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Islamists dominate first post-revolution parliament

CAIRO: The Islamists emerged as the winners of Egypt’s first parliamentary race after the ouster of Hosni Mubarak, who’s 30-year autocratic rule had suppressed all dissent.  The Muslim’s Brotherhood’s (MB) political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), and the Salafi Al-Nour Party, who together won 72 percent of the seats, had come a long …

CAIRO: The Islamists emerged as the winners of Egypt’s first parliamentary race after the ouster of Hosni Mubarak, who’s 30-year autocratic rule had suppressed all dissent. 

The Muslim’s Brotherhood’s (MB) political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), and the Salafi Al-Nour Party, who together won 72 percent of the seats, had come a long way, even before Jan. 25.

On day one of the 2011 uprising, the MB, a banned group since 1954, participated in the mass protests symbolically, rather than put the group’s full force behind the demonstrations calling for "bread, freedom and social justice."

"The Brotherhood youth including Mohamed El-Qassas and others persuaded the group’s leaders to participate in the protests even symbolically," Haitham Abou Khalil, former member of the group, told Daily News Egypt.

"If it wasn’t for the Brotherhood youth, the group’s true stance towards the revolution would’ve been loud and clear," he added.

Hussein Ibrahim, head of the FJP’s parliamentary bloc, was on the defensive, saying, "Mohamed El-Beltagi (leading FJP member and MP) was cordoned by security forces at the Supreme Court on the morning of Jan. 25."

When the mass protests gained irreversible momentum and thousands of peaceful protesters took over Tahrir Square, the Brotherhood decided to join what seemed like the beginnings of a successful revolt.

On Jan. 28 dubbed the "Friday of Anger," the Brotherhood fully backed the protesters and joined the march towards Tahrir Square following Friday prayers.

Internal divisions

The 2009 internal elections of the MB Guidance Office had highlighted wide ideological divisions between the group’s new and old guard, the conservatives who dominated the polls.

Abou Khalil and other Brotherhood members created the "Reform Movement" within the group, known in the media as the "MB Opposition Front." The movement publically criticized and went against the group’s decisions, in a display rarely seen within the tightly structured group.

Following the youth-led 18-day uprising, the Brotherhood seemed to alienate its youth even further.

Former leader of the Brotherhood youth, El-Qassas, was sacked along with other members from the group for establishing a political party, Al-Tayar Al-Masry, and refusing the notion that MB members are banned from joining a political party other than the FJP.

El-Qassas described the decision as "oppressive" and "unjust," according to media reports.

However, Ibrahim refuted the claims, saying that 40 percent of the supporters, who led the FJP’s electoral campaign, were college students.

"I respect everyone’s choice, but El-Qassas doesn’t represent all the Brotherhood youth," he said.

Abdel Moneim Abol Fotoh, one of the group’s progressive and respected figures, was sacked after he went against the grain and decided to join the presidential race.

Abou Khalil resigned from the group in March following the 18-day revolt, claiming that he discovered the group held a secret meeting with former vice president Omar Suleiman during the revolt, and negotiated a deal with him to end the uprising.

However, the group denied the accusations. Political powers also accused the group of striking a deal with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) to support it during the transitional period, in exchange for allowing the MB to form a political party.

Both SCAF and the MB have repeatedly denied these claims.

Khalil Al-Anani, a scholar at the School of Government and International Affairs in Durham University and an expert on Islamist politics and Middle East affairs, said that there were “common interests” and not necessarily “a deal” between both parties.

“The MB does not want any distortion of the transition process that might harm their extraordinary gains since the revolution, [while] the military wants to maintain its historical privileges socially and economically," he said.

He added that both parties tend to act according to the rule “accommodation without confrontation.”

The group was subject to systematic crackdowns before the revolt and its members were only allowed to run as independents in parliament, without forming a political party.

The MB’s stance towards SCAF can be best described as "survival instinct," Al-Anani said.

The option of offering SCAF a "safe exit" has also been floated by prominent Brotherhood figures in the media lately.

Mahmoud Ghazlan said earlier this month that the group did not mind granting SCAF indemnity from any legal or criminal accusations, in exchange for a smooth transfer of power to civilian rule. However, Deputy Head Essam El-Erian made contradictory statements the following week on Al Jazeera Mubasher, saying that no one is above the law.

"SCAF will not leave power without real guarantees whether implicit or explicit," said Al-Anani. "Hence, any dominant force, in this case the MB, will have to make compromises with SCAF to save the transition.”

"Whether you accept it or not, these are the rules of the game unless the ‘revolutionary’ movement has something else [to offer], which is unlikely," he said.

SCAF has been under fire since it assumed power on Feb. 11 for committing gross human rights violations and violently cracking down on protesters, leaving over 100 people dead and thousands injured thus far since the months that followed the uprising.

Salafis emerge

While many expected the FJP to sweep the polls for its history and organizational skills, the success of Al-Nour, winning 25 percent of the seats, was shocking.

In the 2005 parliamentary elections, the MB won 88 seats nearly 20 percent of parliament, fielding candidates as independents.

The hardline Salafis generally shied away from politics and did not participate as a group in the revolution.

Ahmed Khalil, member of Al-Nour Party’s executive bureau and an MP, denied wide claims that Al-Da’waa Al-Salafeya (The Salafi Call), from which Al-Nour Party emerged, described the protests as a "sin" or considered Mubarak their "guardian."

"We supported the fight against injustice and tyranny and we were against corruption," he said.

However, Al-Da’waa Al-Salafeya did not participate in the protests as a group because they did not believe it would best serve the revolution, according to Khalil.

"A group that spent 35 years discussing reform and ethics couldn’t swiftly transition to a revolution because this would have caused a state of shock," he said.

He referred to the death of Sayed Belal as an example of how Salafis were specifically targeted by security forces before the Jan. 25 revolt. "Salafis would have been the first people detained [during these protests]," he said.

Belal was allegedly tortured to death in police custody in Alexandria, while being investigated for alleged involvement in the attack on Al-Qeddesine (The church of the Two Saints), last year.

The Salafis’ transition into politics came smoothly after Mubarak’s ouster, establishing Al-Nour Party only four months later.

"Elections were forged and it was impossible for us to enter the [political arena under Mubarak’s reign]," Khalil said.

There’s also a widespread perception that Salafis avoided politics because they considered the idea of "democracy" and parliament "a sin," based on statements by some of its most prominent leaders.

Ultraconservative Salafi preacher Abdel Moneim El-Shahat and engineers made statements during the elections denouncing democracy and describing those who promote it over the word of God as "atheists."

Khalil said a democracy that defies God’s sharia is a democracy his party rejects. "And all Egyptians would definitely reject it as well, because we are religious people," he said.

As they made their way into parliament, Salafis have been downplaying concerns that they would ban alcohol or force women to wear the veil, in a strict implementation of sharia.

"I will not talk about alcohol when 40 percent of Egyptians are drinking polluted water," said Khalil. "We have priorities like security, economy as well as retrieving the rights of Egyptians and martyrs," he added.

Salafis feel they now have a chance to clear the common misconceptions about their group.

"Before the revolution, people used to hear of us, rather than hear from us," Khalil said.

With eloquent, appealing figures like their young spokesperson Nader Bakkar and Khalil, more and more people are interested in what they have to say.

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