Egypt: Muslim Brotherhood right to enter election
|Monday, October 11,2010 16:22|
Over the past few weeks there has been much discussion over whether Egypt’s most powerful opposition group the Muslim Brotherhood would contest November’s Parliamentary election. Now that the wait is finally over and the Brotherhood officially in, many are questioning the Islamic group’s commitment to the opposition. A number of articles have said it is a blow to Mohamed ElBaradei – seen by some as the Egyptian political savior – and his calls for boycott.
While it makes logical sense for the established and legal opposition parties to boycott a vote that is likely to be fraught with fraud and irregularities, the Brotherhood simply cannot afford to sit back and not have a voice in Parliament. Their only hope for fielding a candidate in next year’s presidential campaign depends largely on how they perform in next month’s parliamentary vote.
If the group is somehow able to achieve even greater success than the 88 seats it won in 2005, the Brotherhood could squeak in a candidate through a parliamentary vote to allow an independent to run. It makes sense for them to go full steam to secure spots in the People’s Assembly.
At the same time, the boycott is more counterproductive than it is useful. By omitting themselves from the political debate for the next month save for statements on how horrible and repressive the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) is, the opposition has essentially withdrawn from any possible change that could have been achieved from entering the Parliamentary campaign.
As Andrew Albertson of the Project on Middle East Democracy told me recently in Cairo, “the election [Parliament] will be a litmus test for Egypt,” it does not make for good politics to remove oneself from affecting change from within the system.
ElBaradei and other opposition leaders such as Ayman Nour of the al-Ghad Party are right that the election will not be fair and is likely to be rigged in favor of NDP candidates, by not participating they are guaranteeing nothing will be changed.
Egypt is in the midst of a political quandry, with the opposition unsure of how to contest the government’s power and their continued withdrawal will only strengthen the government. Without a fight, nothing can be achieved.
Assistant US Secretary of State Michael Posner was in Cairo last week and he spoke of the need for transparency and a free election. He is right, Egypt needs these things, but they also need competition. What is the point of calling for a free election when there is the plausible deniability on the government’s part. They can easily tell foreign leaders “we held a free and open election, but nobody ran against us.”
Not any longer and that is what makes the Brotherhood’s move to run a good thing. By entering the race, the government cannot simply sit back and allow the votes to be cast. Most observers and NDP officials know the MB will receive votes in the upcoming election, so if the opposition were to change its tone and enter the race, we could see a hotly contested election that might give credence to their demands for greater transparency and democracy.
By sitting this one out, the opposition plays into the hands of the government. No competition means no worries. At least the Brotherhood has the government squirming, something the opposition groups, including Nour and ElBaradei have been unable to do in recent months.
Will the election be free and fair? Probably not. But will the international community be able to give props to Egypt for its democratic efforts? Doubtful. Especially if the election sees more reports of voter intimidation and irregularities. The Brotherhood has done more by entering the race than by sitting back and complaining.