Muslim Brotherhood Expected to Do Well As Egypt’s Complicated Election Process Begins

By Patrick Goodenough | November 28, 2011 | 5:11 AM EST

An Egyptian Army soldier stands guard as voters wait outside a polling center in Assuit, 200 miles south of Cairo on Monday, Nov. 28, 2011. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

( – Egyptians were going to the polls Monday -- the beginning of a three-phase, six-week-long parliamentary election process that is getting under way amid deadly violence. At least 40 people were killed in the past week as protestors in Cairo’s Tahrir Square called for an end to military rule.

One of the biggest questions for many is whether the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) will benefit or suffer as a result of its decision to steer clear of the latest protests and focus on the election instead.

The Islamist group’s political front, the Freedom and Justice Party, is widely expected to dominate the new-look lower house of parliament, the 508-member People’s Assembly, when its session opens next March.

Presidential elections are supposed to be held later next year, completing the process of transition sparked by the political turmoil that pushed out President Hosni Mubarak early this year.

Although formally banned during the Mubarak era, the 83-year–old MB has a well-developed political organization envied by other parties.

Some of the “revolutionary” groups associated with the fresh Tahrir protests had called for a postponement or boycott of the parliamentary election, but Supreme Council of the Armed Forces leader Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi said Sunday it would go ahead on schedule.

“We will not allow troublemakers to meddle in these elections,” he told journalists. “There are only two routes – the success of elections, leading Egypt towards safety, or facing dangerous hurdles that we in the armed forces, as part of the Egyptian people, will not allow.”

The Supreme Council’s recent decision to appoint a Mubarak-era politician, Kamal el-Ganzouri, as interim prime minister to placate the protestors was rejected by leaders, who repeatedly have proposed Mohammed ElBaradei instead to head a caretaker government.

The demand was repeated on Sunday, when thousands of demonstrators protested again at Tahrir Square

ElBaradei, former director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), is running for the presidency, but told the military at the weekend that if asked to head a caretaker government he would withdraw from the presidential race.

“The revolutionary movements have reiterated their opposition to El-Ganzouri’s appointment, saying the only way out of the crisis is the formation of a national salvation government with full authority to lead the country during the transitional period until presidential elections,” ElBaradei’s office said in a statement, the Al-Ahram daily reported.

“Dr. ElBaradei has stressed his readiness to fulfill the demands of the revolutionary forces and form a national salvation government.”

Tantawi has not responded to the protestors’ ElBaradei proposal; El-Ganzouri is scheduled to announce his cabinet on Wednesday.

‘Religious duty to vote’ says MB spiritual guide

The voting on Monday and Tuesday will be for representatives for one-third of Egyptian’s 27 governates, including Cairo and Egypt, with a run-off scheduled for one week later where necessary. The second and third stages in the remaining governates will be held on Dec. 14-15 and Jan. 3-4.

With some Egyptians mulling a boycott, the cleric regarded as the top authority in Sunni Islam, Al-Azhar University head Ahmad al-Tayyeb, announced that those who do not vote are “sinners.” He made the announcement during a meeting at his Cairo office with Yusuf Qaradawi, an influential Egyptian Sunni scholar who is regarded as the spiritual guide of the MB.

Egypt’s Al-Masry al-Youm quoted Qaradawi as saying participation in the election was a religious duty.

“Protect the revolution and its achievements,” MB chairman Mohamed Badie said in a Twitter post. “Everyone must go and take part and choose with integrity their representative in parliament.”

After Tunisia’s Islamist party, Ennahda, won elections in that country last month, the MB in a statement hailed the outcome as evidence that attempts by the toppled regime of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to stifle Islamism had failed.

The MB noted that despite having little time to prepare for the polls Ennahda had not called for an election delay – unlike calls to that effect by some factions in Egypt.

The Tunisian result “highlights that despite former efforts by the ousted regime to abolish the Islamic identity through oppression the people still value their identity with all its culture, its beliefs and its civilization,” it said, adding that “the results prove that the Tunisians have recognized the importance of holding onto its Islamic heritage.”

Implicitly predicting a similar outcome and an MB victory in Egypt, the Egyptian group ended its statement by “assuring the world that it was capable of offering a model example of a balanced civilization.”

After Obama administration officials met with MB leaders in mid-November at the MB’s request, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said “We use those conversations to stress the values and democratic principles that undergird our support for Egypt’s electoral process and for anybody that we’d be able to work with in the future.”

Asked whether Washington would deal with a future government involving the MB or other Islamists, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Egyptian television last month, “we will be willing to and open to working with a government that has representatives who are committed to non-violence, who are committed to human rights, who are committed to the democracy that I think was hoped for in Tahrir Square – which means that Christians will be respected, women will be respected, people of different views within Islam will be respected.”

Clinton in a speech this month said what political parties boosted by the upheavals in the Arab world call themselves is less important than what they do.

“The suggestion that faithful Muslims cannot thrive in a democracy is insulting, dangerous and wrong,” she said. “They do it in this country every day.”

In an annual poll on Arab public opinion, released on Nov. 21 by the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy, 32 percent of Egyptians surveyed said they would vote for an “Islamic party,” 30 percent for a “liberal party,” 11 percent for a “pan-Arab party” and 10 percent for a “nationalist party.”

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow