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Egypt elections: Muslim Brotherhood in a fight for survival

The Muslim Brotherhood has a lot to lose if the group's candidate fails to win Egypt's presidential elections runoff. Turnout appears light on the second day of voting.

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Underlining their sense of urgency is a court case scheduled for Tuesday that seeks to freeze the Brotherhood’s activities, because it is not registered under the law as nongovernmental organizations in Egypt are required to do. Omar Ashour, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Center who is currently in Egypt, says Brotherhood members are feeling boxed in and are fearful of a future under Shafiq.

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“Basically [SCAF] is taking away every single avenue for which the Brotherhood can become influential in the political process,” he says,
pointing to parliament, the coming court case, and a possible presidential election defeat. “They are quite afraid.”

The Brotherhood is an 84-year-old organization that seeks a greater role for Islam in society. For decades it has proselytized, operated social services, and encouraged its members to lead more godly lives. 

The organization was banned under former president Gamal Abdel Nasser, who executed leaders and jailed many members. Under Mubarak, the organization was banned but tolerated, and its members competed in elections as independents though they were also sometimes rounded up and imprisoned. The organization formed a political wing, the FJP, after Mubarak's ouster last year.

“I think the Brotherhood had to do this, because there are too many legal loopholes in the decision” to dissolve the parliament, says Dr. Ashour. “The judicial branch cannot dismantle the legislative branch unless you have a referendum. This is what happened in the 1987 parliament when it was dissolved [in 1990]. Even under the dictatorship of Mubarak they still had a popular referendum to approve it.”

Brothers urge on voters

Even as the group challenges the parliament's dissolution, it is also urging Egyptians to vote for Morsi. Yet many Egyptians appear to be staying home. According to anecdotal reports from Cairo and around Egypt, turnout was light Sunday, with few of the long lines that were seen during the first round of parliamentary and presidential elections. The low turnout was likely partly a reflection of the fact that many Egyptians like neither candidate; more than half the electorate did not vote for either during the first round.

But according to some non-voters, it is also shows the lack of trust in the system after Thursday’s court ruling. “Why participate in a system if the outcome is preordained?” asked Salma Ahmed, who didn’t bother to cast a ballot because she thinks the military will ensure a Shafiq victory, and she doesn’t like Morsi. “I feel like I did under Mubarak’s time.”

Young Brotherhood member Mostafa Saadawy cast his vote for Morsi today, but said he fears fraud. “They want to send a message to Egyptians that there is no hope, it is not useful to vote, so stay at home,” he said of the court ruling. The message from the military, he says, is this: “’You will vote or not, but we will rule.’ This was the same message of Mubarak.”

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