On Saturday, March 19, the Egyptian people took part in their first vote since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak. Sadly, the results of the vote give an edge to the undemocratic and Islamist forces that seek to extinguish the democracy the voters thought they were making. Parliamentary elections could come as early as June and a presidential election in September, giving the more liberal voices little time to organize to compete with the Muslim Brotherhood and Mubarak’s National Democratic Party.
Over three-fourths of voters supported the proposed amendments that included having elections before the writing of a constitution, limits on presidential emergency powers and a limit of two four-year terms for presidents. The Secretary-General of the Arab League and presidential frontrunner, Amr Moussa, voted against the amendments, as did more liberal secular parties and Coptic Christians that worry that holding elections in such a short period of time would play to the advantage of Mubarak’s party and the Islamists. Mohammed el-Baradei broke with his Brotherhood allies on the issue, causing hundreds of Islamists to throw rocks at him when he tried to vote.
A top Salafi sheikh named Mohamed Hussein Yaqoub praised the results of the vote, saying it was a victory for Islam. “That’s it. The country is ours,” he said. The Muslim Brotherhood predictably applauded the results as well, knowing it leaves minimal time for opponents to organize against them. The Wall Street Journal had reported that “political parties are sprouting like weeds,” raising the possibility that the younger and less conservative members of the Muslim Brotherhood could join other parties. This hopeful trend will now have very little time to culminate in a more encouraging political atmosphere. The Islamists and the NDP have organized for decades in Egypt and the holding of parliamentary elections as soon as June gives them a decisive opportunity to shape the future of the country.
“The main problem here is the next parliament will write the next Constitution. So then the fanatics and the Muslim Brotherhood will govern us for decades,” said Emad Gad of the Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies.
The Muslim Brotherhood says its “Freedom and Justice Party” will be formally created in the coming weeks, though the chairman, Mohammed Katatni, tries to cast it as an independence party. The Brotherhood’s leadership admits creating it and Katanani is a senior Brotherhood member. This is a transparent attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of voters and the West. The group is also planning to begin a new satellite television program and various publications including a monthly newspaper. The secular parties besides NDP are simply outmatched.
This means that the parliame two strongest parties going into the parliamentary elections are the NDP and the Muslim Brotherhood, leaving the secular democratic forces without a strong voice. The scenario is not much better for the secular forces in the presidential election held later, as Ayman Nour seems unable to draw the kind of attention that El-Baradei and Moussa can. The weaknesses of these three candidates give the Brotherhood an opportunity to win the presidency later this year.