts have suggested that the strong military establishment that assumed power after the 1952 coup had the effect of curbing the influence of Islamists. In my opinion, however, the period of military rule was actually an “enabling phase” that catalyzed the growth of Islamic movements. This shift in the public discourse and mood -- from moderation and liberalism toward Islamism -- revealed itself fully in the results of this week’s elections.

The stunning success of the Brotherhood and Salafi parties at the polls suggests that Islamic values that had previously been confided to the private, personal realm in Egyptian society are now dominating debates in the formal political arena. In Islamic jurisprudence, there is the concept of a “phase of vulnerability,” during which Muslims were a minority in Mecca. This period was characterized by tolerance of other religious groups, as Muslims lacked the political authority and demographic weight to impose their views on society.  However, this framework changed dramatically during the “enabling phase,” after the Prophet Mohammad emigrated from Mecca to Medina, where Muslims represented the dominant religion. No longer constrained by their minority status, Muslims became increasingly assertive in reengineering their societies in conformity with Islamic moral and legal principles, even in liberal cosmopolitan cities like Cairo. 

In 2003, I spoke with Essam al-Erian, deputy head of the FJP, during my work at Cairo Times magazine, about a draft bill presented by the Brotherhood’s parliamentary bloc that made alcohol consumption a crime punishable by whipping, in accordance with Islamic Shari'a. At the time, al-Arian insisted that the Brotherhood “was not in a hurry to implement the Shari'a.” “Our primary goal is to construct the individual and Muslim society, and then the fruit will fall on its own,” He said. Looking at this week’s election results, it looks like the fruit is finally hitting the ground.

With the FJP poised to capture a plurality and possibly a majority of seats in parliament, the Brotherhood will undoubtedly reconsider its pre-revolutionary slogan, “participation not competition,” which reflect the restraint and pragmatism that become hallmarks of the group’s political strategy under Mubarak’s rule.  At the beginning of the revolution, the Brotherhood announced that they would preserve the same slogan and would not compete for more than 30% of the parliamentary seats. Additionally, the Freedom and Justice Party stated that it would not nominate candidates for the presidential election. However, in recent months, the Brotherhood’s position has shifted gradually, reflecting heightened political ambitions, with the FJP announcing that it would field candidates for 50% of the parliamentary seats, a 10% increase over the previously announced threshold. What led to this strategic shift?

The electoral success of the Islamic movement in Egypt can be partially attributed to regional dynamics. Saudi Arabia and other conservative Gulf monarchies would welcome an Islamist majority in Egypt’s next parliament, and there is evidence that these countries have provided significant funding to support Egyptian Salafi NGOs and political parties in recent months.  Statements by US officials pledging to work with Islamist parties represented in the next parliament may have emboldened the FJP to go public with its rising political ambitions. Meanwhile, the electoral victory of Islamist parties in Tunisia and Morocco may have whetted the Brotherhood’s appetite for power. On the same day that Morocco’s Justice and Development party won the elections, a Brotherhood spokesman issued a statement saying that the ruling military council "must task the party with a [parliamentary] majority to form the next government."

Judging by the results of the first round, Islamists are on their way to winning an absolute majority in the next parliament that would enable them to impose their religious ideology on the new political system by drafting the country’s new constitution – a task that was delegated to a constituent assembly selected by the People’s Assembly under the interim constitution issued in March. If Islamists gain control of parliament, it would alter the balance of power for the remainder of the transitional phase scheduled to end with a presidential election by the end of June 2012.

Ironically, the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) may view the Brotherhood’s political victory as a solution to its current legitimacy crisis, rather than a threat to its power. So far, the SCAF has steadfastly refused   to task Mohamed ElBaradei or any other political figure associated with the revolution to form the national salvation government demanded by protesters.  But if the Brotherhood gains significant power in the new political system, it could represent a power-sharing compromise, striking a balance between the expectations of revolutionary forces and the interests of the military establishment and former regime.  The SCAF will be able to point to a democratically elected parliament as proof that it is advancing the transition, while still keeping power out of the hands of the revolutionaries themselves.

An Islamist majority in parliament is likely to inspire new alliances and coalitions between secular and liberal parties, which will need to cooperate in a united bloc if they want to have their voices heard. If the Islamist majority in parliament succeeds in imposing its vision on Egypt’s next constitution, the country could be headed for a theocratic system that contains some of the institutional trappings of democracy but not its core values.

Magdy Samaan is a freelance journalist and a 2011 MENA Democracy Fellow at the World Affairs Institute. Mr. Samaan has previously worked as a correspondent for the Egyptian independent newspapers Al-Shorouk and Al-Masry al-Youm as well as Al Jazeera, reporting on politics, religious minorities, and US-Egypt relations.

Photo Credit: AP

Egyptian woman votes

Voting for the 52 individual seats that were not decided in the first round continued for a second day on December 6. The second round of voting has brought out sharp divisions between rival Islamist parties, which are trading accusations of campaign violations. Twenty-four of the runoff races are between candidates from the Freedom and Justice Party and the Salafi Nour Party.

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Egyptian woman walks by campaign posters

Despite anecdotal reports of massive female turnout in Cairo and other governorates, women may very well be the biggest losers of Egypt’s first free and fair elections.  Although 376 female candidates are running for parliament, not a single woman was elected in the first stage of voting on November 28-29. And there is good reason to believe that women will fare just as poorly in subsequent rounds of voting.  The second and third stages of elections will include Egypt’s most rural and conservative districts where gender biases are more deeply ingrained than the urban centers – Cairo, Alexandria, and Port Said – that voted this week. Faced with the very real possibility of an exclusively male parliament, many Egyptians are wondering: Were women left behind by the Revolution?

Female candidates already face an uphill battle in overcoming sexist attitudes on the campaign trail, but to make matters worse, structural features of the new electoral system have stacked the odds against women.  Amendments to the electoral law introduced in October replaced the 64-seat quota for female parliamentary representatives – enacted by the former regime – with the requirement that each party’s candidate list include at least one woman.  At face value, this condition looks like a step toward leveling the playing field. But in reality, forcing parties to nominate women has done no favors for female candidates.  Parties have dealt with the gender requirement by relegating women to the least desirable slots at the bottom of their candidate lists. As one female candidate, Suheir al-Matanin described the problem, “Women are just there for decoration.” Under the proportional representation system, seats are allocated to candidates according to their relative position on a party’s list. In most cases, only the first two or three names on a list have a reasonable chance of winning seats, so if every party places its female candidates near the bottom, Egypt’s next parliament is virtually guaranteed to be free of women. 

The SCAF could of course remedy the blatant gender imbalance in a backhanded way, by packing the ten seats reserved for government appointees with women and Coptic Christians, a favorite tactic of the former regime to artificially inflate the parliamentary representation of minorities.

In light of the landslide victory by Islamist parties this week, some Egyptians are concerned that a parliament dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis could reverse progress on women’s rights. Farkhonda Hassan, secretary-general of the National Council for Women (NCW), warned that the underrepresentation of women in the next parliament could set Egypt “a dozen steps back.” “If Islamists come to power, I expect that they will strip women of the achievements they made throughout the previous years,” Hassan predicted. When Salafi parties were required to include women on their candidate lists, they made sure that the candidates’ faces were replaced with flowers on campaign propaganda, because displaying photos of women in public was deemed inappropriate.  If the Salafis are already censoring posters, their parliamentarians aren’t likely to look favorably on the participation of women in public and political life.

Mara Revkin is the assistant director of the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East and editor of EgyptSource. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Photo Credit: AFP