Official results from Egypt’s parliamentary election won’t start trickling in
until Thursday, but the Muslim Brotherhood jumped the gun on Wednesday by
announcing it expects to receive 40 percent of the vote.
ex-president Hosni Mubarak’s National Democratic Party banned and liberals in
disarray, the announcement was telling in revealing the Islamist party as the
only one sanguine enough over its election prospects to hazard a
Muslim Brotherhood says it leads Egypt's vote count
“There was no doubt the Brotherhood was going to dominate,” said
Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha Center and a fellow at
the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, by phone from Cairo.
Brotherhood knows how to get out the vote; no one does it better in Egypt ... In
many parts of Egypt, people only saw the Brotherhood campaigning. The other
parties didn’t have the manpower or volunteer base to cover the whole country,”
Hamid, an American of Egyptian descent who is an expert on
Islamist movements, said all told he expects Islamist forces to take around 60%
of the vote: 40 to 45% for the Brotherhood, 10 to 15 for ultra-conservative
Salafi parties and 5% for assorted other Islamist groups.
generally underestimate the Salafis. If you’re not a Salafi, it’s hard to
understand why people would vote for them,” he said. “But the Salafis have the
best organization after the Brotherhood, and that’s what’s going to make a
difference in an election like this, where there are a lot of parties that are
Egypt’s electoral process is exceedingly complex, and
many voters say they feel overwhelmed by the number of parties and candidates to
have emerged since Mubarak’s ouster nine months ago.
receives two parliamentary seats, but one-third of seats are reserved for
individual candidates while the rest are reserved for party
Complicating things further, an obscure rule from the socialist
policies of president Gamal Abdel Nasser holds that one of each district’s two
seats must go to a “professional” and the other to a “worker or
The Egyptian journalist Issandr El-Amrani, a contributor to the
blog The Arabist, posted a photograph on Monday of the party ballot now in use
across Egypt. The list of individual candidates includes no fewer than 122
parliamentary hopefuls, and while the party list appears more manageable – only
16 choices – listed first among them is Al-Nour, a party founded in January that
has emerged as the largest Salafi movement in the post-Mubarak era.
Salafis have a strong core of voters, anywhere from two to five
million. Salafis are doing well because they’re not political parties but
religious movements, which have a built-in advantage in that they have a core
following that is committed and disciplined,” Hamid said.
“Even if they
win 10%, that’ll be big for them. They didn’t even exist in politics a year ago,
and if they can be the second or third largest bloc in parliament that’s a
success for them. Either way, they could potentially play the role of
Liberals are all but down for the count, he
“Liberals aren’t going to do well – the question is just how badly
they’ll do. But the bar is so low, they might actually exceed
expectations. People have been talking about a liberal wipeout, so they could
come out of this looking stronger than they have any right to. If the Egyptian
Bloc wins 10 to 15%, that’ll be a success,” Hamid said.
The Bloc is a
liberal-leftist alliance of three parties including the Free Egyptians Party of
telecom tycoon Naguib Sawiris.
“I don’t think liberals have a natural
constituency in Egypt. ‘Liberalism’ has a negative connotation here. I’m not
even sure what liberalism means in an Egyptian context – try even asking
liberals and they’ll have trouble answering,” he said. “All ‘liberal’ means in Egypt is someone who’s not an
Islamist. That might get you 10% – people who are afraid of the Ikhwan
[Brotherhood] – but that’s not a positive, affirmative message that will win a
lot of votes.”
Hamid said liberals need to learn to speak the language of
the religion if they hope to cut into the Brotherhood’s support base: “All the
polling that’s ever been done in Egypt suggests Egyptians are very religiously
conservative, and they want Islam to play a larger role in public life. I don’t
know how one gets around that.”
The country’s economic situation is dire,
he said, but could present liberals with a welcome source of leverage.
think the economic factor is key. If non-Islamists want to win, they have to
focus on the economy and come up with solutions that are practical, and to make
that case to Egyptians who are not economically literate,” Hamid
“Because the economic situation is so dire, the Brotherhood may
fail to reach people’s expectations. Then people are going to look for an
alternative – not because they don’t like the Brotherhood, but because it was
unable to deliver.”
Israeli officials have expressed concern that an
Egyptian parliament heavily populated by Islamists will cause already tenuous
Egyptian-Israeli ties to fray.
Last week, Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu said the revolutions roiling the Arab world were heading not towards
progress and liberalism, but producing “an Islamic, anti-Western, anti-liberal,
anti-Israeli and anti-democratic wave.”
Hamid said it was misleading to
lay the blame for anti-Israeli sentiment solely on Islamists.
don’t like Israel, so any government they elect is going to have tense relations
with Israel; that’s just the way it is,” he said.
though, has proven more than comfortable compromising its principles for
political gain. If they need to compromise on Israel in order to get something
out of it, they’ll do it,” he said.
“That said, the Brotherhood is never
going to like Israel, and the relationship is not going to improve. I don’t
think there’s a chance of an outright cancelation of the peace treaty, but I
think there’s certainly a possibility of renegotiating certain aspects of it or
finding ways to limit its impact or operability.
“In some ways the
Brotherhood is more pragmatic on foreign policy than leftist or nationalist
parties. Because the Brotherhood’s anti-Israel credentials are strong, it
doesn’t have to overcompensate. What you see with non-Islamist parties is
that because they’re sometimes accused of being Western- influenced, they have
to go out of their way to demonstrate their anti-Israel bona fides,” Hamid said.
“People tend to exaggerate how different Islamists are from non-Islamists on
foreign policy. If there’s anything all parties agree on it’s dislike of