The first of three rounds of elections will begin in Egypt on November 28. Secularists are complaining that they were not given enough time to organize. The military regime has changed the election law after the opposition parties threatened a boycott, arguing that it was designed to bring back members of Mubarak’s party. The willingness of the ruling council to give up power is coming into question.
Elections for the lower house of parliament are scheduled for November 28, but many parties threatened to not participate. They were enraged at election laws passed by the ruling military council that would’ve helped bring back members of former President Hosni Mubarak’s political party. Originally, the council ruled that half of the seats would be from party lists and the other half would be from independent candidates. With Mubarak’s party now outlawed, its members can run as independents. The army council changed the election rules so that two-thirds will be from party lists and then gave in completely. The opposition may have won this bout, but the incident is being interpreted as a sign that the military council intends to hold onto power.
Many experts like Dr. Daniel Pipes have been skeptical about whether the ruling military council will genuinely transfer power to an elected civilian government. Large protests have occurred in response to the regime’s human rights abuses. The Deputy Defense Minister said in May that “Egypt will not be ruled by another Khomeini” and that it “will not allow extremist factions to control Egypt.”
The key question is whether the council views the Muslim Brotherhood-Salafist coalition as one of those “extremist factions” it must stop from taking over. The military council reinstated the emergency laws after the September 9 attack on the Israeli embassy and is delaying presidential elections until no earlier than September 2012. It also banned the use of religious slogans in campaigns, forcing the Muslim Brotherhood to change its slogan of, “Islam is the solution.” Those who fail to provide a good reason for not voting can now be punished with a fine, making it more difficult for the parties to carry out boycotts. It is very possible that the council will use laws banning religion-based political parties to further curb the power of the Islamists that challenge its power.
The Brotherhood is generally projected to win about 25% of the seats, though it is aiming for 40%. Polls of Egyptian opinion regarding political parties show that the Brotherhood does face competition from secularists. One poll showed the secular Wafd Party with 23% support and the Brotherhood with 12%. Another poll showed the Brotherhood leading the Wafd 15 to 9. Polls have shown a significant hostility among Egyptians to Hamas and Iran, and 65% say that a cleric’s endorsement of a candidate would not influence their own choice. These are encouraging findings, but keep in mind that even the secular Wafd Party is ferociously anti-Semitic and anti-American and there is huge support for courts determining punishments based on Sharia, including executing those who leave Islam.
The Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists do not need to win a majority of the parliament to have profound influence. For example, in Lebanon, Hezbollah did not have a majority, but its support was needed for a government to be formed and for legislation to be passed. When the opportunity arose, Hezbollah toppled the government and formed its own ruling bloc. The Muslim Brotherhood has the same strategy.
The Deputy Supreme Guide said in April, “the enforcement of Sharia punishments will need time, and will only come after Islam is planted in every heart and masters the life of the people, and then Islamic punishments can be applied.” At the same time, a group of Islamic clerics, including over 20 scholars from the “moderate” Al-Azhar University, have formed the Reform Rights Authority. They are writing a draft constitution based on Sharia Law and they will endorse those “who advocate the application of Islamic law in the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections.” Those who oppose them will be branded as apostates. “Those who are against the Islamists rising to power are infidels who do not believe in God,” they declared.
Mina Rezkalla, an Egyptian Coptic Christian who worked for the Egyptian Union of Liberal Youth, told FrontPage that the West must have an ideological offensive against Islamism.
“I wish that books like those by Edmund Burke and Leo Strauss were being translated into Arabic,” he said.
“The U.S. should tell the authorities in Egypt to stop pushing anti-Semitic ideas through its media. If we really want peace in the Middle East, we have to first destroy the totalitarian ideas that have been in Egypt since 1928,” Rezkalla said to FrontPage, referencing the year in which the Muslim Brotherhood was founded.
A deputy to Ayman Nour, a secular political leader, complains that the U.S. is doing nothing to stop the flow of money from Saudi families and charities into Egyptian political parties. “The Saudi government can stop this easily,” he said. Officials have also confirmed that Iranian money is coming onto the scene, and that some Muslim Brotherhood operatives are taking election training that is paid for with American tax dollars.
It is often asked whether the Islamists will win the Egyptian elections, but another question should be asked: Will the military council allow them to win?