On November 28, the opportunity that the Muslim Brotherhood has waited for since 1928 came. The first round of elections in Egypt took place, and although the results are not yet in, the Brotherhood’s mammoth political operation blew away its competitors. A Brotherhood spokesman was honest about what the group seeks: “The Sharia, the Muslim legal framework, must be the foundation for everything.”
The vote for the lower house of parliament took place in nine provinces. In districts where a candidate does not take a majority, there will be a run-off election on December 5-6. Two other rounds of voting will take place for a lower house among the remaining provinces, and then there will be three rounds to decide the upper house. The entire process will finish on March 11, ushering in an interim government that will draft the next constitution.
The turnout was so high that an extra two hours was given for people to vote. There were no notable clashes and by all accounts, a sense of happiness filled the air. The Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists, who were accused of buying votes by selling cheap goods to poor voters in the run-up to the election, are being accused by some rivals of cheating. Farid Zahran of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party claims that some veiled women refused to expose their face for identification or to dip their fingers in ink, allowing them to vote multiple times. The Muslim Brotherhood, he says, stuffed ballot boxes in Luxor, Aswan and Faroun, and Coptic Christians were prevented from entering some polling stations.
According to Zahran, thousands of the Brotherhood’s “youth volunteers” were at the polling stations to help illiterate people to vote and guided them to choose their party. The Wasat Party is complaining that the Brotherhood stole ballot papers in Damietta. The National Human Rights Council confirms that there were 391 complaints filed, most of which were related to the illegal campaigning on election day that many parties were involved in. One Free Egyptians candidate told an army officer that the Brotherhood was handing out flyers at a polling station and he did nothing. The law preventing campaigning during the 48 hours before a vote was largely ignored and unenforced.
The White House has tough language for the ruling military council but when asked about the Muslim Brotherhood’s likely victory, White House spokesman Jay Carney replied that it is “unfair to assume that any party that has a religious affiliation cannot adhere to democratic principles.” That doesn’t exactly jive with the Muslim Brotherhood spokesman’s statement that the “Sharia, the Muslim legal framework, must be the foundation for everything.”
The spokesman said that the Muslim Brotherhood’s form of governance will be different than that of Turkey. “In Turkey, women may go to university without a headscarf. They have adultery and homosexuality. We will not allow that in Egypt,” he said. A spokesman for Hamas admitted that the group wants the Brotherhood to win, saying, “We have the same ethics as the Muslim Brothers, the principles are the same.”
The Muslim Brotherhood has been building a political operation for decades through mosques and social services and its advantages showed. It’s been reported that each Brotherhood operative was asked to deliver 100 votes. The Brotherhood registered a huge amount of voters and by some accounts, had 30,000 volunteers working in Alexandria alone. Six operatives were at each polling station.
In Tunisia, the Islamist Ennahda Party exceeded expectations and took 41% of the vote. Middle East expert Barry Rubin subsequently adjusted his projection for Egypt. He now believes the Islamists will take around half of the seats in parliament. Samuel Tadros is even more pessimistic and talks of the Islamists possibly winning a two-thirds majority. “It is quite apparent to anyone that has been paying attention that their victory will be nothing short of a tsunami,” he wrote.
Tadros predicts that the results of the election will dispel numerous comforting myths in the West. His opinion is that the weaknesses of the secularists will be exposed. The main competing forces, he says, will be the Brotherhood and the Salafists and not the secularists and the Islamists. The Sufis and Brotherhood splinters will not perform well and the secular Wafd Party will not come in second place, as some polls showed. Tadros believes that the largest non-Islamist force will be the Egyptian Bloc of three parties, led by the Free Egyptian Party, which almost all Christians will vote for.
One of the Islamists’ main advantages is that the secularists are extremely divided. In Tunisia, almost all of the 59% that did not vote for Ennahda chose liberal parties. Over the weekend in Morocco, the Islamist PJD had the highest vote total and won 107 of the 395 seats, but most of the rest went to non-Islamists. If the Islamists dominate the first round of voting, it might encourage these non-Islamist forces to rally behind one candidate in the run-off and to coordinate their campaigns in future votes.
It is also possible that the Muslim Brotherhood will face a backlash for cutting a deal with the military council and pulling out of protests against it. Secular activist Mohamed Ghoneim said that the protesters were “very, very disappointed” in the Brotherhood. Wael Nawara of the Democratic Front Party didn’t mince words and said, “The Muslim Brothers really screwed this revolution. They’ve done everything possible to monopolize and hijack the revolution.”
The future of Egypt, and perhaps the region, will be decided over the next few months. This initial vote will tell us where the Middle East is headed, and so far, it doesn’t look good.
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