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Militant Islam Monitor > Articles > Stability not Democracy: Muslim Brotherhood gains power in Egypt by exploiting electoral process

Stability not Democracy: Muslim Brotherhood gains power in Egypt by exploiting electoral process

US push for democratisation results in freeing of Islamists and Muslim Brotherhood gaining 47 seats
November 24, 2005

MIM: As Dr.Daniel Pipes pointed out in his blog entry :"Is the Bush administration re considering the rush to democratisation?" a too quick removal of tyranny unleases Islamists idealouges and opens the way to power".

His prediction has born born out by recent political developments in the Middle East, where the terrorist group Hizballah made a strong showing in elections in Lebanon, and Hamas's announcement that they would run in the PA 'elections' opened the real possibility that they would become the elected dominant force in that terrorist enclave which is a non existent country. The poor showing of US backed candidate Ilyad Allawi in Iraq, who lost to Islamist Jaffer, was also a blow to the notion that democracy would be embraced by liberated people.

Islamist gains in Egypt give Washington pause
Tue Nov 22, 2005 8:47 AM ET


By Jonathan Wright

CAIRO (Reuters) - The United States inadvertently helped Egypt's Islamists make strong electoral gains this month and is now rethinking the wisdom of pressing rapid democratic change in a major Arab country, analysts said on Tuesday.

The Muslim Brotherhood, making the most of the more open atmosphere which Washington has promoted, has already tripled its strength in parliament to 47 of the 444 elected seats, with more than half the seats yet to be decided.

The secular opposition parties which Washington favored have performed poorly, picking up only a handful of seats -- way short of the five percent threshold they would need if they want to field a candidate in presidential elections.

Although the Brotherhood has no chance of breaking the government's control over parliament, this outcome has given the Bush administration pause and strengthened the hand of those in Washington who value stability over democracy, the analysts say.

"The Americans have reassessed the situation and come to the conclusion that fast and vigorous democratization in Egypt is impossible and will work in an undesirable way," said Mohamed el-Sayed Said, a political analyst at a Cairo think-tank.

The Egyptian vote so far has bolstered the view that free and fair elections could enable Islamist parties hostile to U.S. policies to gain strength in several Middle Eastern countries.

Washington insiders are now advising the U.S. State Department not to abandon existing Arab governments without clear alternatives and instead to work on long-term structural changes and ways to influence Arab public opinion, Said said.

"I think they managed to change the policy when it comes to Egypt," said Said, deputy director of the government-funded al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies.

The change in tone is evident in public statements from the White House and U.S. State Department, which have largely fallen silent on Egypt after frequent comments on the presidential elections in September, won by President Hosni Mubarak.

In a rare comment on Monday, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack criticized election violence but said he had reason to believe the Egyptian government wanted voting to be peaceful.

Independent monitors say most of the violence has been by ruling party supporters, with the police standing aside.


Josh Stacher, an independent analyst who followed Sunday's voting in the Nile Delta, said much of the Bush administration's talk about Middle East democracy was for U.S. home consumption.

The U.S. campaign began after early justifications for invading Iraq began to lose credibility.

"The game has not switched that much. The United States now supports a form of authoritarianism less driven by state violence. As long as the state is not seen as clashing with citizens, they are unwilling to go out on a limb," he added.

"The reality of the situation suggests the United States is involved in 'authoritarian adaptation' -- changing the appearance but not the substance," he said.

The United States supports the Egyptian government's refusal to recognize the Muslim Brotherhood as a party, although it is clearly the strongest opposition force in the country.

And, like the Egyptian government media, U.S. officials rarely mention the Islamist group by name.

But the group has benefited from U.S. calls for change, which have helped to open up debate in Egypt and emboldened civil society groups to monitor elections much more closely.

Saadeddin Ibrahim, a sociologist and democracy activist, said U.S. pressure for the release of political prisoners had also ended up helping the Brotherhood. Some of those set free were important in the Brotherhood's campaign, he said.

Ibrahim, who is well-connected in Washington, said U.S. officials were "very disappointed" at the poor electoral showing of the secular Ghad and Wafd parties. Those parties are the most sympathetic to liberal democracy but lack the mobilizing power and resources of Mubarak's ruling party or the Brotherhood.

Ghad Party leader Ayman Nour, who came second to Mubarak in the presidential elections, lost his seat in parliament and his followers have not yet won a single victory.

"The Americans have had to reassess their bets on these forces, which obviously failed to materialize," said Said.


MIM: Dr. Daniel Pipes warned about a cautious approach to democratisation in the Middle East arguing that until the citizens were educated about the value of democracy the idealouges would prevail.

A Neo conservative's caution


I have never quite figured out what views define a neo-conservative, and whether I am one or not, but others long ago decided this matter for me. Journalists use "neo-conservative" to describe me, editors include my writings in a neo-conservative anthology, critics plumb my views for insight into neo-conservative thinking, and event hosts invite me to represent the neo-conservative viewpoint.

As some of my oldest friends and closest allies are called neo-conservative, I happily accept this appellation. Indeed, it has a certain cachet, given that no more than 50 Americans have been called neoconservative, yet we allegedly drive American foreign policy.

I mention all this because neoconservative policies in the Middle East have been looking pretty good the past two months, as Max Boot amplifies in a column titled "Neocons May Get the Last Laugh":

  • On January 9, Palestinian Arab voters trooped to the polls and chose Mahmoud Abbas, who proclaims his intent to end the armed struggle against Israel.
  • On January 30, 8 million Iraqi voters braved bombs and bullets to cast their ballots.
  • On February 10, Saudi Arabia held its first-ever municipal elections, a crack in the royal family's absolute authority.
  • On February 26, Egypt's president Husni Mubarak suddenly announced that the forthcoming presidential election will involve candidates other than himself.
  • On February 28, tens of thousands of demonstrators in Beirut forced the resignation of the pro-Syrian government of Prime Minister Omar Karami.
  • If the Lebanese succeed in winning their independence, it could spell the end of Bashar Assad and the Baathist regime in Damascus.

These developments find some neo-conservatives in a state of near-euphoria. Rich Lowry of the National Review calls them "a marvelous thing." Charles Krauthammer of the Washington Post writes that "We are at the dawn of a glorious, delicate, revolutionary moment in the Middle East."

I too welcome these developments, but more warily. Having been trained in Middle Eastern history makes me perhaps more aware of what can go wrong:

  • Yes, Mahmoud Abbas wishes to end the armed struggle against Israel but his call for a greater jihad against the "Zionist enemy" points to his intending another form of war to destroy Israel.
  • The Iraqi elections are bringing Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a pro-Iranian Islamist, to power.
  • Likewise, the Saudi elections proved a boon for the Islamist candidates.
  • Mubarak's promise is purely cosmetic; but should real presidential elections one day come to Egypt, Islamists will probably prevail there too.
  • Removing Syrian control in Lebanon could well lead to Hezbollah, a terrorist group, becoming the dominant power there.
  • Eliminating the hideous Assad dynasty could well bring in its wake an Islamist government in Damascus.

Note a pattern? Other than the sui generis Palestinian case, one main danger threatens to undo the good news: that a too-quick removal of tyranny unleashes Islamist ideologues and opens their way to power. Sadly, Islamists uniquely have what it takes to win elections: the talent to develop a compelling ideology, the energy to found parties, the devotion to win supporters, the money to spend on electoral campaigns, the honesty to appeal to voters, and the will to intimidate rivals.

This drive to power is nothing new. In 1979, Islamists exploited the shah's fall to take power in Iran. In 1992, they were on their way to win elections in Algeria. In 2002, they democratically took over in Turkey and Bangladesh. Removing Saddam Hussein, Husni Mubarak, Bashar Assad, and the Saudi princes is easier than convincing Middle Eastern Muslim peoples not to replace them with virulent Islamist ideologues.

The Middle East today is not alone in its attraction to a totalitarian movement think Germany in 1933 or Chile in 1970 but it is unique in the extent and persistence of this allure. I worry that my fellow neo-conservatives are insufficiently focused on its implications.

President Bush deserves high praise for his steadfast vision of a free Middle East; but his administration should proceed slowly and very carefully about transferring power from autocrats to democrats. The Middle East's totalitarian temptation, with its deep questions of history and identity, needs first to be confronted and managed. To skip these steps could leave the region even worse off than during the era of unelected tyrants.


Polls apart

Election results are revealing Egypt's growing divide between religion and politics, writes Rory McCarthy

Monday November 28, 2005

Mohammed Mahdi Akef, the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt
Mohammed Mahdi Akef, the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Photograph: Amr Nabil/AP


Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood continues to surprise with its strong performance at the polls in the current month-long parliamentary elections. The outlawed Islamist movement has secured at least 76 seats and stands to win still more in the next round of voting on Thursday.

In the end it is likely to hold at least a fifth of the 454-seat parliament. The rest of the secular opposition parties are set to win only a few dozen seats between them, leaving the Muslim Brotherhood by far the biggest opposition group

President Hosni Mubarak's ruling National Democratic party will still emerge to dominate the new parliament - after all, the Brotherhood is only contesting around a third of the seats on offer. It is indicative of the group's ambiguous relationship with the government: their movement is banned but its candidates may run as independents; they criticise Mr Mubarak yet are wary of mounting too much of a challenge against him.

The Egyptian government is clearly uncomfortable with the results so far. Another 150 members of the Brotherhood were arrested today and officials from the movement say more than 700 of their members are now in jail. There has been violence at the polls and widespread evidence of vote rigging. Government judges stopped voting in three constituencies on Saturday because of serious irregularities.

Leaders from the Brotherhood have been trying to sound moderate in recent days. Mohammed Mahdi Akef, the movement's Supreme Guide and a long-time political prisoner, said at the weekend that his group would not alter Egypt's policy towards Israel or try to revise its peace treaty. "We do not recognise Israel, but we will not fight it. We will respect all the treaties," he told the Associated Press.

He said his group's performance reflected a growing frustration among ordinary Egyptians with their government.

"People are outraged by the performance of this government and its ruling party. Both have fed people nothing but bitterness," he said. "These great people have no confidence in this government. They have shown that they are against tyranny and with us."

However it is not clear what a Muslim Brotherhood political programme would look like. Its leaders talk of the need for democratic reforms, particularly constitutional changes to limit the president to just two terms in power (Mr Mubarak has ruled for 24 years) and to lift the restrictions on the formation of new political parties. Many others in Egypt's opposition would endorse those calls.

But the group also promotes a conservative agenda: the veil for women, rule by Islamic law and a crackdown on perceived immoralities. In a country where there are already serious divides between different religious communities, and where there are many who are unhappy at the idea of combining religion and politics, that is likely to prove difficult.

The result of these elections has been to create a polarisation in Egyptian politics, between a powerful religious movement demanding change on the one hand and an ageing government party that is reluctant to reform. The National Democratic party could find itself locked in heated debates in parliament next year on the question of political, social and economic reform in Egypt.

And then there is the question of Egypt's next leader. Mr Mubarak, now 77, is thought to want to pass on power to his son, Gamal, who leads a group within the ruling party that says it is more broadminded and pro-western. The Muslim Brotherhood is likely to demand that the new president is properly elected, not simply appointed by way of family inheritance, and that is likely to present further headaches for the regime.

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