Egypt cracks down on Muslim Brotherhood ahead of elections
Sunday's elections are shaping up to be less free than the last vote in 2005, when the Brotherhood tripled its seats in parliament. Today, 700 members are awaiting trial.
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This week Egypt rejected US and other international calls for foreign election observers, with an angry Prime Minister Ahmed Nazi saying Egypt is "capable of monitoring the upcoming polls to prove to the entire world we are able to manage completely impartial elections... it is as if the United States has turned into a caretaker [of] Egyptian society."Skip to next paragraph
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But it's unclear to what extent Egyptians themselves will be allowed to monitor the fairness of the process.
A consortium of Egyptian groups seeking to observe the election says as of this writing that none of the more than 2,000 applications for observers have been approved. Visitors to the High Elections Commission website who click on the link for the role of "Civil Society and Observers" are told the page is "under construction."
How the Brotherhood won 20 percent of seats in 2005
In 2005, the Brotherhood was allowed to campaign more freely than they had in decades and on the eve of the first round of that year's three-stage election, not a single Brotherhood political activist was in jail (though hundreds had been temporarily detained in the weeks preceding the poll). Their supporters swamped polling places from the capital city of Cairo to industrial Nile delta towns like Mahallah and the Mediterranean city of Alexandria.
The government – apparently alarmed by the movement's strong showing on the first day – took action to prevent a repeat in the final two rounds of voting. The government scrambled riot police and thugs with machetes and sticks to keep Brotherhood supporters away from polling stations in those rounds, bused in their own supporters by the thousands to vote in hotly contested areas, and stemmed the Brotherhood tide.
In the end, the movement still ended up with 20 percent of Parliament – tripling its tally in the 2000 election and notching its best-ever showing.
But in the years since they've made little impact on policy, and divisions have emerged from within the Brotherhood's ranks.
An internal Brotherhood leadership election earlier this year saw many of its so-called reformers – who wanted the movement to more directly engage in the political process, and to build links for secular political groups that favor democratic change – dumped in favor of more traditionalist leaders.
The new leaders want the movement to put more emphasis in its traditional area of Islamic outreach. Their argument is a gradualist one – that if they build a more Islamic public while avoiding damaging government crackdowns, then eventual victory will be assured.
Most other parties have also been targeted and a number of small secular parties are boycotting the election outright. One key exception to all this appears to be the Wafd Party, a secular group that is largely in sync with the NDP's big business views and discomfort with the religious and leftist political activism.
Political analysts in Cairo expect that group to supplant the Brotherhood as the largest opposition bloc in parliament in an election that could have lower turnout than the one in 2005, in which under 25 percent of eligible Egyptian voters went to the polls.