Islamists galvanize political scene

Daily Star Egypt Staff
5 Min Read

CAIRO: Six months after shock electoral gains, the Muslim Brotherhood has injected new life into parliament, but some argue they have failed to propose a program beyond a systematic opposition to the government. On Nov. 9 last year, the Islamist movement electrified a political landscape atrophied by decades of one-party rule by inflicting stinging defeats on the National Democratic Party (NDP) in some of its bastions. The Muslim Brothers, who are still officially banned and fielded candidates as independents, went on to secure a fifth of the People s Assembly, forming the largest opposition bloc in the chamber s recent history. Even members of the NDP readily admit that the 88 Islamist lawmakers yanked parliament out of its usual complacency. The Muslim Brothers have revitalized parliament, ruling party MP Khalifa Radwan told AFP. The People s Assembly used to be purely decorative, he said, with the bulk of MPs showing up only to collect the cheque they are owed for each session or committee meeting and sometimes even signing up for their colleagues. For the first time, the opposition won a vote in parliament last week, proposing an amendment for a new educational body to be under the authority of the People s Assembly rather than that of the prime minister. The surprise vote earned NDP lawmakers a reprimand from Speaker Fathi Sorour, who urged them to start being more assiduous. Now we must be present in large numbers at important sessions and our deputies have to prepare for the sessions in advance, which didn t used to be the case, Radwan explained. On April 30, Brotherhood MPs demonstrated with sashes condemning the extension of Emergency Laws in front of parliament, an institution little accustomed to being used as a platform for anti-government activities. But the Islamist movement, which claims it could have won the elections had they been free and fair, charge their new-found political leverage has earned them further persecution in and out of the chamber. Most issues we have presented to the government concerning the repressive practices of the interior ministry have not been discussed and I m sure they will not be, said Mohammed Al-Katatni, the head of the group s parliamentary bloc. Dozens of Muslim Brotherhood supporters have been detained over the past months in what the movement s leaders said was a campaign of intimidation launched in reaction to their parliamentary activity. The parliamentary sessions, once aired live on state television, are broadcast in carefully edited versions where verbal clashes involving the opposition are cut out. When the government presented one of its reports, the Muslim Brothers took the podium to criticize it but started their intervention by thanking the government. Only the acknowledgements were aired, Katatni explained. The movement displayed great political acumen during the electoral campaign but its verve in parliament has failed to silence critics questioning the movement s ability to emerge as a credible governing force. Theirs is a knee-jerk attitude towards the NDP, but we don t see them push forward a clear agenda, said Amr Hashem Rabie, a researcher at the Ahram Center for Political and Strategic studies. On the economic and social fronts, they have nothing to offer, charges Mohammed Shaaban, a member for the leftist opposition Tagammu party. Distrust also remains toward the conservative Muslim movement, which used to focus its parliamentary action on religious and morality issues. They no longer concentrate on moral questions quite so much, but it is more insidious. They are seeking to transpose Islamic concepts and vocabulary into social and political issues, says Shaaban. He cited a recent case during which Brotherhood MPs demanded that compensation provided to the victims of the February Red Sea ferry tragedy be described as diya, a term which means blood money in Islamic law. AFP

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