Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood has decided to field candidates for more than half of the nation’s parliamentary seats, up from 45%, with its candidates benefiting from the party’s high level of organization in comparison to all other organizations.
Although the group intended to play a less-than-dominant role in the first post-Mubarak government, this decision will make it the deal-maker in the new government and the dominant force in drafting the nation’s first civilian constitution.
The decision is not going unnoticed by other political factions — and even by the shrewder elements of the Brotherhood, who want to avoid pitting themselves against the society in its first free elections. An article in the leading Egyptian paper Al-Ahram, translated below, reveals that all of the non-Islamist factions are organizing to counter the massive power wielded by the Brotherhood.
Ideally, the Brotherhood aims to control at least 1/3 of the seats in the parliament — giving it veto power to reject agenda items out of line with its ideological platform.
Islamist party Gamaa Islamiya, formerly a violent terrorist organization whose leaders contributed to the development of al-Qaeda, is throwing its weight behind the Brotherhood. Strategically, the Gamaa can present itself as an alternative to the Brotherhood in the next election; in the meantime, however, its votes go to strengthening religious legislation and drafting the new constitution.
The tension created by the decision shows rifts in the Muslim Brotherhood itself. Its youth wing is less doctrinal and more interested in free and fair elections. By placing high-level Brotherhood officials in the dominant positions of the new political party, and violating internal laws about participation of members in the group’s decision-making process, the Brotherhood is showing that it isn’t always so committed to playing by the rules.
Still other members are worried that the group may become too powerful too fast, leaving it unable to seize total power and poorly positioned to guide Egypt.
Although the group promises to give the party more freedom the next time around, to the average Egyptian, the Brotherhood’s moves are coming off more and more like a naked power grab. My translation follows on the next page.
[Note: the article uses the term “the organization” for the Muslim Brotherhood, and “the party” for the Freedom and Justice Party. To make it easier for the reader, references to “the organization” have been changed to “the Brotherhood.”]
Al-Ahram article: Declaration of Freedom and Justice Raises Severe Controversy
Cairo — Amani Majid; Alexandria — Fakri Abdul-Salaam and Tariq Ismael
The decisions of the Muslim Brotherhood Shura Council, which concluded on Saturday night, raised a great amount of controversy around the choosing of new leaders for the Freedom and Justice Party, from the leaders of the Brotherhood and over the rate of participation in the Elections of the Council of the People, as well as the relationship between the Brotherhood and its daughter party.
The decision was made to make Dr. Muhammad Mursi president for the new party, with Dr. Issam al-Eryan as deputy and Doctor Said Katanani as secretary general. Concerning this, there was condemnation by a number of the Muslim Brotherhood, not directed at the leadership itself, but at the means of election.
Dr. Muhammad Habib, the former deputy supreme guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, said, “I am sad and tortured that the right of the founders was confiscated, and especially that more than 59% of the founders are members of the Brotherhood organization, which to them was sold the call.”
And he added, “That which happened is a real confiscation of the free will of the founders, and deals with them like they are not adults.” And he stressed, “And I reject this view completely.”
And Habib said that the three leaders are members of the [Brotherhood’s] Guidance Office, which means that the leadership is imposing its control in a complete and continuous way on the party. And he added, “We hope to be a party of independent positions, fledgling experience, and seeing to the general view of public opinion.”
The question, Habib says, is what will the Brotherhood do if the government or even part of the government falls to [comes under the control of] the Freedom and Justice Party?
He criticized the Shura [council] of the Brotherhood’s decision in selecting 5% for nomination to the People’s Assembly, and he said that this decision affects the founding body of the party. He considered that ratio [to be large] and he expected that the party would win 52% of the parliamentary seats.
On the relationship between the Brotherhood and the party, Habib said the answer. For the future of the political party, he said about it that there are many currents in Egypt, including Islamic, liberal, national, and independent, and perhaps the Islamic trend can reap 53% of the seats. But the future of the party depends on the activity of the Brotherhood and their dealings with the different national forces.
As for the opinion of Dr. Omar Ali Hassan, an expert in Islamic movements, that the relationship of the Brotherhood to the party is unjustifiable, warning that it may constitute a heavy burden on the course of the Freedom and Justice Party in the future, he explained his words by saying that the Brotherhood is not defined so far as to its legal status, as it is not a popular assembly subject to oversight and accountability. This means opening the door of the floodgates to challenging to the party.
Like the Brotherhood, which is supportive of the party and has investments abroad, this presents the party also with the challenge to receive funds from abroad, and it can be charged with forming military organizations, where, perhaps, it faces a future of the same accusations as the events of the militias of al-Azhar.
Omar criticized the rise in ratios of the nomination from 3 to 4 to the final decision (from 54 to 5%), and said that the Brotherhood had already indicated its target of winning only 52% of the seats. However, this is [just] the proposed rate. He knows as well that the Brotherhood nominates members from subcontractors, who will raise this percentage.
Omar said, “I think that they want to receive 1/3 of the contested [seats] in the parliament, which gives them equal power with the other 2/3, [because the party] could stop any legislation which does not agree with its vision. And I believe that the best is dialogue with the national power, otherwise they aspire to capture opportunistic, political gains, but they will pay dearly for that.
The Brotherhood youth were divided into supporters and opponents about the new decisions. So Muhammad Mahir Akl and Muhammad Shams described the decisions [as a shock] that did not meet the expectations of the young people, especially the unresolved relationship between the MB and the party and the lack of security about this separation, as well as way of selecting party leaders. [They were] saying that the entire meeting was not positive.
Whereas, Shuruq al-Sawaaf of the Brotherhood said: “I support the decision.” And she added, what we would like is a clear relationship between the factions of the party and Brotherhood, and this turns out to be an indication that the party leadership will resign from the Guidance Office.
On the other hand, Dr. Gamal Heshmat, a member of the Shura Council of the Brotherhood, stressed that the new party leadership will continue only for the transitional period, a period of 4 years. He justified the selection of the leaders by the Shura, because the [members of the] established organization don’t know each other and for that reason the selection occurred through this means. He made it clear that this was first and last time that selection would be done through the Shura.
He added that there is a concern and apprehension from the Brotherhood about the Party of Freedom and Justice, a concern of fragmentation, since this is the first time for them. For this reason, the order is a transitional one only.
He added, “That we are human beings, we do ijtihad, but the people want the Brotherhood to be perfect. And that does not mean that our ijtihad is correct, we may make mistakes as we are making a party for the first time. We need leaders, and when it is independent and becomes mature and serious, the order will be changed.
Heshmat denied any relationship between the general leader of the Muslim Brotherhood and the party, and said, “This will be the format only on the biggest issues like elections for leadership or positions on international treaties, so as not produce any difference in the points of view of the two sides.”
He added, “That we raised the ceiling of participation now to 50%, we will not succeed in the elections, if this percentage would be correct (for participation, and it is not a contest also).”
He pointed out that political opinion will not miss the Brotherhood, but there will be a special separation in political work. The society demands going beyond the stages of controversy, and work in the field to prepare to smooth the transition to a new stage of political life in Egypt.
On the other hand, Dr. Saad al-Katanani, the general secretary of the Party of Freedom and Justice, plans to submit papers to the party next week, indicating that the number of deputies passed 7,600 and stressing they stopped receiving new deputies for the party.
In Alexandria, statements of the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, after the official announcement of the formation of the Party of Freedom and Justice, provoked concerns in political circles, specifically their participation in the upcoming elections at a rate of 50%, instead of 30%. The political forces, the coalitions of the revolution, and regulatory movements expressed that this is a position contrary and contradictory to what was previously expressed by the Muslim Brotherhood after the fall of the regime and the stepping down of the previous president.
Ismail Sulaiman, S=secretary of the Tagammo [Unionist] Party, confirmed that the positions of the Muslim Brotherhood are always contradictory and arouse suspicion, perplexity, and questioning. They are always talking about organizational participation for all the political and societal segments, but now it has become a conflict to express the participation of any segment at [50%] percent. It means the returning to the ideas of the defunct national party of control and [one-party] dominance over political life.
Mr. Bassiouni, President of the Center for the Initiative to Support the Values of Tolerance and Democracy and one of the prominent political activists in Alexandria, stressed that the statements of the Muslim Brotherhood about 50% political participation are only about establishing a religious state that is inconsistent with the ideals of the revolution and encouraging young people to participate in political life. It closes the path for young people to participate in political life, confining it to the cadres and members who have the capabilities and potential of a well-financed group, as opposed to the youth’s ideas and desire for contributing [that is, donating]. He added that the Brotherhood does not have a clear political vision on various issues, to present and discuss, but they are speaking in general principles, and unclear features and concepts. They are trying to exploit religion for the realization of political gain.
The coalition of youth of the revolution in Alexandria called for unity and working together to face the element of the Muslim Brotherhood, which wants to seize political and parliamentary life, taking advantage of its previous bases of popularity and political expertise in organizing, since the revolution has allowed them freedom of movement.
In a dramatic surprise, Dr Najeh Ibrahim, the top leader of Gamaa Islamiyah, said that the Muslim Brotherhood had committed an error in its announcement of upcoming political participation at 50%, which was close to taking over majority of the disbanded National Party’s previous parliamentary seats. However, maybe this participation may give them an upper hand in drafting the next [and permanent] constitution.
Dr. Najeh Ibrahim explained that he supports the idea of a civil state, which has an Arab and Islamic [civilizationist] context, believes in pluralism and takes democracy as the means to rule, supports social justice, equality, and freedom, as well as the freedom of belief and thought under the framework of fixed principles of society. He indicated that the Gamaa Islamiyah does not presently have the capabilities to make nominations for the upcoming elections, but it will support those others who advance the ideas of integrity, honor, and reliability for the benefit of the nation.