MB Boycott
MB Boycott
Monday, April 7,2008 19:55

I have often pointed to the Muslim Brotherhood"s willingness to participate in Egyptian elections under difficult, repressive conditions as evidence of their democratic commitments. Yesterday, Deputy Guide Mohammed Habib announced that the Brotherhood will boycott municipal elections. Evidence of democratic backsliding? Hardly. More of a glaring condemnation of Egypt"s ruling NDP. The Egyptian authorities arrested many hundreds of the Muslim Brotherhood"s members for electioneering, interfered extensively with its attempts to campaign, and ultimately disqualified nearly all of its candidates (5734 out of 5754 candidates, while simply ignoring court rulings demanding the reinstatement of many of them). When Iran disqualifies opposition candidates like this, the international community appropriately criticizes the resulting elections as farcical. Egypt has done exactly the same thing and should be similarly ridiculed and criticized. It"s kind of funny that after all the exaggerated warnings that the MB wanted to create an "Iranian-style Egyptian state", it"s the NDP that is actually doing so.

The Arabist, an authoritative now-pseudonymous blogger based in Egypt (right?), writes:

In conversations with MB leaders in the last two months, I was told that there was an internal debate as to whether participation was worth the cost. The consensus agreement was that they did not want to be seen as abandoning political work, and that the short-term price of arrests was worth it for the long-term gain of legitimacy they would get from having tried to participate and getting every trick in the book thrown at them by the NDP. Out of 52,000 seats up for grabs, the MB only wanted to contest some 10,000, managed to get nearly 6,000 candidates, only about 500 of which managed to get their papers in. Of these, only 20 made it on the final electoral list. I think they’ve proven that they tried their best, and boycotting the elections sends a clear message that the elections are a farce. Combined with the low participation of the legal opposition and dissent within the NDP, and the general political climate following yesterday’s events, expect record low turnouts tomorrow.

This is the most frustrating thing of all. There is a sharp internal debate in the Muslim Brotherhood about democratic participation, and I believe that US policy at least should be aimed at strengthening the hand of its pro-democracy voices and more broadly the more moderate voices. Everything the Egyptian government does seems to be aimed at weakening the position of the MB moderates and discouraging their democratic participation. Last month, the White House finally summoned up the courage to meekly protest against the Egyptian government"s blatant electoral interventions... with no discernible effect. New Ambassador Margaret Scobey is going to have her work cut out for her...