Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood stands on the brink of an impressive electoral victory. After several months of suggesting it would check its own electoral ambitions, the Brotherhood plunged into politics with unprecedented enthusiasm, focusing all of its energies and impressive organizational heft on the parliamentary vote. Now, with the electoral list of its political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, likely to gain close to (and maybe even more than) half the seats and perhaps cabinet positions as well, the movement is entering uncharted waters.
A Blog on Middle East Transformation
On February 10, 2011, Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) met for the first time without its chairman, former president Hosni Mubarak. It issued a communiqué indicating that Mubarak was preparing to relinquish his powers to the military after eighteen days of massive antigovernment protests. The SCAF’s first statement signaling the power transition assured the Egyptian public that the council would remain in continuous session in order to ensure the protection of the people and nation, and that it would support the legitimate demands of the protesters who had called for Mubarak’s overthrow.
As expected, Egypt’s first parliamentary election after the overthrow of longtime leader Hosni Mubarak confirmed the popularity and organizational strength of the Muslim Brotherhood and Freedom and Justice Party, which won 77 of the 156 parliamentary seats contested in the first electoral round. Surprisingly, it also revealed the unexpected strength of the Salafi alliance, dominated by the al-Nour party, which secured 33 seats. Much to the discomfort of secular Egyptians and Western governments, Islamist parties now dominate the Egyptian political scene.
When the Egyptian military ousted President Hosni Mubarak on February 11, 2011, it was greeted by most Egyptians as the savior of the nation, the institution that had sided with the people against dictatorship and would steer the country through a period of transition toward democracy.
Egypt’s protracted series of parliamentary balloting has just begun, but it is not too soon to think about the implications of presidential elections that have yet to be scheduled. And indeed, the way those elections have been planned (or, more accurately, the way they have not been planned) should cause deep concern.
Death is at the end of every street. Mohamed Messara whispers this in my ear as he points to a photograph he took in the Libyan desert that bleeds dust and belches hot air as bullets fly, many bullets, as the photo of a rebel fighter in the battle to free the city of Sirte shows. A myriad of empty shells, a carpet thrown over the dust and mud of the road.
The trend of events inside Syria these days is towards a troubling increase in organized military operations by both the government and opposition groups, with breakaway troops from the state armed forces now attacking state institutions. This is both a worrying escalation that can push Syria into destructive domestic strife that could escalate into civil war, and also a more or less routine rite of passage for modern Arab states that ultimately find themselves dealing with the consequences of their own contradictions, incompetence and even some criminality.
Witnessing the popular and democratic revolutions sweeping across the Middle East, it is ironic to see that the United States and the West are focusing only on the perceived threat of Islamists coming to power democratically. While it is no surprise to us that the West is ready to forego its cherished democratic principles when it comes to Islamists being popularly elected (see Algeria and Palestine), it is all the more disturbing that they do not seem preoccupied about more dangerous extremists gaining influence in their own countries.
It has been eleven months since the Arab citizen revolts started in Tunisia last December and rolled through the Arab world in a wave that has manifested itself in different ways across the region. The two most striking things about the past eleven months are also slightly contradictory.
As I write, a moment of reckoning tangibly links three seemingly disparate protest sites: Tahrir Square, Los Angeles City Hall, and plazas across the University of California system. The opening moment of elections in Egypt, the closing of the Occupy movement’s last tent encampment by Los Angeles mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa, and a UC-wide meeting of the Regents to discuss the shockingly mishandled response to student protests clearly illustrate, in their coincidental proximity to each other, what actors in each of these three contexts have long been self-consciously referencing: a global crisis.
Heading into their first post-revolution election for parliament, 51 percent of Egyptians had not yet made up their minds on what party to vote for. Yet the race appeared to be dominated by two long-established political groups–the Muslim Brotherhood, represented by its political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, and the New Wafd, a liberal party with roots in Egypt’s nationalist movement.
Originally a splinter from the Wafd Party, al-Ghad has maintained its liberal orientation but has joined the Democratic Alliance with the Freedom and Justice Party rather than the Egypt Bloc with most other liberal parties. Troubled by internal dissensions exacerbated by the Mubarak regime’s effort to discredit its leader Ayman Nour, the party has failed to establish an identity separate from that of its leader.
The initial round of Egypt’s first post-Mubarak election for the 498-seat lower house of parliament begins Monday. It will move ahead despite violent protests against the ruling military council that forced the interim government of Prime Minister Essam Sharaf to resign and raised doubts about the country’s transition to democracy.
Al-Wafd is one of the old, established political parties seeking to find their place in post-uprising Egypt. Rooted in history—today’s party, technically the New Wafd but always referred to simply as the Wafd, is the successor to the once powerful organization Nasser disbanded in 1952.
The end of Hosni Mubarak’s regime marks a critical juncture in Egypt’s civil-military dynamic. In the breakdown of institutional order following the dictator’s ousting on February 11, 2011 and the subsequent disappearance of the police, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) reluctantly assumed power. The time frame for this arrangement (initially scheduled for six months) is currently unpredictable and may be prolonged. Faced with a possible surrender of its influence held under decades of authoritarian rule, the military is trying to strike a delicate balance.
The Freedom and Justice Party was formed by the Muslim Brotherhood in May 2011 and is the dominant Islamist party in Egypt. It could receive a plurality of votes in the election, although not a majority. Aware of the fears that surround its participation, the party defines itself as a “civil” party rather than an Islamic one, and has formed the Democratic Alliance with a number of liberal and leftist parties.
There are no signs that Ross’s nearly three years of serving the Obama administration contributed an iota to achieving a peace settlement. His diplomatic involvement in the Bush 41 and Clinton administrations yielded similar failure. But rather than give hope for a new beginning, his departure only illustrates what a sad shambles Obama’s Middle East policy has become.
Al-Wasat, as its name indicates, is a moderate Islamist party, originally a spin-off from the Muslim Brotherhood that was finally allowed to register in 2011 after fifteen years of unsuccessful efforts. The party is in talks to join the Third Way alliance when it is announced.
Aside from the gaffes of US presidential candidates, much of the world’s attention today is focused on two specific regions: Europe and the Middle East. Both regions are facing significant challenges that beg for concerted action through their regional bodies. The European Union is dealing with a debt and confidence crisis of great magnitude and consequence, while the Arab League is trying to display unity and decisive action in the face of regional upheavals and the unacceptable methods used by some to quell challenges to their regimes. Both regional groupings are playing their future, with vast implications worldwide.
The conduct of peaceful and free elections for a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution in Tunisia presents an impressive model for other Arab countries undergoing transition.