A mixed picture is forming of what the next Egypt will look like. A Washington Institute for Near East Policy poll in February that surveyed Cairo and Alexandria found very little support for the Brotherhood, but those two cities are highly Westernized and do not represent the entire country. A frequently mentioned Pew poll from 2010 shows strong support for Sharia-based justice, with 84 percent supporting the execution of apostates. The Brotherhood’s Islamist agenda, which includes creating a virtue police, would presumably allow it to capitalize upon this sentiment. However, this latest poll shows that the secularists will have the largest amount of seats in the next Egyptian parliament and possibly even a majority.
Of course, polls always change as campaigns progress. Brotherhood-tied clerics will soon begin declaring that it is a religious duty to vote for the Islamists. It will launch a new television channel called “Egypt 25” next month to promote the Freedom and Justice Party, the name the Brotherhood has registered as. The leader of the party, Mohamed Katatni, has been saying it is independent, but this is laughable as he is a senior Brotherhood member himself.
It can be tempting to let out a sigh of relief at this poll, but it would be a mistake to underestimate how strong of a hand the Brotherhood may have, even if it is a minority. If the Brotherhood wins around 30 percent of the seats, it will have significant sway over the writing of the constitution. It may effectively have veto power over key decisions like Hezbollah had in Lebanon before it collapsed the Hariri-led government.
It may actually be in the Brotherhood’s favor to be in such a position as an outright majority would alarm the West and potentially cause a coalescing of secularist forces. As one Brotherhood official explained, when asked about its embrace of Mohamed ElBaradei, “The Brotherhood realizes the sensitivities, especially in the West, towards the Islamists, and we’re not keen to be at the forefront.”
This all presumes that elections will be held and the next government will be formed. The deputy defense minister made an interesting comment recently: “Egypt will not be ruled by another Khomeini,” he said. “The [Supreme Armed Services] Council will not allow extremist factions to control Egypt.”
Egypt is in for a bumpy ride.