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'
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.