The worst fears about the Arab revolts appear to be coming true – in each and
every Arab state that experienced a large-scale popular uprising, Islamists are
on the ascendant.
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Initial results from Morocco show the Justice and
Development Party is set to win parliamentary elections, Ennahda already
dominates the governing coalition in relatively secular Tunisia, Syria’s
opposition is predominantly Islamist, and in Libya, the chairman of the National
Transitional Council sports a pronounced “prayer bump” on his
So, too, in Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous and
influential state and a bellwether of the region’s broader
There, all signs point to the Muslim Brotherhood – the
godfather of all Islamist movements and Egypt’s best-organized institution – as
poised to emerge easily as the biggest winner from Monday’s parliamentary
Egypt remains a largely poor, underdeveloped country where three in
10 people are illiterate and four in 10 live on less than $2 a day.
Brotherhood’s message, its readily accessible lexicon of piety and justice,
resonates with ordinary Egyptians unfamiliar with the intricacies of the
democratic process and plethora of parties that have sprung up in the post-Hosni
Egypt is also a deeply conservative society. A Pew Research
Center poll conducted in April found 60 percent of Egyptians said the country’s
“laws should strictly follow the teachings” of the Koran. In results that were
shocking to many in the West, 82% said adulterers should be stoned, 84% said
people who leave Islam should face the death penalty and 77% said thieves should
be flogged or have their hands cut off.
In a society as conservative as
Egypt’s, Islamism and Shari’a are not dirty words. The Pew poll found that 75%
of respondents had a positive view of the Brotherhood, though, somewhat
paradoxically, only 17% said the movement should lead the government.
parliamentary elections held in 2005, after Mubarak succumbed to US pressure and
held freer (though not totally transparent) elections, Brotherhood-linked
candidates took 20% of the seats – having contested only a third of available
This time around, the Brotherhood – via its newly inaugurated
Freedom and Justice Party – is contesting half the parliamentary seats, and its
leaders have predicted it will take roughly 30% of the vote on
Virtually all credible pollsters predict the Brotherhood will
take control of at least a plurality, if not a majority, of parliamentary
A survey in September by the pan-Arab newspaper Asharq Alawsat
found that 35% of Egyptians supported the Brotherhood and 21% opposed
Last week, an informal poll on Facebook found 38% in support of the
Brotherhood, and a further 12% favoring Al-Nour, a party adhering to a radical
form of Salafi Islam that makes the Brotherhood look moderate by
Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha
Center, estimated that the Brotherhood would dominate the election whatever the
voter turnout, likely winning between 35% and 50% of the votes.
is lower turnout, that puts the Muslim Brotherhood in at least a slightly
stronger position because they can guarantee their own internal turnout,” he
told Reuters. “They may even benefit from higher turnout, where a lot of
ordinary Egyptians are going to the polls saying, ‘We don’t know who to vote
for, but we’ve heard about the Muslim Brotherhood.’” A US-based Egyptian reform
activist said smaller liberal parties simply couldn’t compete with the
Brotherhood’s deep wellspring of support networks.
“The Brotherhood is
well-organized and can mobilize activists and sympathizers in a way that liberal
parties cannot, because they’re still new,” he said on condition of anonymity
for fear of reprisal from the ruling military council.
The activist said
he was also concerned elections wouldn’t be held fairly.
“When they had a
referendum in March, areas with [less] Islamist representation had fewer polling
stations,” he said. “In Upper Egypt, some Coptic villages didn’t have polling
stations at all.
You don’t need to rig the ballot boxes. Gerrymandering
and placement of the polling stations can influence the results in
Kurt Werthmuller, a research fellow at the Hudson Institute
in Washington, said the question was not whether the Brotherhood would emerge as
Monday’s biggest winner, but only by how much.
“It’s a matter of how much
they will win,” he said. “The question is how much will they take in
parliamentary elections, and what their coalition will look like.”
added that at the moment, he was not optimistic.
“In the big picture,
there is a potential for small parties to have some kind of
The problem now is that they’re so fragmented,” he said. “I
don’t think we’ll see either house of the Egyptian parliament 100% dominated by
Islamists, but they’ll certainly have the upper hand.”