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.
Photo Credit: IkwhanOnline
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.
Photo Credit: AP
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.
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.
Photo Credit: AFP
Run-off voting is in progress today, as candidates compete for 52 seats that were not decided in the initial round of voting on December 28-29, in which only 4 candidates won decisive victories. Prime Minister Kamal Ganzouri reportedly reconsidered some of his cabinet nominees over the weekend, after several proposed appointments were rejected by the public over their ties to the former regime.
1) The High Electoral Commission announced official results for the first round of voting on December 4. The Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) led the polls with 36.6 percent of the vote; the Salafi Nour Party came in second with 24.4 percent of the vote, followed by the Egyptian Bloc with 13.4 percent. The liberal Wafd Party won 7.1 percent and the moderate Islamist Wasat Party won 4.3 percent. Figures for the 28 largest parties competing in the elections are available here. [al-Masry al-Youm, English, 12/5/2011] [Haaertz, English, 12/5/2011]
2) Run-off voting is in progress today for races in which no candidate won at least 50 percent of the vote, or voters failed to elect a farmer or a worker in the first round. The Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) announced that it has 46 candidates competing in the runoff round, compared to 56 in the first round. FJP candidates are competing directly with rivals from the Salafi Nour Party, and tensions between the two leading Islamist parties have escalated dramatically in the days leading up to the run-off round. On December 4, al-Nour leader Emad Abdel-Ghafour ruled out cooperation with the FJP, saying that the Salafi party had no intention of becoming a “follower to any other political force. “We have nothing to do with the Brotherhood, we have our own view,” Abdel-Ghafour said. During voting on December 5, altercations broke out between candidate representatives of the two parties who accused one another of distributing campaign propaganda inside polling stations in Matreya and other districts. [al-Ahram, English, 12/5/2011] [al-Ahram, English, 12/5/2011] [al-Ahram, English, 12/5/2011] [al-Masry al-Youm, Arabic, 12/5/2011]
3) An Egyptian human rights group, One World Foundation, reported lower-than-expected turnout and a range of violations, including harassment of monitors and exclusion from polling stations by military personnel, delays in the opening of polling stations, and unlawful campaign activities by party representatives. [al-Masry al-Youm, English, 12/5/2011] [al-Masry al-Youm, Arabic, 12/5/2011]
4) Candidates from the liberal-oriented Egyptian Bloc are resorting to using religious campaign propaganda to compete with opponents from the Freedom and Justice Party. Egyptian Bloc candidates were distributing leaflets citing their piety and support for religious activities such as building mosques. [al-Masry al-Youm, English, 12/5/2011]
5) Mohamed ElBaradei said that Egypt’s liberal revolutionary youth had been “decimated” in the first round of parliamentary elections and expressed concern about the rise of hardline Islamist elements. “The youth feel let down. They don't feel that any of the revolution's goals have been achieved,” ElBaradei said, noting that activist movements failed to unify in “one essential critical mass.” [AP, English, 11/4/2011]
6) Prime Minister Kamal Ganzouri reportedly reconsidered some of his cabinet nominees over the weekend, after several proposed appointments were rejected by the public over their ties to the former regime. Ganzouri is expected to retain at least ten ministers from Sharaf’s government, including two holdovers from the Mubarak regime, International Cooperation Minister Fayza Abu El-Naga and Electricity Minister Hassan Younis. On December 5, Ganzouri announced that he had filled crucial post of Interior Minister, after several nominees declined the position, but said he would not announce the minister’s name until shortly before the swearing in ceremony, “for reasons of public interst.” The SCAF is expected to swear in the new cabinet by the end of this week. [al-Ahram, English, 12/5/2011] [al-Shorouk, Arabic, 12/5/2011]
7) SCAF Chief of Staff Sami Anan met with on December 4 with representatives of political forces to discuss the framework of the recently proposed Cabinet advisory board, which will include political leaders, presidential candidates, and public figures. The 30-member advisory board would assist the SCAF in administering the remainder of the interim period and facilitate communication between the military, the cabinet, and the public. The SCAF is expected to form the advisory board shortly after the run-off round of voting on December 5. [al-Ahram, English, 12/5/2011]
8) The government will soon amend Article 56 of the Interim Constitution, which relates to the SCAF's powers, according to Prime Minister Kamal al-Ganzouri. Paragraph 10 of the Article 56 states that the military council has the "other powers and jurisdictions accorded to the president in conformance with the law and regulations." This article also grants the SCAF the authority to issue or reject laws, appoint or dismiss ministers, and appoint MPs. The amendments are expected to include language delegating presidential powers to the prime minister, with the exception of authority over the judiciary and the armed forces. Ganzouri said that the constitutional revisions would be made before the swearing in of his new cabinet, postponed until the end of this week. [al-Masry al-Youm, English, 12/5/2011]
9) Following the Islamist victory in the first round of elections, the Muslim Brotherhood’s secretary general Mahmoud Hussein pronounced the supra-constitutional principles proposed in November by Deputy Prime Minister Ali al-Selmy to have “died” with the resignation of Essam Sharaf’s government, warning that anyone who tries to revive the draft document “would die with them.” [al-Ahram, English, 12/5/2011]
Photo Credit: Christian Science Monitor
"If I see another protester, I swear I'd spit on him," said the exasperated taxi driver, observing a rally to commemorate the martyrs of the revolution in Tahrir Square on December 2.
"Would you spit on someone whose brother, sister, or father died while fighting for your rights?" replied my brother, as he rode to Tahrir Square.
The sentiment on the streets of Cairo has increasingly turned against the revolutionaries in Tahrir square. Faced with a lack of public support, depleting personal funds, and smaller turnouts since the start of the election period, protesters have suffered a slow and steady decline in morale. Today's "million man march" hoped to revive the enthusiasm for the protesters' demands, including the immediate transfer of executive authority to a civilian body and accountability for those responsible for the deaths of demonstrators in this latest round of public upheaval.
At the Mostafa Mahmoud mosque in the Mohandeseen neighborhood of Cairo, two hundred protesters gathered after Friday prayers carrying 15 coffins draped in the Egyptian flag with names and pictures of those who had died since the beginning of the second wave of the revolution. They chanted slogans against the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and tore down campaign posters as they marched through the streets. By the time they reached Tahrir, their numbers exceeded a thousand. The march joined other protests taking place in the square before continuing to the parliament building where the coffins were laid at the gates.
Despite the excitement it stirred, the symbolic funeral procession did not attract as many protesters to Tahrir as it may have done in previous weeks. With the focus of the country on the results of the current election round and the announcement of a new salvation government, fewer Egyptians feel the need to protest and hope elected officials will solve their problems. One weary April 6th Movement organizer expressed dismay at the public's indifference to basic demands such as a rejection of the super constitutional exceptions for the military. He expected a meeting of organizers to discuss whether or not to continue the sit-in in Tahrir.
Although this second uprising appears to be taking its final breath, the SCAF and the new government cannot ignore the ability of the people to mobilize once again should an outbreak of violence or blatant violations of human rights recur. The protesters, clearly tired from their three week ordeal, have all reiterated their readiness to return if the need arises. It seems, at least for the moment, the battle will continue in the political arena.
Tarek Radwan is an Egyptian human rights activist specializing in international law and conflict resolution. He has worked for Human Rights Watch's MENA division and the United Nations mission (UNAMID) in Darfur as a Human Rights Officer. He currently provides consulting services on civilian protection and Middle East issues.
Photo Credit: Tarek Radwan
The High Electoral Commission released official results for the first stage of elections on December 4. The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) led the polls with 40 percent of the vote and the Salafi Nour Party came in second with 20 percent, followed by the Egyptian Bloc with 15 percent. The Wafd Party won 6 percent, while the moderate Islamist Wasat Party won 4 percent.
Results for the 28 largest parties competing in the elections are listed below:
Egypt's High Electoral Commission (HEC) has once again delayed the announcement of full election results, already pushed back by two days. At a press conference on December 4, the commission's head, Abdel Moez Ibrahim, announced a turnout rate of 62 percent and partial figures for some districts, before abruptly calling an end to the session, saying he had "no more energy" and had "run out of gas." Ibrahim claimed that the HEC has been unable to calculate the proportion of votes won by some party lists due to delayed results from certain polling stations. When reporters tried to inquire about the results for proportional representation seats, Ibrahim looked irritated and declined further questions, saying that that full results will be posted to the commission's website.
Congratulations to Amr Hamzawy, prominent liberal intellectual and a good friend, for winning his seat in Heliopolis as an independent in the first round of parliamentary elections. And without so much as a runoff!
It is comforting that sound ideas, hard work, and courage count for something with Egyptian voters. As this hilarious graphic indicates, Amr will certainly have his work cut out for him in an assembly that promises to be well stocked with Islamists.
The High Electoral Commission is preparing to announce official results for the first stage of elections. The HEC’s preliminary statement confirms record turnout:
- 62 percent of eligible voters – 8,614,525 Egyptians – cast ballots in the first round
- 2,756 ballot boxes were supervised by 10,143 members of the judiciary
This post will be updated when final results are available.