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The non-Islamist Egyptians, many of whom wanted elections delayed so they could better prepare, were simply overmatched. Under the non-democratic regimes, the Islamists were still able to organize in mosques and by offering social services. The secularists had mere months to play catch-up. As Raymond Ibrahim explains, Anwar Sadat allowed the Brotherhood to build its support and infiltrate the institutions of government and society. In addition, approximately one-third of Egyptians are illiterate, limiting independent thought and forcing them to rely upon imams for political guidance.
“The simple voter didn’t know anyone on the ballot, no liberal political figures were allowed to emerge and lead, under Mubarak or during the post-Mubarak transition,” said Bassem Kamel of the Social Democratic Party.
To make matters worse, the upcoming elections for the lower house of parliament are even more favorable to the Islamists, specifically the Salafists. The first round included places where secularists should have had their best shot like Cairo, Alexandria, Port Said and the Red Sea coast. A poll earlier this year found the Muslim Brotherhood with miniscule support in Cairo and Alexandria, but the Islamists still won by a landslide. The elections on December 14 and 27 will include the Salafist strongholds. The Salafists are confidently predicting that they’ll even outperform the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Muslim Brotherhood is trying to cast itself as the force that will save Egypt from the Salafist puritans. It wants to ally with the liberal forces instead, but this is self-serving. It knows that the Salafists will vote with its agenda almost every time, creating an unofficial bloc in parliament. The Brotherhood’s goal is to sooth its opponents’ worries, to create a united front against the ruling military council and to share any blame it gets for stumbles in Egypt’s next phase.
The secular liberals in Egypt are therefore stuck between a rock and a hard place. It must either coalition with the Muslim Brotherhood or it will allow an Islamist super-coalition to dominate parliament. It also faces Islamists on the one hand and the ruling military council on the other.
Luckily for the West, the ruling military council does not intend to give up its power so easily. It is “vexed and concerned” about the results. It earlier vowed to prevent the rise of “another Khomeini.” We will soon see how serious the council was about that pledge.
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