The Muslim Brotherhood Mobilizes

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.”]