Early results show Islamists dominating Egypt's next parliament

Sherif Tarek , Wednesday 30 Nov 2011

After the promise of a new dawn rising in Egypt, the projected success of Islamists in parliamentary elections has given many pause for thought on how this will reflect on the country

Sobhi Saleh
Sobhi Saleh, right, a senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood and candidate for parliament, speaks to voters at a polling station on the first day of parliamentary elections in Alexandria. He was later ejected for his conduct at the station (Photo: AP)

The preliminary results from the first round of Egypt’s parliamentary have realised the rife speculation that political parties from the Islamist current would comprise the vast majority of the next parliament.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), has demonstrated supremacy with the voters in the nine governorates that voted this week. They were followed by the Salafist Al-Nour Party, which is running, under the Islamist Alliance for Egypt bloc, on the same electoral lists as Al-Asalaa Party and Al-Jamaa Al-Islamiyya’s the Building and Development Party. Meanwhile, the liberal Egyptian Bloc seems to be trailing in third.

The Islamists’ initial electoral success has been achieved in cities where liberal political forces have their highest density, such as Cairo and Alexandria. This indicates the coming rounds of the elections could well see the Islamists take a stranglehold on parliament.

“I expect Islamists to win at least 65 per cent of seats in the first round,” said Diaa Rashwan, an expert on Islamic movements and head of the Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies.

Such expectations have lead to conjectures – and fears – over how an Islamist-dominated parliament could shape Egypt.

For most Copts, leftists and secularists, a projected Islamist-controlled People’s Assembly (the lower house of Egypt’s Parliament) poses a nightmare wherein parliamentarians would seek to implement an unbearably extreme interpretation of Sharia Law, starkly in opposition to their own beliefs, views and values.

Others fear Islamists would damage the economy, pointing to the likely effect on tourism any imposed dress and ethical code would have. Drastic banking reforms and a sharp reappraisal of the entertainment industry are also expected.

These fears extend abroad, with other countries apprehensive over what foreign policy Egypt would adopt should Islamists take power.

“Egypt will get into its darkest era ever if the Brotherhood reached the parliament and then assumed power, it will be the worst epoch ever … I think the country will suffer as long as the Brotherhood represents the majority,” author Gamal El-Gitani stated in the wake of the announcement of the preliminary results of the parliamentary elections.

The Islamists, on the other hand, have been trying to reassure all the political forces that they will not harm the country’s interests or curtail what freedoms Egyptians enjoy.

Essam Darbala, Al-Jamaa's Shura Council chairman, told Ahram Online: “Some people are promoting the idea that Islamists would diminish women’s rights and freedom of speech, damage the country’s relationship with Israel and also prevent non-Islamic forces from being politically involved. That’s among other allegations which are baseless.

“Those who say so are either have no idea what Islamists are like or deliberately trying to defame them. In all cases, they didn’t clearly affect us in the elections as most constituents gave us their votes. Most Egyptians know what the Islamic current is all about nowadays but some believe nothing has changed in the Islamic current over the past 60 years.”  

Al-Jamaa waged a campaign of terror against the state in the eighties and nineties, culminating at the start with the 1981 assassination of President Anwar Al-Sadat during the ceremony to commemorate the 1973 victory over Israel in the October War.

A security clampdown on the group has meant their presence has been largely negligible for over a decade before “the popular uprising paved the way for a real democratic environment.” This violent history has contributed in drawing the blemished image of Islamists for many.

“Leftists and secularists refuse to believe that the Islamic current has changed,” Darbala explained. “Beforehand we were persecuted and were standing in a narrow corner defending ourselves, but now it’s different. We are seeking politics after many dark years, trying to pursue our objective through peaceful avenues.”

As for fears that Islamists will seek to force their religious views on society at large, Darbala assures Al-Jamaa Al-Islamiyya do not discriminate.

“When we say the country’s identity has to be Islamic, that doesn’t mean we rule out other identities. No one from the Islamic current has showed support for an Islamic presidential candidate, but only for the constitutional legitimacy.

“We deplore all kinds of discrimination, sex and religious alike. We also believe in partisan life and political diversity. Yes, we are against principles that go against the Islamic doctrine but our interpretation of Sharia is quite moderate.”

Darbala sees the discrepancy between his words of reassurance and the public image of Islamists beyond their supporters, as easily solved.

“I think we need to communicate more in order to overcome these fears. We also have some of our own, for instance we hear that some Copts want to divide the country into two, others seek foreign protection. So I would say communication is the solution to wipe out all misperceptions.”

As for the apparent success of Islamists in the elections so far, Darbala says that “people have tried socialism under [Gamal] Abdel Nasser, [capitalism] under Anwar El-Sadat and capitalism mingled with secularism under [Hosni] Mubarak. The three systems were proven to be failures so people, apparently, want to see what the Islamists have.”  

For his part, Mohamed Morsi, head of the FJP, tried to alleviate worries over possible persecution against Copts by saying: “Indeed the largest parliamentary faction will form the government but any constitution in Egypt must have Article 2, which stipulates Muslims are bound to be committed to Islam and Copts to Christianity.”

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