First round of the elections is over and almost everyone around me is paranoid about the results. Personally, I was not surprised at the Muslim Brotherhood results. My biggest shock was the Salafi Noor party. I never expected they would garner a quarter of the vote. Below I have answered a few questions you might have in your mind.
Why did the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice party fare so well?
The MB is an 80 years old political organization. They were around since King Fouad! They are very experienced in Egyptian politics and entrenched in our society.
For so many years they have been the only viable alternative to the Mubarak regime simply because he wanted them to be so. Yes the Brotherhood were often oppressed by his security apparatus, but they were given enough room to survive and play that role. The MB were Mubarak’s scarecrow to whomever asked him for democracy. In 2005, when the Bush administration pressured Mubarak on democracy, he opened a door slit during the parliament election back then. 88 MB candidates won. The US got scared and backed off. So when you look at these elections and notice that the only alternative to the MB was a 4 months old hastily formed coalition of liberal parties, you only have Hosni Mubarak to blame.
The MB’s vast financial resources in another reason for their substantial victory. Their money comes from local donors and foreign countries that want a foot in Egypt, namely Qatar. For the past 15 years, this tiny rich country in the Gulf have always wanted to play a regional role that far exceeds its size. It has done so by supporting the strongest opposition to the Arab dictators: the Islamists. Qatari funded Al Jazeera Arabic is the mouthpiece of the Muslim Brotherhood. Sheikh Qaradawi, MB’s most prominent cleric, was hosted by Qatar’s Emir and owns a lavish palace in Doha. Ironically, his palace is not very far from the US airbase used to attack Iraq. But the airbase is for Qatar’s global role. After 911, Qatar gave Al Jazeera to Bin Laden and El Adid airbase to the US.
How did the Salafis do so well?
That was a shock. In fact, it really hurts to see these fascists benefit so much from a revolution they deemed as religiously forbidden.
Again, vast finances from the Gulf (according to government watchdog) and the huge network of mosques that fell under their control enabled the Salafis to challenge the MB’s monopoly over the Islamist agenda. We still have to see how the MB will react to the Salafis in parliament. Will they maintain their “moderate stand” they’re so keen to reflect on Egypt’s middle class and the outside world, or will the number of Salafi seats challenge them into adopting a more radical agenda.
What should happen now?
The victory of the Islamists is not the end of the world. In fact, I believe we have to pass through a period of MB domination till we, liberals and leftists, get our act together. Personally, I am not afraid of another Iran. They might change a few laws that will make us a bit uncomfortable as I’ve pointed out in this previous post, but a religious state in Egypt a la Iran and Saudi is not possible. After Jan 25, Egypt will not be ruled by another dictator, being it military or religious. The third force in the Egyptian equation will always be there: Tahrir square.
Now, what should happen? There are two levels.
Political level: Liberal and leftist parties should unite as much as possible. I am dreaming of ONE liberal Egyptian oriented party and ONE leftist party. The current civilian force is so fragmented and full of its own ego. They should swollow their ego and leave the comfort of TV talk shows and start reaching out to the masses. And by masses I mean the folks in Delta and Upper Egypt.
We have neglected the poor for so long. We left them to rot in their own slums. We left them to the mercy of successive government we knew very well were ineffective. Now the poor of Egypt have spoken and they have given their voices to the only people whom they found caring about their needs.
I truly believe a big reason behind MB’s sole dominion over the elections is the lack of a viable convincing alternative to the majority of Egyptians.
Religious Level: After the results I tweeted this: the MB victory shows that we have a lot of work to do. The Salafis victory shows that Al Azhar has a lot of work to do.
Radicals have hijacked Islam for the past 40 years. There are two ways to turn back the tide. First, an independent credible and well financed Al Azhar that should stand up and reclaim its position as the world’s top authority on Sunni Islam. Second, Americans stop driving SUVs.