CAIRO: With election fever in the air, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) are preparing their female candidates to win the majority of the 64 seat quota reserved for women in a bid to repeat their 2005 win in the coming parliamentary elections.
In June 2009, Egypt approved a law providing 64 seats to women in the People’s Assembly (PA), to be implemented in new 32 constituencies (2 seats each) in the upcoming general elections.
Even though the status of women (and Copts) is often cited by Brotherhood critics as a mysterious point in the group’s discourse, the Brotherhood have been refuting this misogynistic stereotype by fielding women in political life. The women are usually close relatives of other prominent Brotherhood members — wives, mothers, etc. The upcoming elections is expected to see an increased participation by women affiliated with the group.
In 2000, Jihan Al Halafawi, wife of MB member and former head of the Alexandria Doctor’s Syndicate Ibrahim Zaarafani was the first female Brotherhood candidate ever to be nominated in the People’s Assembly.
Al Halafawy won the majority of votes in the 2000 elections. However, an administrative court later decided that the vote was illegal based on procedural grounds.
Following the decision, the seat for the Al Raml district of Alexandria remained vacant for two years before a special election gave the seat to a nominee from Egypt’s ruling National Democratic Party (NDP).
Makarem El-Dery, mother of seven and wife of deceased MB leader, Ibrahim Sharaf, followed in the 2005 elections, but lost to an NDP candidate. Despite the MB’s attempts, the People’s Assembly has yet to witness an MB female member.
Some analysts believe that the MB can use their female members who are usually conservative, respectable, well educated, and capable of appealing to the masses to gain political power.
“One of the Brotherhood’s main strategies in the coming elections will be to focus on the quota,” Nabil Abdel-Fattah, researcher at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, told Daily News Egypt.
“The women in the MB have high organization and public mobilization skills that can help them overcome the restrictions imposed on the polling stations and convince the voters to elect them,” he added.
Muslim Sisters’ History
In February, around 15 MB leaders including former deputy leader of the group, Mahmoud Ezzat, and MB official spokesman Essam El-Erian were arrested on charges of forming a secret women’s organization that violates the law and seeks to overthrow the regime and being affiliated with a banned group.
El-Erian told Daily News Egypt that women always played a big role in the MB, and some were being prepped to take part in the coming Parliamentary elections. However, he denied there being any secret organization that aims to overthrow the government.
“There is no secret organization within the MB; this is all nonsense advocated by the government. The fact that the court found us not guilty and ordered our release proves that,” he said.
The MB members were released in April, following a court order citing lack of evidence.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s first women’s division, the Muslim Sisters, was created in 1932. Women’s political role in the MB became prominent in the early 1960s, about a decade after the assassination of Hassan Al-Banna, founder of the group.
Zaynab Al-Ghazali, a prominent Egyptian feminist and arguably the most famous female Islamist internationally, played an essential role in regrouping the Brotherhood in the 1960s.
Al Ghazali was detained for her activities in 1965 and was sentenced to 25 years of hard labor.
She was pardoned under Anwar Sadat’s presidency in 1971.
The group has been officially banned since 1954, forcing its candidates to run as independents in electoral races. In 2005, the MB won 20 percent of the PA’s seats, as independents, leaving the government, which is usually accused of rigging elections, shocked and embarrassed.
Muslim Brotherhood MP Mohamed El Beltagi told Daily News Egypt that there’s no special treatment in prepping women for the elections. Campaigning has not begun yet, he added.
“The women nominees are being prepped just like the men exactly. There’s training included so they can run in the parliamentary elections, but we won’t start campaigning for our nominees until after nominations are officially open and we decide whether or not to boycott the elections,” El Beltagi said.
Leading opposition groups are still debating whether or not to boycott the coming elections, scheduled to be held in November.
“We want a guarantee from the government that the coming elections will be real and that the people’s votes will actually count, not like the Shoura [Council] elections which was forged,” El Beltagi said.
The MB didn’t win any seats in the Shoura Council elections, which took place in June and described the process as “rigged”.
Several fronts accused the Supreme Electoral Committee of poor monitoring of the election processes, and claimed that there were many violations throughout the campaigning and voting periods.
The MB had 15 candidates in the race for Shoura Council seats. They lost, however, to a majority of National Democratic Party (NDP) candidates.
The MB and several other opposition groups called on the government to implement the seven demands, advocated by former IAEA chief and reform advocate Mohamed ElBaradei, to guarantee fair and transparent elections.
These demands include annulling the emergency law, and amending articles 76, 77 and 88 of the constitution, which regulate who can run in presidential elections (currently almost exclusively limited to NDP candidates), presidential terms (currently unlimited) and judicial oversight (currently not fully required), respectively.
On the other hand, the NDP is rallying its nominees, determined to win the coming parliamentary elections and avoid a repeat of the 2005 scenario.
Speaker of Egypt’s Shoura Council Safwat El-Sherif announced last week that 508 NDP candidates would compete for 508 PA seats. The party will also hold public rallies in each of Egypt’s 29 governorates to select the 64 candidates who will compete over the seats allocated for women.
Amr Hesham, researcher at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, told Daily News Egypt, “The 64 seats are reserved for the NDP, the MB won’t be able to win even one seat.”
“The win the MB achieved in the 2005 parliamentary elections won’t happen again; there will be administrative interventions (from the government) that guarantee the MB doesn’t win more than around 8 seats, if their lucky.” he added.