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Analysis: The lion, the sheikhs and the Brotherhood

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Parliamentary elections part one: Egypt’s divided Islamists

While the Shura Council is currently entrusted with full legislative powers, the transitional articles in the new constitution state that parliamentary elections for the lower house, renamed the House of Representatives, are to take place within 60 days of the constitution’s adoption. That house will then take over legislation from the Shura Council.

With the elections looming, the electoral alliances of old surely will not stand. Some parties will form new ones, ever redrawing the political map. Others will find themselves strong enough to go it alone.

The Muslim Brotherhood and its political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), contested the elections as leaders of the Democratic Alliance for Egypt that they largely dominated.

With the exception of the alliance coordinator Wahid Abdel Meguid, an independent, and a handful of candidates from Hamdeen Sabahy’s Nasserist Dignity Party and Ayman Nour’s liberal Ghad Al-Thawra Party as well as Abdel Moniem El-Sawy’s Civilisation Party, FJP members dominated the alliance’s lists.

FJP and Brotherhood officials had originally said they would contest up to 35 per cent of seats but ended up running for over 80 per cent. The Brotherhood might opt to run alone this time around, and party Vice Chairman Essam El-Erian already said they plan to contest all seats.

The Brotherhood already has the presidency through Mohamed Morsy and has been able to push through the constitution, which specifies that the majority party in the House of Representatives forms the government.

They will both feel empowered enough to contest all seats alone as well as a sense of urgency in contesting the elections these time around, the last thing they need is Morsy sharing power with a prime minister from the opposition. Securing the Cabinet is the last piece in the puzzle after which they will be in control of all state institutions.

However, the Brotherhood could not have passed their constitution without the help of fellow Islamists. On one side there are the salafis, who until recently were led by the salafi calling’s political wing, the Al-Nour Party.

Salafi youth feel betrayed after being mobilised by their Sheikhs to do the Brotherhood’s bidding. Although criticised by liberals and secular opposition groups for not being democratic enough, salafis view the constitution as lacking in Shari’a. This, combined with the now popular saying “the Brotherhood will fight to the last salafi” is causing a split between leaders and the cadres on the ground. It is already manifesting in the recent schism in the Al-Nour Party.

Enter Hazem Salah Abu Ismail. The rebel sheikh is idolised by salafi youth, especially the revolutionaries amongst them. Charismatic, fierce and ultraconservative, Abu Ismail is the Muslim Brotherhood’s worst nightmare. They cannot call him an infidel or an enemy of religion. In fact, the roles are reversed here with the disqualified presidential candidate able to confidently call out the Brotherhood on what he and many salafis view as shameful pragmatism and compromise, sacrificing Islam for power.

Hazem’s stature is growing, and come election time the entire salafi bloc will have to firmly unite behind him or risk utter failure. Parties such as the Authenticity Party, the Jama’a Islamiya’s Building and Development Party and the Salafi Front’s People’s Party will have to follow Abu Ismail. If the Al-Nour Party knows what is good for it, it will also follow suit, for the sheikhs are done and all must now bow to the “Lion of Islam.”

On the left of the Brotherhood, again instrumental to the passing of the constitution, is the Al-Wasat Party. Originally a group of former Brotherhood members who felt a more moderate, perhaps just a tad secular, to politics was needed, the breakaways were fiercely persecuted by the Brotherhood.

Yet come constitution drafting time, the party’s three main men were on the Constituent Assembly, fighting fiercely in favour of it and perhaps were the last glimmer of hope in making the process look somewhat legitimate. The party’s rising star Mohamed Mahsoub was even appointed in the cabinet post of minister of legal and parliamentary affairs.

Following the constitution’s passing, the Al-Wasat party abruptly turned on the Brotherhood, with the rumour being that they were promised the premiership after the constitution was adopted. Morsy’s speech indicated that incumbent Hesham Qandil is staying however, which meant that neither party leader Abu El-Ela Mady nor Mahsoub himself, the two most likely candidates, could assume the post. The party has denied such claims however, saying its opposition to Qandil came without search for positions.

Finding themselves out of the Brotherhood’s cloak will lead Al-Wasat to join with its natural ideological allies, the more moderate Islamist parties. El-Sawy’s Civilisation Party and the Egyptian Current Party, also composed by a group of breakaway former Muslim Brotherhood youth, are the most obvious choices and the three are likely to form a “centrist” coalition.

The crown jewel of such a coalition would be former presidential candidate Abdel Moniem Abul Fotouh’s Strong Egypt Party. Abul Fotouh has come under fire from both the Islamists and the secular opposition recently. He openly opposed the constitution, perhaps not strongly enough but did so anyway, to the chagrin of most Islamists, but also refused to join the National Salvation Front on grounds of it containing members of the former regime (read: Amr Moussa).

Perhaps most damning of all for secularists was despite his rejection of the constitution, he considered the referendum legitimate, calling for a “No” vote but refusing calls to cancel or postpone the referendum. Although popular amongst centrist and slightly Islamist-leaning revolutionary youth, Abul Fotouh finds himself alienated by those outside his base. He will either decide to run alone, or more realistically take his natural position as leader of centrist Islamism, an ideology many Egyptians would identify with.

The deep split within the Islamist ranks does not bode well for either the hard-line salafis or the more moderate Islamists. The latter were never effective electorally and the former will surely lose their dark horse status that saw them garner the second highest number of seats of 35 per cent. This will most certainly be of benefit mainly to the secular opposition.

The Muslim Brotherhood, for the most part, will emerge unscathed from this split. This does not mean they will replicate their previous victory, for there is a completely different camp in the political spectrum, and as frustrating and amateurish as they are, they are still gaining ground, and for the first time ever, albeit loosely, they are finally united.

 

About the author

Ahmed Aboulenein

News Reporter

Ahmed Aboul Enein is an Egyptian journalist who hates writing about himself in the third person. Follow him on Twitter @aaboulenein

  • MPA

    The writer puts too much stock in break away factions, without giving any facts as to how many constituents support them enough to help or hurt the Brotherhood.

    Therefore the only conclusion is that the purpose of this article is to hope to cause strife between those break away groups and the Brotherhood, hoping that they read this article or to galvanize what the liberals and secularists already think is going on between the factions.


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