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.
The Muslim Brotherhood movement in Egypt is fighting for politicalÂ survival against the country's military rulers, resisting theÂ military's attempts to dissolve the parliament and urging voters toÂ back the Brotherhood's man for president on this second day of voting.
Relatively few Egyptians appear to be turning out to cast ballots asÂ the Brotherhoodâ€™s presidential candidate, Mohamed Morsi, faces formerÂ military man Ahmed Shafiq in a race that has high stakes for theÂ Brotherhood. If Mr. Shafiq wins, many in the once-banned organizationÂ fear a return to the days of ousted President Hosni Mubarak, whenÂ Brotherhood members were often arrested in their homes and detainedÂ for years.
The Brotherhoodâ€™s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) said in a statementÂ Saturday evening that the military has no right to order theÂ dissolution of parliament, and such a decision can only come through aÂ national referendum. The statement is a challenge to the SupremeÂ Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), the military generals rulingÂ Egypt, who said a Thursday court ruling means the parliament is null.Â The generals have sent soldiers to the assembly building who areÂ refusing to allow members of parliament to enter.
â€śThe constant threat to dissolve a parliament elected by the will ofÂ 30 million Egyptians confirms the Supreme Council of the Armed Forcesâ€™Â desire for a total power grab against the popular will,â€ť said the FJPÂ in a statement that called the ruling a â€śblatant attack on the greatÂ Egyptian revolution.â€ť
The SCAFâ€™s decision is based on a ruling by Egyptâ€™s SupremeÂ Constitutional Court Thursday that the law governing the parliamentaryÂ elections, which ended in January, erred when it allowed parties toÂ contest the seats reserved for independents.
Coming after months of threats of parliament dissolution by theÂ SCAF-appointed government to the Brotherhood,Â and from a court full of Mubarak-appointed justices, the ruling isÂ seen by many in Egypt as politicized. It has increased the power ofÂ the military, and hurt the Brotherhood, whose party held about halfÂ the seats in parliament and had used that position to secure a solidÂ hold on a committee elected to write Egyptâ€™s new constitution. TheÂ military has now indicated it will appoint a new constitutionalÂ committee.
With both of these footholds gone, the Brotherhood is hoping for anÂ electoral victory by Dr. Morsi.Â
Brotherhood could face court freeze
Underlining their sense of urgency is a court case scheduled forÂ Tuesday that seeks to freeze the Brotherhoodâ€™s activities, because itÂ is not registered under the law as nongovernmental organizations inÂ Egypt are required to do. Omar Ashour, a visiting fellow at theÂ Brookings Doha Center who is currently in Egypt, says BrotherhoodÂ members are feeling boxed in and are fearful of a future under Shafiq.
â€śBasically [SCAF] is taking away every single avenue for which theÂ Brotherhood can become influential in the political process,â€ť he says,
pointing to parliament, the coming court case, and a possibleÂ presidential election defeat. â€śThey are quite afraid.â€ť
The Brotherhood is an 84-year-old organization that seeks a greaterÂ role for Islam in society. For decades it has proselytized, operated social services,Â and encouraged its members to lead more godly lives.Â
The organization was banned under former president Gamal Abdel Nasser,Â who executed leaders and jailed many members. Under Mubarak, theÂ organization was banned but tolerated, and its members competed inÂ elections as independents though they were also sometimes rounded upÂ and imprisoned. The organization formed a political wing, the FJP,Â after Mubarak's ouster last year.
â€śI think the Brotherhood had to do this, because there are too manyÂ legal loopholes in the decisionâ€ť to dissolve the parliament, says Dr.Â Ashour. â€śThe judicial branch cannot dismantle the legislative branchÂ unless you have a referendum. This is what happened in the 1987Â parliament when it was dissolved [in 1990]. Even under theÂ dictatorship of Mubarak they still had a popular referendum to approveÂ it.â€ť
Brothers urge on voters
Even as the group challenges the parliament's dissolution, it is alsoÂ urging Egyptians to vote for Morsi. Yet many Egyptians appear to beÂ staying home. According to anecdotal reports from Cairo and aroundÂ Egypt, turnout was light Sunday, with few of the long lines that wereÂ seen during the first round of parliamentary and presidentialÂ elections. The low turnout was likely partly a reflection of the factÂ that many Egyptians like neither candidate; more than half theÂ electorate did not vote for either during the first round.
But according to some non-voters, it is also shows the lack of trustÂ in the system after Thursdayâ€™s court ruling. â€śWhy participate in aÂ system if the outcome is preordained?â€ť asked Salma Ahmed, who didnâ€™tÂ bother to cast a ballot because she thinks the military will ensure aÂ Shafiq victory, and she doesnâ€™t like Morsi. â€śI feel like I did underÂ Mubarakâ€™s time.â€ť
Young Brotherhood member Mostafa Saadawy cast his vote for MorsiÂ today, but said he fears fraud. â€śThey want to send a message toÂ Egyptians that there is no hope, it is not useful to vote, so stay atÂ home,â€ť he said of the court ruling. The message from the military, heÂ says, is this: â€śâ€™You will vote or not, but we will rule.â€™ This was theÂ same message of Mubarak.â€ť