The Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East hosted an off-the-record discussion of Egypt’s landmark parliamentary elections on January 17.

Preliminary election results indicate that Islamist forces may win 70 percent or more of the People’s Assembly seats, with the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) perhaps winning a majority on its own. Sondos Asem, an Egyptian social media commentator and member of the Muslim Brotherhood participating by video-conference joined the Middle East Institute’s Mohamed ElMenshawy in a conversation moderated by the Atlantic Council’s Michele Dunne.

Ms. Asem discussed the FJP’s parliamentary agenda and relations with other political groups, while Mr. Elmenshawy shed light on the outlook for liberal political forces as a minority in the new People’s Assembly, scheduled to hold its first session on January 23.

Participants discussed the possibility of a broad national coalition including both Islamist parties and non-Islamist parties and the FJP’s main policy priorities, emphasizing the importance of transferring power from the military to civilian leadership through a presidential election anticipated in June. Participants acknowledged the underrepresentation of women and religious minorities in the People’s Assembly and discussed how the FJP – as the dominant political force in parliament – might incorporate more women and minorities, mainly Coptic Christians, in the constitutional drafting process to guarantee individual liberties and personal freedom for all Egyptians. Mr. Elmenshawy challenged Ms. Asem on whether the Brotherhood and FJP are genuinely committed to protecting personal and individual freedoms as well as advancing human and women’s rights. Addressing the poor performance of liberal parties in the elections, Mr. Elmenshawy argued that no political party can succeed without acknowledging the significant role of Islam in Egyptian society, noting that the religious and political realms will never be entirely separated. He predicted that Islamist participation in democratic processes would continue to have a moderating effect on religious-based parties, which have successfully gained political capital in playing by the rules of a democratic system.

Dr. Dunne posed the question of how an Islamist-dominated parliament might impact the bilateral US-Egyptian relationship. According to Ms. Asem, the FJP acknowledges the importance of maintaining economic and diplomatic ties with the international community but would advocate a relationship with the United States that takes into account that Egypt is now a sovereign, democratic country. Mr. Elmenshawy added that the United States would have to make up for lost time now because, although it spoke out on behalf of liberal dissidents such as Saad Eddin Ibrahim and Ayman Nour, it failed to stand up for Muslim Brotherhood leaders who faced military trials, such as Khairat al-Shater.

An off-the-record discussion with:

Sondos Asem (by video-teleconference)
Egyptian political commentator
Member of the Muslim Brotherhood

Mohamed Elmenshawy
Director, Regional Studies
Middle East Institute

Moderated by

Michele Dunne
Director, Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East
Atlantic Council