December 04, 2011

Islamist gains may not spell real change in Egypt

Even if Muslim Brotherhood wins high percentage of vote in next rounds of elections, army will still dominate Egypt's international relations.

There are two major achievements so far in Egypt's elections: The fact that they took place despite conditions of uncertainty, and the historic voter turnout - 62% in the first round of voting.
The immediate result is that despite complaints (relatively few) of disorder, these elections won widespread public legitimacy. On the other hand, the initial results that were published, according to which the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice party won 40 percent of the vote, and the Al Nour party that represents the Salafi movement won a further 20 percent, raises questions about the new direction that Egypt is taking.
Muslim Brotherhood May 18, 2011 (AP) A Muslim Brotherhood election rally in Egypt earlier this year.
Photo by: AP    

These “big numbers” are for the moment symptoms of history rather than a reflection of the situation on the ground. This is only the first stage of three-part elections that will finish in mid-January. A third of Egypt’s 27 electoral districts voted in this round, totaling a third of the population of Egypt. Out of this third, two thirds of the candidates were voted for in proportional representation elections according to party lists, and a third in direct votes.

The direct voting is still not over, as a decision has not been reached over the candidates in most areas. Therefore, a second round will take place this week. Even though the Muslim Brotherhood won 40 percent of the vote proportional representation elections, this gain only guarantees them 44 of the 498 parliamentary seats that are up for grabs (ten additional seats are appointed by the President, who will only be elected in June). Only if the Muslim Brotherhood makes similar gains in the round of direct voting, and in the further stages of voting that will take place over the coming months, will they become the dominant party in the Egyptian parliament.

Mohammed Mursi, head of the Freedom and Justice party, has already rushed to declare that if the Muslim Brotherhood heads a future government, it will be as broad a coalition government as possible. This declaration is not only meant to calm the liberal and secular currents in Egypt, as well as the Copts and the military. This is a political necessity, also recognized by Tunisia’s Islamic Ennahda party that is trying to form a coalition with two secular parties.
The Muslim Brotherhood is fully aware of the power of Tahrir Square, that serves now as “Egypt’s conscience,” in the words of an Egyptian pundit. If no agreement is reached between them, Tahrir may turn into the scene of conflict between liberal, secular movements, and religious ones.
It cannot be taken for granted that the Muslim Brotherhood will rush to invite the Salafi Al Nour party to join their coalition. In fact, before the elections, ideological and political differences between the two movements were already surfacing, with Al Nour blaming the Muslim Brotherhood for cooperating too closely with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.

The Muslim Brotherhood, at least according to their declarations, would prefer to form a coalition with political parties that represent the revolution and liberals, as opposed to the Salafis. And even so, they will have to reach an understanding with the army, in order to guarantee its support, not only in the government that they will form, but also in the constitution that will be drafted after the elections.
For the army, this will be a historic revolution, in which for the first time, it will be subordinate to political leadership at the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood. However, as the army has to swallow this bitter pill, so too will the Brotherhood. It is likely that while internal policy, education and other civil issues will depend on compromise between the political parties, foreign policy and defense issue will continue to be dictated by the army. This means that relations with the U.S., Israel, Iran or Syria, considered an inseparable part of Egypt’s strategic and military approach, are likely be influenced to a relatively small extent by these political changes.

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