After Election Victory, Muslim Brotherhood Faces Burden Of Ruling A Divided Egypt

Analysis: Long shut out from ruling, Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood achieved success in parliamentary elections that exceeded even their own expectations. But they must now navigate between potential extremism of Salafists and liberal forces'

Egyptians enjoy free elections (oxfamnovib)
Egyptians enjoy free elections (oxfamnovib)
Mirette F. Mabrouk

CAIRO - After 60 years of consistent vote rigging, it's hardly surprising that everything about these elections, from the spectacularly inefficient organization by the High Elections Commission (HEC) to the behavior of the parties competing, has been so eccentric.

But at this point, however, those Egyptians (and international observers) so susceptible to panicking — presumably secular liberals and ethnic and religious minorities — should take a deep breath and consider the significantly more practical question: "Now what?"

It is indeed time to take stock. As far as I can see, here's where we stand.

More than 60 percent of seats voted on so far will go to Islamist candidates. Anyone who is surprised at the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) did well has not been paying attention over the last 80 years. Admittedly, their performance — an estimated 40 percent — has exceeded even their expectations.

The tepid success of the liberal parties was entirely to be expected. Over the months leading up to the elections they have presented the Egyptian voters with a sorry, splintered front. Unable or unwilling to take the long view, they have failed to coalesce or address the voters in any relevant manner. It might have been more efficient if there had been fewer newspaper editorials (in a country with a 30 percent illiteracy rate) and more street campaigning. While the Egyptian Bloc alliance (Free Egyptians and Egyptian Democrats) made a surprisingly decent showing, placing right behind the ultra-conservative Salafi Nour Party, the dismal performance of Egypt's oldest liberal party, the Wafd Party, was a huge shock to many.

The biggest surprise, however, has been the runaway success of the Nour Party, which has raked in around 20 percent of the seats, posing a tough challenge to the combined liberals forces. Its success is terrifying liberals and minorities due to the party's extremist views on women, religious minorities and personal freedoms.

It's something of an odd situation because the upcoming parliament might not have any legislative power. It's possible that it may be dissolved if the new constitution calls for such a move. Ostensibly, its main, potentially vital, task will be to help elect the committee that will rewrite Egypt's constitution. This is where matters can potentially get very messy.

After grassroots, now time to rule

Power in Egypt currently lies with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). It would be difficult to overemphasize the extent to which the SCAF has whittled away public support for itself.

So what happens next? The Brotherhood has no equal in terms of grassroots organization, and that includes all the former political parties. However, it has never ruled. Even when it won 20 percent of parliamentary seats in the 2005 elections, it was carefully denied any opportunity to influence policy-making by the National Democratic Party (NDP). It has gone to great lengths to reassure secular parties that it intends to rule by example rather than by imposing draconian religious law. It has said that it will work with secular parties and indeed formed an alliance with several before the elections. On matters of finance and economy, with the exception of an emphasis on social justice, it doesn't actually differ all that much from the NDP.

However, that was when overwhelming success was a probability. Now that it appears a certainty, the promise of finally attaining what's been denied it for almost a century is apparently making the Brotherhood tremble. The Brotherhood has to make some difficult choices. Once the excitement of an obliging ballot box dies down, it will have to decide what to do about the Salafis. By aligning with them, it increases its parliamentary influences but risks alienating the secular parties and the West.

The liberal parties, if they are to emerge with any significant voice in parliament need to regroup, coalesce and run fewer candidates to avoid splitting the vote. And they must be willing to work with the Brotherhood, if only to make it easier to marginalize the Salafis, who have expressed no interest in democratic reform. Above all, all the parties need to put Egypt first, rather than short-term political gain. And that's the one thing that none of the parties seem to be able to grasp.

Read the full version of the article at AL-MASRY AL-YOUM

photo - oxfamnovib

Mabrouk is a Nonresident Fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at The Brookings Institution.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!