Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Muslim Brotherhood's Election Prospects

The Muslim Brotherhood (MB), while not a political party, is still the most important political actor outside of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP).  Paradoxically, as a banned group, the MB has more freedom to operate than approved political parties, which suffer from both legal and security restrictions.  It is allowed to maintain a physical headquarters, a presence on the web (the English site is and representation in unions and school boards. It has fielded candidates for Parliamentary elections, running as independents or in alliance with other parties.  Nevertheless, the Mubarak regime frequently cracks down on MB activists, arresting and torturing them by the hundreds.  The MB has cultivated a reputation of integrity, while the NDP has developed an image of corruption and abuse of power.

Popular support for the MB is high, in the absence of viable political parties.  In the 2005 parliamentary elections, when President Mubarak allowed the MB to campaign as independents, Egyptians voted overwhelmingly for MB candidates in the first of three rounds of voting.  Fearing a complete rout by the MB candidates, State Security and National Police blocked access to polling stations and even shot at Egyptians trying to get into them. Nevertheless, the MB won 20% of the seats of the lower house of Parliament, a total of 88 seats.

Learning from these elections, the Mubarak regime put in place new restrictions that prevented the MB from winning any seats in the upper house of Parliament in 2006. The MB also was prevented from registering almost all of their candidates in the local elections in 2008. In the 2010 Parliamentary elections, the MB participated in the first round. Clearly documented election rigging prevented them from winning any seats.  They withdrew from the second round, but still managed to win one seat. The NDP, on the other hand, increased their seats from 330 to 420, with many of the 68 independents also expected to join the NDP bloc. The opposition parties, including the MB, won a total of 10 seats.

In my opinion, the MB's success in the 2005 elections was an underestimation of its electoral support at that time.  First, it purposefully chose to run candidates in only a third of Egypt's electoral districts, to avoid gaining a Parliamentary majority. Second, the repression of voters during the second and third rounds prevented the MB from gaining additional seats.  The Brotherhood's conservative approach to electoral politics also is reflected in its decision not to participate in the 2011 Presidential elections.

The MB's showing in the 2010 elections does not reflect how well it would perform in free and fair Parliamentary elections. I have emphasized in previous posts that the approved opposition parties, including the NDP and the other major parties, will require months if not years before they develop into modern political parties. The MB, on the other hand, has the organizational, technological and political expertise to run successful campaigns throughout Egypt now. I BELIEVE THAT IF PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS WERE HELD BEFORE 2012, THE MB WOULD WIN  DECISIVELY.

Egypt clearly needs time to develop a mature political party culture. If elections were organized before 2012, the Government could not assure that they would be free and fair or that political parties have the capacity to run well-organized campaigns.  Those negotiating Egypt's future after Mubarak leaves the scene should keep in mind the time required for political parties to be ready to compete fairly, so as not to give the MB an undue advantage.

Rick Gold


  1. It is interesting that just after I wrote this piece, Abou Elela Mady, the leader of Wasat, a political party that was approved on February 19, made exactly the same remarks in a Reuters article, "Egypt opposition needs time, or Islamists will win," Mady waited 15 year for the party's approval. Wasat is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood that fuses respect for Islam with commitment to democracy. Mady described his party's objectives,""We want freedom for Islamists and secular people, for believers and atheists, for men and women, for Muslims and Christians, for women who wear the headscarf and those who don't." His fear about rushing the Parliamentary elections was evident in his statement, "If parliamentary elections happen now, the only party ready are the Muslim Brotherhood. As for the rest, they are not," Mady said. "We have had dialogue with all the parties. We ask for a transitional period for a year in which there is freedom for parties and organizations."

  2. You provided a very accurate description of the regime under Mubarak, and the most things that I like it, your recommendations regarding the factors that allowed Mubarak to gain such extraordinary power, and Egyptian must assess the weaknesses of their security, political and financial systems that facilitates abuse & corruption & they must reform these systems.