My constituency is the Heliopolis and Nasr City constituency. Today, if I were to vote, I would be faced with two options either the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) or the officially outlawed, yet quite active in the political and social scene, Muslim Brotherhood. This is the case in about one third of the voting choices that Egyptians are facing today in the re-run of the first phase of the parliamentary elections.
It is a choice between two types of misuse of powers. The NDP has been ruling Egypt since the mid-seventies. All its consecutive governments are tainted with the abuse of power and far-reaching corruption; not to mention ruling through oppression and confiscation of freedoms. I can go one naming examples and cases since President Sadat’s period up to the everyday corruption of the current government. However, this is not the matter at hand. My other choice, and the choice and overwhelming majority of Egyptians today, is choosing the use of faith to gain people’s allegiance; the abuse of religion. The Muslim Brotherhood is the most organized and most influential social force in the current political scene of Egypt. There is little that can be said in this debate. They have outperformed well established political parties such as El Wafd. Their ability to mobilize people is unchallenged by other parties even by the NDP. But why is that? Is it because they have a valid political platform? Is it because they have a committed and clear plan for economic reform? I argue not. Their website contains nothing except old-fashioned rhetoric and unrealistic goals to resurrect and establish the one “Muslim State” or the “United Muslim States.” Without going too much in the details of the philosophy of the Muslim Brotherhood, the end point is that it has found great acceptance among Egyptians; namely of course the Muslims. During the past decades, it penetrated the Egyptian society through providing several services that the government failed to provide; especially education and health services. It filled the political vacuum created by paralyzed opposition parties and the fierce hands of the regime that smashed any political force before it becomes a prospect. Among the masses of Christians in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood is associated with men with beards, veiled women, and violence against them. A typical Christian man or woman does not know the difference between the different versions of political Islam that appeared on the Egyptian scene during the past fifty years. They are all violent! Even though the official position of the Muslim Brotherhood is guaranteeing equal civil rights and liberties, and duties for all citizens; few Christians know that and even if they know they are skeptical about it. I am sure that the scene during the campaigning period was quite frightening to Christians. Slogans of “Islam is the solution” were all over the streets of the Cairo and the cities of the first phase of the elections. Candidates stated boldly in their flyers that they are the Muslim Brotherhood candidates. (In a country where supposedly the rule law has the final say, one would not publicly announce that he or she belongs to an “outlawed” group!!). Clearly, this year’s elections have witnessed a relatively accepting attitude from the regime towards the Muslim Brotherhood. Unlike the 2000 elections, Muslim Brotherhood key players were not arrested before the elections. On the contrary, just before the elections the group’s prominent spokesperson Essam El Erian was released after being detained since May.
How will most Egyptians choose if they were faced with such a choice? For Christians, the choice is easy and crystal clear: anything but a Muslim group. I received several emails calling for Christians to go to vote. Priests in churches have been calling for their congregation to cast their vote. Traditionally, the Egyptian Christian institution adopted the “play it safe” strategy: endorse the regime as long as they are giving us the bare minimum. Faced with a possibility of a substantial presence of the Muslim Brotherhood in the parliament, tactics had to be changed and people were urged to cast their vote. Unlike the Pope when he endorsed Mubarak during the presidential elections, priests did not bother to endorse any candidates knowing that their congregation will never choose a Muslim Brotherhood candidate. It is overwhelmingly saddening that religious power is used to direct people a) politically b) to vote for a corrupted government; a government that is oppressing “equally” all its citizens Muslims and Christians! At the bright side of things, Christians have finally come out of a long enduring period of passiveness and lack of political participation in their own country. I know people, who rarely read the newspapers, made sure that their daily schedule today includes casting their vote. As for Muslims, the choice depends on where they stand. Liberals and moderates are faced with a dilemma; they might be loosing either way. Yet, in most of the cases, the choice is not based on a political platform rather than what the candidate can do or has done for his or her constituency. For conservatives, the choice is clear.
In any case, what is really saddening and rather worrying is religious affiliations direct political choices. This is a direct and viable threat to Egypt’s future and stability. It is indeed alarming. The fact that we are faced with this “choice” is solely due to all these long years of oppression, lack of political and civil freedoms, and the one-party system. And what makes the picture even gloomier is that the regime reached a win-win deal with the Brotherhood. The regime wanted to ensure that the masses that follow the Muslim Brotherhood would not vote against Mubarak in the presidential elections. The Brotherhood wanted more slack in order to gain more seats in the parliament; maybe enough seats to guarantee nominating a presidential candidate in the 2011 elections. The outcome of the deal was clear: the Brotherhood number one man Mahdi Akif did not call for boycotting the presidential election or even voting against Mubarak. And on the return, the Muslim brotherhood gained unprecedented appearance in the elections campaign.
Well, I have bad news for the Brotherhood. Although they might win a substantial amount of seats this time, it might cost them dearly next time. My guess is that Mubarak tolerated the Brotherhood this time not just to win his sixth term but also to make a point to the US administration: it is not yet the time for a full fledged political reform. Such reform will bring “islamists” to power; something the US might not be ready to tolerate in the biggest country in the Middle East and in the most influential Arabic country. The other piece of bad news is that opposition parties will eventually wake up from their long sleep and work on increasing their presence in the Egyptian street. For that I am really hopeful. But till then, I decline to vote.