No gains for Egypt's Brotherhood
Amid claims of fraud, early results show that Egypt's ruling National Democratic Party is maintaining its grip.
Last Modified: 29 Nov 2010 12:02 GMT
Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, the largest opposition bloc in the outgoing parliament, said on Monday that it won no seats outright in the first round of a vote it said was rigged. It said a few candidates would stand in a run-off.
The Brotherhood is the main rival of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) in Sunday's elections, and its candidates run as independents to skirt a ban on religious parties.
The Brotherhood was contesting 30 per cent of the lower house seats after winning an unprecedented fifth of seats in 2005. The group said before the vote that it did not expect to repeat its 2005 performance, but its early estimate, provided before official results expected on Tuesday, suggests a crushing defeat.
But opposition groups have long said they expect President Hosni Mubarak’s NDP to tighten its grip on power and increase its already two-thirds majority, further marginalising competing voices.
The Brotherhood, which is officially banned but holds nearly 20 per cent of the outgoing parliament and ran 130 candidates this year as independents, staged demonstrations around the country overnight on Sunday to protest what they view as a corrupt government and electoral system.
Witnesses told Al Jazeera that in Mansoura, a city in the Nile Delta, 10 men brandishing knives jumped out of a microbus and attacked the crowd on Sunday.
No deaths or serious injuries were reported, but Brotherhood supporters, including one man who had been granted access to the station as a vote monitor, alleged that supporters of local NDP candidate Mohamed Basyuni then entered the station and, as the police stood by, forged 150 to 300 ballots.
The Brotherhood and other observers reported widespread fraud, and reports described a voting process that seemed to adhere to no standard set of rules and varied widely from district to district and polling place to polling place.
Al Jazeera’s Ayman Mohyeldin, reporting from Cairo, noted several kinds of rule-breaking around the country on Sunday: candidates illegally campaigned outside a polling station and in sites of religious worship; opposition supporters were inexplicably denied entry to polls; polling stations shut down early; voters were reportedly assigned pre-filled ballots obtained by party organisers in order to cast them and retrieve new, unmarked ballots to repeat the process.
Rules for monitoring the vote appeared to be malleable and subject to the discretion of local police commanders.
The Egyptian government said it had granted more than 6,000 permits to 76 civil society groups that applied for their members to observe the vote from inside polling stations, but Mubarak administration officials had also hotly rebuffed every attempt, including by the US, to push for international monitors.
The government also declined to ensure that judges would be available to monitor the process. Experts have said that judicial supervision of the last parliamentary vote, in 2005, was a major reason that the Muslim Brotherhood was able to win an unprecedented amount of seats in first part of a three-stage voting process.
This year, the government has made no accommodation to allow judges time or ability to visit multiple voting locations, and the power to question poll workers. Certifying results lies firmly in the hands of the High Elections Commission (HEC), made up of 11 commissioners.
On Sunday, the HEC ordered 16 polling stations across five governorates closed due to reports of violations and violence.
Analysts had said the government would seek to move its most vocal critic in parliament to the sidelines of official politics as it prepares for a presidential election in 2011.
By Monday morning, election officials in Mansoura had already released preliminary results delivering the district’s two seats to candidates from the NDP.
Though more than 5,000 candidates were running, including 380 women competing for 64 newly created female quota seats, turnout was reportedly very low in a country where 41 million are registered to vote.
Certified results for the country’s 254 districts will not be announced until Wednesday, however, individual districts are free to release their totals at any time.
A run off vote will be will be held on Dec. 5.
Additional reporting by Evan Hill
'Vote rigging' mars Egypt election
Low turnout, isolated protests, clashes and claims of vote rigging mark country's parliamentary election as polls close.
Last Modified: 29 Nov 2010 11:36 GMT
Slow voting, isolated protests, clashes and claims of vote rigging have marked Egypt's parliamentary election, the result of which is expected to strengthen the ruling National Democratic Party's (NDP) grip on power and further weaken the opposition.
Polls closed at 1900 (1700 GMT) on Sunday, with the NDP is expected to win a solid majority of the 508 elected seats and to make further gains when Hosni Mubarak, the president, fills the 10 remaining seats with his appointees.
The Muslim Brotherhood- the only serious organised opposition, is predicted to win far fewer seats than the fifth of parliament it secured in the last election in 2005.
The group, which registers its candidates as independents to avoid a ban on religious parties, has 130 members on ballots after more than a dozen were disqualified.
First results are expected on Monday.
Polling stations had opened at 0800 (0600 GMT) across the country's 254 districts, with around 41 million Egyptians eligible to vote.
Initial indications showed a low voter turnout and protests and skirmishes were widely reported.
Ayman Mohyeldin, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Cairo, said that Egypt's High Election Commission had ordered 16 polling stations across five governorates across the country closed due to reports of violations and violence.
In one of Cairo's key districts, the candidate from the Taggammu party told Al Jazeera that more than 2,800 voters were allowed to cast their ballot twice, in two separate polling stations, because they were voting in favour of the ruling NDP candidates.
Meanwhile, witnesses said armed men dispersed a crowd outside a polling station in the city of Mansoura, before a local NDP candidate falsified 150-300 ballots.
Evan Hill, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Mansoura, reported scenes of violence outside a polling station in the city.
Mohyeldin said there had been casualties across the country.
"In the city of Mena there are reports that voters in support of the Muslim Brotherhood were attacked by unidentified assailants," he said.
"We also heard a report of supporters of a National Democratic Party candidate and supporters of an independent candidate exchanging gunfire in an area south of Cairo."
Mohyeldin said there were also reports that several independent candidate representatives, affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, had been denied entry to polling stations.
"One of the people we've been speaking to, who is an officially licensed monitor to go in on behalf of one of the candidates, went to the school where he was supposed to be a monitor and was turned back," he said.
In Suez, witnesses said hundreds of supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and other opposition candidates demonstrated outside police headquarters to protest at not being allowed to enter the polling station.
Police said they used teargas to disperse clashes between supporters of rival candidates outside polling stations in Qena, 475km south of Cairo.
Witnesses said teargas was also used to clear supporters of independent candidates in Gharbiya, in the Nile Delta, after their delegates were prevented from entering polling centres to monitor voting.
More than 1,000 of its supporters have been arrested while campaigning or in clashes with police in past weeks.
Eleven of them were sentenced this week to two years in jail for handing out the group's leaflets and campaigning.
Egypt bans using religious slogans in campaigns.
Rights groups say Egyptian elections, which consistently reproduce NDP-dominated parliaments, are routinely spoiled by fraud at the ballot box, a claim denied by the government, which has pledged to hold a fair vote.
Hundreds held after Egypt rallies
Supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood were arrested after clashes broke out at political rallies across the country.
Last Modified: 22 Nov 2010 20:55 GMT
Hundreds of members and supporters of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood movement have been arrested after clashes with police during campaign marches ahead of parliamentary elections.
Al Jazeera's team in Alexandria, citing Muslim Brotherhood officials, said at least 250 people were arrested and dozens more wounded during gatherings in the coastal city on Friday.
Streets were cordoned off and police reportedly used tear gas, knives and tasers on Muslim Brotherhood supporters who were seen throwing chairs and stones.
A Muslim Brotherhood member, running as an independent candidate in the district of Mena el-Bussal in the upcoming polls, led the march in Alexandria. Supporters were heard chanting: "No, no to election fraud. Yes, yes for change" and "God is great, Islam is the solution".
Hamdy Hassan, a spokesman for the group's parliamentary bloc, said that "certainly over 100 Brotherhood supporters were detained on Friday, and from different cities".
"What happened today are not just assaults, it was more like war. Police fired at the crowds... Some people were injured," Hassan added.
Arrests were also reported in Sharkiya, Beni Suef and Gharbiya governorates near the capital, Cairo.
Police have rounded up hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood members in recent weeks, with many still in custody, after the group announced plans to field candidates for the November 28 polls.
The group, which registered its candidates as independents to skirt a ban on religious parties, won one-fifth of the parliamentary seats in the last election in 2005.
Meanwhile, the Egyptian government has hit out at the United States for wanting to send foreign observers to monitor the elections.
Al Jazeera's Ayman Mohyeldin, reporting from Cairo, said the Egyptian foreign ministry strongly rebuked the US and other international calls to allow for observers and monitors in the upcoming elections at the end of the month.
"The ministry said any such call violates Egypt's sovereignty and meddles with its internal affairs.
"The Egyptian government is also under intense criticism both at home and abroad to allow for free and fair elections, with critics saying the political system is structured to ensure irregularities that favour the ruling majority."
The Egyptian government has denied the claims.
Egypt detains Christian protesters
Up to 156 Orthodox Coptic Christian protesters arrested following deadly clashes with police a day earlier.
Last Modified: 25 Nov 2010 16:20 GMT
Egyptian authorities have arrested 156 protesters for involvement in Wednesday's bloody clashes between Christians and police over the government's refusal to grant them a permit to build a church.
Those arrested have been accused of planning to kill policemen and the public prosecutor has ordered their detention for two weeks.
A judicial source said on Thursday that the protesters were also accused of illegally demonstrating to prevent the authorities from doing their work.
They will remain in custody for questioning for two weeks and will then either be formally charged or have their detention renewed if they are not released.
The Orthodox Coptic Christian protesters who clashed with the police had been protesting against an official decision to stop them from converting a community centre under construction in the Cairo suburb of Giza.
The riots erupted outside a municipal building, after authorities halted construction of the church, claiming the local Christian community had violated a building permit.
One demonstrator was killed in the violence and dozens were wounded.
Protesters threw stone and petrol bombs as scores of police surrounded the area and fired tear gas to break up the demonstration. A security source said at least 93 protesters were detained after a scuffle with police.
Christians make up about 10 per cent of Egypt's 79 million population and often complain about discrimination in the Muslim-majority country. Church permits are often a source of tension, as Christians say they are not given the same freedom to build places of worship as Muslims.
Non-Muslims are required to obtain a presidential decree to construct new religious buildings and must satisfy numerous conditions before permission is granted.
The Copts said they did have permission and were continuing to work without machinery, which was being blocked from entering the site, the reports said.
Christian and Muslim religious leaders emphasise sectarian harmony, but communal tensions can erupt into criminality and violence, usually sparked by land disputes or cross-faith relationships.
Eid Mubarak, Egypt!
As Gamal Mubarak seeks his father's throne, will hereditary succession again restrict democratisation in an Arab state?
Larbi Sadiki Last Modified: 25 Nov 2010 15:14 GMT
Since the advent of Islam nearly 1400 years ago, Eid is celebrated twice a year to mark the end of fasting and the day of sacrifice.
For thirty years, it has literally been 'Eid Mubarak' in Egypt, whether or not it will be 'Eid Mubarak' for another thirty years in Egypt is uncertain, as the next generation of the Mubarak clan seeks to step into the political arena. The phrase has the sound of a neat political slogan as Egypt’s political and civil societies are whipped up by the current moment of transition or more aptly in-transition.
'Eid Mubarak':'Return Mubarak'
'Eid Mubarak' in these days of the Eid of sacrifice somewhat carries a different meaning: literally,'return Mubarak'. Which Mubarak? Does it really matter?
Egypt's First Lady Suzanne Mubarak is a dynamic and successful champion of books and literacy, however it is Gamal Mubarak's quest for the Holy Grail: rule of Egypt, which garners the most attention.
Eid Mubarak qua Gamal Mubarak may prove challenging for Egypt, Egyptians, Gamal and the Mubaraks. Gamal lacks his father's legitimacy: a jet-fighter pilot who fought against Israel, commander-in-chief of Egypt's might armed forces, and, in Western estimation, a peace-maker and a respected global statesman.
Returning the 'Mubaraks' may not fully hinge on the 2010 and the 2011 elections. This is at the core of democratic anomaly in the Arab Middle East: Elections distribute power, making it diffuse not unitary. The Arab world may be one noted exception.
Gamal may think playing electoral charades is sufficient to dupe the local and international publics. External endorsement - even American and Israeli - is not enough for Gamal's political inexperience to be rewarded with perhaps one of the most powerful seats of power in the entire Middle East.
Only one gap term after President Mubarak's departure and popular endorsement via free and fair elections afterwards should land Gamal Egypt's highest office, however that might be an ideal that requires the clause 'if all else being equal...'
Gamal: The Making of a'de facto President'
Gamal - the investment banker - comes into politics with a Smithian mind-set for wealth-making. At least for now it is reflected in his own wealth and that made by the class of millionaires and billionaires that staff the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP). The NDP's economic and political predilections reflect his policy preferences.
His vision is not only for a 'new' Egypt, but also for what might be termed a 'New NDP'. As if Gamal were borrowing a leaf from Tony Blair's political posturing: 'New Labour'. Gamal views his role not only as the driver of the NDP's engine of reform and renewal, but also the master engineer of'qiyadat al-taghyeer' (leadership of change). That is the vanguard assigned to steer Egypt on to a path of recovery and prosperity.
The 'generation of the future', the youth organisation sponsored by Gamal, and 'al-‘uboor ila al-mustaqbal' (transition or crossing to the future) – the motto of the 2005 NDP conference and Mubarak's presidential campaign – captures Gamal's drive to innovate and modernize the NDP and the country. This is one reason the cliché phrase "what is the alternative?" seems to be a ready-made defence of Gamal's succession used by businessmen, members of the future youth movement and a segment of the country's young cadres and professionals.
Making the Presidency
Gamal wants the presidency. But does the presidency want Gamal?
Gamal may be focused on an 'uboor of his own to the presidency. However, whilst the term 'uboor evokes glorious moments in the 1973 October war when Egypt's victorious army crossed the massive fortifications of the Bar Lev Line in two hours. However, today, the state of Egypt under the NDP's leadership hardly inspires such confidence.
Rather, it evokes the 'abbarah, Egypt's Al-Salam Boccaccio ferry which sank in February 2006, killing hundreds of passengers. There is 'no crossing' without an'abbarah or a 'ferry'. Right now, the NDP with controversial figures tainted by allegations of corruption by the likes of Ahmad Izz or Abou Al-‘Aynayn, is more like a sinking'abbarah, incapable of'uboor.
Egyptians are dissatisfied with the state of corruption, nepotism, questionable deals involving sale of land and gas and oil reserves, underdevelopment, dependence, and exclusionary politics. The corruption extends now to the internecine fighting amongst NDP candidates standing against each other in many seats around the country. The 'fittest' who survive the fierce contest for power must rank high up on Gamal's ladder of loyalty.
Gamal's Succession: Done Deal?
The 2005 constitutional amendments are in place making it difficult for anyone to stand for - not Muhammad ElBaradei the former International Atomic Agency's supremo, Amr Moussa the Arab League's chief, Al-Ghad's leader, Ayman Nour, and not any Muslim Brotherhood (MB) figure - much less contest the 2011 presidential elections. The judiciary has retired from supervision of elections. ElBaradei has more or less been silenced by a sustained campaign of character assassination.
Many of the free forums and media outlets have recently been gagged through closure. It is fallacious to think exclusion targets only Islamists: all 'ists' who are not affiliated to NDP have been confined to the margins of politics – secularists, feminists, unionists, and human rights activists, and independent journalists, not forgetting the liberals and the growing number of bloggers.
Fearful of any type of confrontation with the state, the embattled Muslim Brotherhood (MB) is in a state of confusion: both with and against the 2010 parliamentary elections. The MB's Shura Council voted in favour of participation in the polls only by a slight margin, not by any means a majoritarian or consensual decision.
Many prospective candidates, largely from the MB but also from other political parties, have been barred from registering in time for their candidacy to be officiated. A divided MB will contest the 2010 elections with up to 30 candidates less than in 2005, even if with a higher number of female candidates.
Plus, the trumpet-blowers from Al-Hayat to the satellite TV channel, Al-Arabiyyah, have done their shares of Gamal-selling and packaging. Posters of Gamal have covered the walls for some time to test the public's political pulse.
All of this downsizing and overstating of Egypt's civil society and opposition is not aimless. The aim: the 2010 elections are about 'crossing' Gamal to the 2011 presidential polls. The results matter to Gamal; they are likely to deliver a largely univocal monochromatic newly enlarged 508-seat parliament with reduced MB deputies, and dissident MPs.
The rest will be autocratic history, barring one detail, the unknown factor in Egypt's politics: the armed forces. Whether they can be confined to the barracks and out of politics is what will make a difference to Gamal's presidency in the long run, even when Gamal is eventually confirmed in his father's succession. The armed forces are said to be unhappy and the top brass should not entirely be written off as being the regime lackeys or neutral towards hereditary succession.
Elections: No Democratic 'Eid'
Like 'Eid', elections have become a recurring routine in Egypt. Neither the 2010 nor the 2011 elections will prove to be a democratic 'Eid'. Festivities will be limited to those who seem to be setting the stage for 'rigging' every step of the political process. They are effectively defacing Egypt's republicanism and purging it of republicans, actually and potentially.
The 2010 and 2011 elections combined will be Egypt's most definitive political events since the 1952 Free Officers Coup. They are certain to be President Mubarak's last set of elections at the helm. They will be almost entirely rigged. They have been designed legally, administratively and politically to be amongst the most exclusionary. The partial boycott by ElBaradei, amongst others, is meant to delegitimize them. The elections will be the least contested, the results the most contested. They will be bloodied too.
Ironically, for purposes of damage control Gamal may be left with one bitter pill to swallow - letting the MB win 50 to 70 seats - or risk turning his personal political management and the 2010 electoral charades into a laughing stock, with onlookers from all parts closely watching his every move.
The MB may find itself awkwardly between a rock and a hard place.
Thus it will be faced between the scenario of effectively being'given' seats in 'Gamal's parliament', almost a 'deal' with Gamal and unwittingly co-option into the succession bandwagon, and the scenario of persisting with the ideal of participation and discrediting the new leadership's political judgment and acumen in the event of massive loss of seats in the new parliament. This could further haemorrhage the MB, thrusting it in the throes of new factionalism and internal fighting.
Today the Mubaraks' Egypt looks a skeleton of its old dynamic self. It is inward-looking, security-obsessed, role-less, confused, stagnant, ailing and ordinary. In 2010 Egypt is evocative of King Faruk's time in the early 1950s.
But Egypt matters. It matters to the Arab world. It matters to the Middle East. It matters to the world. So much yearning remains for the majesty that is Egypt, Umm al-Dunya,'the mother of the world'. Egypt's genius that once contributed a great deal to Arab, Islamic and world civilization is today admired at a distance and as matter of antiquity. A return – literally 'Eid' – of that genius could fire democratic renewal and cultural renaissance, however this is highly doubtful under a return to dynastic rule.
Dr Larbi Sadiki is a Senior Lecturer in Middle East Politics at the University of Exeter, and author of Arab Democratisation: Elections without Democracy (Oxford University Press, 2009) and The Search for Arab Democracy: Discourses and Counter-Discourses (Columbia University Press, 2004), forthcoming Hamas and the Political Process (2011).
Cairo police clash with Christians
Protester killed as Egyptian security forces fight with Copts demonstrating over the construction of a new church.
A demonstrator has been killed and several others injured as hundreds of Orthodox Coptic Christian protesters clashed with Egyptian police after permission for the building of a new church was refused.
Al Jazeera has learned that the Christian protester was killed after being shot by the security forces.
The riots erupted on Wednesday outside a municipal building in the Cairo suburb of Giza, after authorities halted construction of the church, claiming the local Christian community had violated a building permit.
Protersters threw stone and petrol bombs as scores of police surrounded the area and fired tear gas to break up the demonstration. A security source said at least 93 protesters were detained after a scuffle with police.
Around 20 police were injured in the clashes, including Giza's deputy security chief, as well as around 15 demonstrators.
Some of the protesters were led away with blood on their faces, after police hurled rocks at them from a bridge, a security official told the AFP news agency.
"Look, this is our government throwing rocks at us. All this because of a church," Samuel Ibrahim, on of the Coptic protesters, told the Reuters news agency.
Christians make up about 10 per cent of Egypt's 79 million population and often complain about discrimination in the Muslim-majority country.
Church permits are often a source of tension, as Christians say they are not given the same freedom to build places of worship as Muslims.
Non-Muslims are required to obtain a presidential decree to construct new religious buildings and must satisfy numerous conditions before permission is granted.
"People here feel very discriminated against. We can't build the church - why are they stopping us?" Samih Rashid, one of the Copts at the protest, said.
"Every street has a mosque, every church has a mosque next to it."
The protestors had blocked the road near the governor's office before the violence began.
"With our blood and with our souls, we will sacrifice our lives for you, oh cross," the crowd chanted.
Sayyed Abdel-Aziz, the governor of Giza, said the Christians appeared to have used a permit for a social centre to start work on the church.
"When we noticed indications that it was turning into a church, we told the church authorities to halt construction because a church would require a different licence," he told the state news agency.
"I am completely willing to help Christian leaders get the permit for a church, but they have to stop turning it into a church without authorisation."
The Copts said they did have permission and were continuing to work without machinery, which was being blocked from entering the site, the reports said.
Christian and Muslim religious leaders emphasise sectarian harmony, but communal tensions can erupt into criminality and violence, usually sparked by land disputes or cross-faith relationships.
The Muslim Brotherhood in flux
As Egypt's vote nears, the largest opposition group has ignored allies' boycott calls and will run candidates.
Egypt is on the cusp of dramatic change. For the first time in three decades, the country will soon have a new president, either through election in 2011 - which would be unprecedented in Egyptian history - or through the death of the ailing 82-year-old president Hosni Mubarak, an event that has the potential to set off the most significant civil unrest in the Middle East since the 1979 revolution in Iran.
The Egyptian government reportedly has a detailed plan to shut down the country if Mubarak dies, including such details as the "mournful Quranic verses" that will play on state television. The black-clothed and plain-clothed security forces, well experienced in using their batons to squelch dissent, would be mobilised en masse.
Still, it is impossible to predict what would happen if, despite Egyptians' reputation for political lethargy, opposition groups managed to put tens of thousands of followers into the streets of Cairo to protest what many expect will be an attempted handover of power to Mubarak's son, Gamal.
The key to any roadblock on the path to such "republarchy" lies with the Muslim Brotherhood, the world's most influential Islamist movement and far and away the largest and best-organised counterweight to Mubarak's National Democratic Party (NDP). Change in Egypt, for better or worse, does not materialise without the Brothers.
When former International Atomic Energy Agency chief and Nobel Prize winner Mohamed ElBaradei - the great hope of Egypt's secular leftists - returned home this year and launched a petition drive to demand the government lift its most onerous national security laws and reform electoral practices, his National Association for Change gathered 106,661 signatures in support by early September. The Muslim Brotherhood came up with more than 650,000.
The Brotherhood has 88 seats in parliament, compared to the 34 politicians representing all other non-NDP parties.
Protest groups such as the Egyptian Movement for Change, or Kifaya, which became a Western media darling during the 2005 election, rely on the Brotherhood to put thousands of supporters into the streets.
Yet with Egypt's November 28 parliamentary elections approaching, the Brotherhood finds itself in flux.
Long repressed by authorities and still technically outlawed, the group is coming off a landmark five-year term in which it served as the largest-ever minority bloc in Egypt's short multi-party political history and the loudest critic of Mubarak's 30-year authoritarian rule.
But the Brothers have bucked their best allies in the opposition by refusing calls for an election boycott, which some say is the most effective way to counter Egypt's gerrymandered electoral system. This, even as the Brotherhood itself believes it is about to suffer a rigged defeat at the polls that will reduce its representation in parliament by more than half.
Some Brotherhood members have said publicly that the choice to participate is a mistake, with others calling it a missed opportunity that reflects the group's internal strife and indicates the dearth of creative strategic thinkers in the conservative, 82-year-old organisation.
Others see the practical advantage to be had by holding even a slimmed parliamentary presence, while the group's leadership insists that their course is set by broad consensus and does not shift with the political winds.
As the Brotherhood is pulled inexorably toward a post-Mubarak world in which it figures to be a major player, nobody knows quite where it is headed.
The Brotherhood, five years on
Essam al-Arian, a member of the Brotherhood's cabinet and its unofficial spokesman, is a wanted man. On a recent night in Cairo, he was juggling calls from multiple journalists on his mobile phone, dealing with Egyptian television networks hungry for the group's opinion in the run-up to the election.
Even with many predicting the Brotherhood will win only 20 or 30 seats and be overtaken by the liberal but regime-friendly Wafd party, Arian said the Brotherhood is prepared to press forward.
"It is clear to all observers that we are going on [with] our strategy to participate politically," he told Al Jazeera. "Some people want us to be out of the seats, but ... we struggle [against] any attempt to exclude us from the political scene."
The Brotherhood, he said, is satisfied with its performance in parliament over the past five years, despite the suffocating effect of the NDP's majority hold on government.
In 2005, with the Bush administration publicly pressuring Mubarak to hold free and fair elections, the Brotherhood swept into parliament, winning nearly 20 per cent of the 444 seats up for the vote (10 deputies are appointed directly by Mubarak).
The Brotherhood's 88 victorious politicians officially ran as independents, since religious political parties are banned in Egypt, but their real affiliation was well known, and their campaign posters featured the group's slogan: "Islam is the solution."
Despite the tagline, the Brotherhood operated along straightforward reformist lines in parliament.
In a 2006 paper, Samer Shehata and Joshua Stacher examined the Brotherhood's new political life and noted several achievements: mobilising politicians to oppose the renewal of emergency laws in place since the assassination of Anwar al-Sadat and vowing to publish the names of those who voted in favour; protesting and calling for a no-confidence vote against Mahmoud Abu al-Layl, the justice minister many held responsible for allowing fraud in the 2005 vote; and raising awareness about and criticising the government's response to the H5N1 or "bird flu" virus.
Predictably, though, the Brotherhood's practical efforts to actually write, change or annul laws have been stifled.
"Of course we are now lacking freedom, we are lacking democracy, we are now suffering a lot from restrictions on the media," Arian said. "The regime is more old, more rigid, more [of a] dictatorship. All of this is changed backwards, not forwards."
Still on the scene
Since the election, the regime has cracked down. According to the Brotherhood, around 600 of its members have been arrested since the announcement in October that the group would participate in the 2010 vote but challenge only 30 per cent of the seats.
The government has struck at the Brotherhood's finances as well: in 2007, Khairat al-Shater and Hassan Malik, two Brotherhood members said to play prominent roles funding the group, were tried and convicted on money laundering and terrorism charges in a military court along with 25 other members.
According to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the Brotherhood will field only 107 candidates for the upcoming vote, even as parliament has increased to 508 seats with the addition of 64 spots reserved for women. The Brotherhood at first put forward 135 candidates - a drop from the 160 they nominated in 2005 - but government officials disqualified 28.
Some outside observers have speculated that the result of a Brotherhood internal cabinet election last year signalled a power shift from so-called "moderates" like Arian, who reportedly favour challenging the regime at the ballot box, to "conservative" leaders, including current leader Mohammed Badie, who reportedly want to put more emphasis on the Brotherhood's traditional and quieter areas of expertise: social work and proselytising.
The December election for the 16-member executive bureau, called the Guide's Office, saw defeats for leading Brotherhood reformists such as Abdelmonem Abulfotouh and deputy general guide Mohammed Habib, though Arian retained his seat. The following month, Badie was elected the new General Guide - the Brotherhood's top leadership position.
Marc Lynch, an associate professor at George Washington University and an Egypt watcher, wrote on the Foreign Policy website after the cabinet vote that it "likely signals both a withdrawal from political engagement and possibly some serious internal splits".
"Such an internal retreat from democratic engagement has seemed increasingly likely ... as regime repression and political manipulation slammed the door in the face of [Brotherhood] efforts to be democrats," he wrote.
But Arian claimed that analysis missed the mark. The Brotherhood remains eager to use the political arena to promote its Islamist solutions to Egypt's quagmire, he said.
"That is our duty now, to make the link between the social and economic problems and the ultimate political reform," he said. "To explain such issues to the people and to create the link in their minds between poverty, unemployment, the constitutional crisis and the political situation."
Dissent in the ranks
But Abdelrahman Ayyash, a 21-year-old Brotherhood blogger, said that choosing to participate in the election this year was a mistake that has created a schism between the Brotherhood and reform leaders such as ElBaradei and Ayman Nour, the former presidential candidate for the secular Ghad party who was imprisoned and reportedly mistreated during the 2005 election.
Ayyash, a computer engineering student who said he sees a role for "liberal Islamists" in reforming Arab societies, faulted the Brotherhood's new conservative leadership for trying to "build a bridge" to the regime and said that reformist voices were being excluded.
"The Muslim Brotherhood now has no strategic point of view, in my opinion," he said.
Although Badie claimed that a survey of the group's parliament, or Shura Council, yielded 98 per cent support for participating in the election, Ayyash pointed to statements made by Hamid Ghazali, a Cairo University professor and former advisor to previous general guide Mohammed Akef, who said that no more than 52 per cent of the council agreed.
"The organisation will benefit a little from participating in the election, but what I'm worried about is the loss of the other parties, or of the other Egyptian activists or politicians, who will lose a lot," he said. "What we can make or gain by boycotting the election will be more" than what the Brotherhood can achieve in parliament.
'The opposition lost an opportunity'
The Brotherhood's decision to run may spring mostly from a simple desire to ensure its immediate survival, said Michele Dunne, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment and former US government Middle East analyst.
"As a banned organisation that's constantly under the threat of being closed down ... I think they feel that having deputies in the assembly who have parliamentary immunity and who have a public platform to criticise any measures taken against the Brotherhood and who are in the media day in and day out, this is of some value for them," Dunne said.
Earlier this year, a group of Egypt's secular minority parties, including the Wafd, socialist Tagammu, liberal Democratic Front, and the nationalist Nasserists, put together a list of demands that they presented to the government. They asked for some electoral reforms - "simple stuff," Dunne said - and threatened a boycott if their demands were not honoured.
"They were stiffed, 100 per cent," she said. The Democratic Front party and Nour's Ghad party are the only groups that have followed through on boycotts.
But the Democratic Front is a new party and holds no seats in parliament, and other opposition groups, such as Baradei's National Association for Change and the April 6 Movement, are not parties and have nothing to lose when they make passionate calls for boycotts, Dunne said.
Shadi Hamid, the director of research at the Brookings Institution's branch in Qatar and a close observer of the Muslim Brotherhood, said he understood the Brotherhood's rationale but still disagreed with their decision.
"This was the time to boycott," he said. "The opposition really lost an opportunity."
Hamid, who has written recently about free but "meaningless" elections in the Arab world, sees little actual progress for opposition groups when regimes find ways to exclude candidates on technicalities and maintain upper houses of parliament with veto power over lower houses.
In a mostly overlooked June election for Egypt's upper house, the Shura Council, which was marred by reported vote-buying, police interference and violent clashes, the Muslim Brotherhood won no seats, while the NDP won 80 of 88.
Regimes like Egypt's rely on the facade of democratic freedom to appease their allies and sponsors in the West, Hamid said, and a full opposition boycott would have undermined this claim.
But the Brotherhood continues to preach patience, looking at their decades of work and seeing history on their side. "What makes sense for the Brotherhood might not make sense for the future of Egypt's democracy," Hamid said.
Built for the long haul
If the Brotherhood's behaviour toward Egypt's progressives seems questionable, it is worth remembering that the group is not really a political party, and that it has deep roots as a religious and social movement that many join simply to become better Muslims.
Even Hamid acknowledges that with at least 300,000 dedicated members, a "massive bureaucracy," and a constituency that is more conservative than its leadership, the Brotherhood should not be expected to make fast political adjustments.
"We have solidarity, not individuality," Arian said.
But that might be a problem if rifts in the group become serious, said Andrew Albertson, the executive director of the Project on Middle East Democracy.
"There aren't a lot of high-level leaders who everyone respects," he said. "If you don't have someone who everyone commonly respects, it's hard to defuse the tension in a movement like this."
Working in the Brotherhood's favour, however, are its structure and elections system, which are arguably more democratic than Egypt's own.
As Hamid describes it, each member belongs to a local osra, or family. With around 10 to 20 other members, they meet every week and share an Islamic educational curriculum. Fifty families make up a sha'aba, or branch, and 10 branches make up a district. Multiple districts comprise governorates, which do not necessarily correspond to the 29 that make up the official Egyptian state.
Since 2004, the Brotherhood has held leadership elections at every level of its organisation, Hamid said.
The Brotherhood's parliament is similarly elected, though there have been allegations that supposedly secret ballots were compromised when members have visited others at home to apply pressure to vote a certain way. Egypt's repressive security situation also means that not every member is able to cast a vote, as reportedly occurred during the recent Guide's Office election.
Such measures have ensured the Brotherhood's survival, even its flourishing, in a political environment that is, to say the least, a harsh place for opposition elements to survive. Around two million Egyptians cast their vote for Brotherhood candidates in 2005, Arian claimed.
Though Brotherhood candidates are almost assuredly going to fare poorly this year, and the organisation will probably undergo an internal debate over its ideology in the post-election shakeout, its participation and the sliver of representation that will come from it grants the group a continued voice and legitimacy. It also means they retain a rhetorical right to complain about electoral procedures.
"Unless someone goes out and participates, it's going to be hard to point out the flaws in the system," Albertson said.
By contrast, the Brotherhood's political party in Jordan - the Islamic Action Front (IAF) - chose to sit out this year's parliamentary vote, anticipating - as Hamid wrote - that even a multi-party, "fair" election for the lower house would be meaningless and rigged. Hamid supported the boycott, but Albertson said the IAF will probably regret being unable to participate in parliament. Boycotting the vote is not likely to affect Jordanians' views of their government's legitimacy one way or the other, he said.
'Liberal Islamists' in an age of Islamophobia
By holding on to seats in parliament, the Egyptian Brotherhood also knows that its members will enjoy the general immunity from prosecution granted to elected officials and will be able to participate in official government meetings with representatives from the US, even if such contacts are not supposed to include discussion of Brotherhood-specific issues.
US embassy personnel sometimes meet behind the scenes with Brotherhood members, and there are no rules that say US diplomats cannot talk to the Brotherhood when they happen to bump into members at international gatherings, Hamid said. But whatever discussions the Brotherhood has had with the US do not seem to have resulted in any payoff with the Obama administration.
In a speech delivered in Cairo in 2009, Obama vowed to support democracy and the rule of law, calling them "human rights," but his effort on such issues in Egypt has been tepid. The Bush administration, which eventually walked back from its vigorous programme of democracy promotion after a Hamas victory in Palestine, was more outspoken before the 2005 Egyptian election. Many believe this led to the initial opening that allowed the Brotherhood to gain so many seats in the first round of voting.
The Brotherhood is constantly insecure about its perception in the West, Hamid said, fearing that in a post-September 11 age of Islamophobia, it will be lumped in with al-Qaeda.
"We won't be another Iran," Ayyash insisted, adding that he believes Islamists will support US national security interests. "The Islamists in general are trying to find the way between the liberal values of equality and citizenship and to put them in action, but from the Islamic aspect."
The role of women and members of other religions, especially whether a woman or a Coptic Christian, for instance, should be allowed to assume an elected position of power, remains a source of heated debate within the Brotherhood, Dunne said. The same goes for homosexuality, sexual liberty and drug and alcohol use. But the Brotherhood has reached general consensus on the principle that the ultimate authority in Egyptian society should be derived from the people, not religion, Dunne and others say.
"I believe that moderate Islamists will give the freedom for parties to form even if these parties are fighting their ideology," Ayyash said. "If the people say yes to homosexuality, for instance, if I were in power I think that I would leave power ... and I'll be in the opposition to try to convince people that this is wrong."
"But," he added, "I think Egyptians at this moment will refuse that because it is against the Quran."
Obama lays low
Despite such paeans to democracy, the Brotherhood remains officially unsupported and unprotected by the US.
Though the US state department did issue a statement about the upcoming parliamentary vote this week, employing the familiar rhetoric of "free and transparent" elections, Dunne said that the "few things" Obama officials have tried so far to promote democracy in Egypt "have not been all that successful".
But the administration's comparative caution is an improvement, said Brian Katulis, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and a Middle East specialist.
"I don't think the Bush administration was all that smart in trying to advance its freedom agenda," he said. "I don't think it led to any openings at all, and in fact it elicited the sort of response that led to a retrenchment."
The Bush model involved sending secretary of state Condoleezza Rice to "scream from the rooftops," Katulis said. (In 2005, Rice delivered a speech at the American University in Cairo in which she said that "for 60 years, the United States pursued stability at the expense of democracy in the Middle East, and we achieved neither".)
"What [the Obama administration is] trying to do is be much more effective at figuring out what would create the space for those reformers who want to push forward pragmatic change," Katulis said.
In his view, that should mean not picking favourites, whether they might be ElBaradei or the Muslim Brotherhood.
"We always look for the Nelson Mandela-like figure," he said. "What's more important than individual leaders is building a system that sustains itself."
By most accounts, Egyptians today are both discouraged and disengaged with their country's political process. Even if one assumes the government's turnout numbers are accurate, only around 9 per cent of the total population cast a vote in the presidential race in 2005. And observers are nearly unanimous in their belief that democratic evolution will not proceed in Egypt without the Brotherhood.
"There was a certain group that we saw had a dominant voice under the Bush administration - neoconservatives who felt that you could have democracy without Islamists," Katulis said. "I think those people haven't spent much time on the ground in places like Egypt."
To deny the Muslim Brotherhood a strong role in government, as Mubarak seems intent on doing, means a huge swath of Egyptian society remains voiceless.
"It's hard to imagine a process of democratisation in Egypt that does not involve the pious middle class, which the Muslim Brotherhood so ably represents," Albertson said.
Obama should engage directly with the Brotherhood, said Hamid, adding that he believes Gamal Mubarak would be even more hostile to them.
"Liberals and leftists unfortunately can't bring people to the streets in the Arab world," Hamid said. Islamists have the benefit of an existing infrastructure for disseminating their message - the mosque - and political discourse in the region has historically circled around Islam, because "this is the language that people have".
Or in Ayyash's words: "The Arab people are very emotional and a very religious people, and they are more affected by the speech of the moderate Islamists than the regimes."
How to win power in Egypt
Al Jazeera's Ayman Mohyeldin examines the key to controlling Egypt ahead of a parliamentary election.
Ayman Mohyeldin Last Modified: 21 Nov 2010 08:02 GMT
It is that time again when Egyptians will head to the polls to drive the democratic engine of the Arab world's most populous country.
But if anyone is expecting that engine to send the country into a fiery jumpstart, do not hold your breath.
Sad to say, the engine is puttering along and could use a kick-start, but the question on everyone's mind, both inside and outside government, is when, how and who exactly will begin the process.
Most Egyptians agree on one thing, though - they are all tired of being kicked around.
Sure, the democratic processes in Egypt are there, well written on paper for all to see. Yes, pluralism exists in the political parties. Indeed, civil society is robust, holding workshops to train cadres of election monitors and observers. True, the media has been emboldened to be more daring in issue-driven coverage of the country.
So what is missing in Egypt's democracy or, as it is often called, "sham-ocracy"?
The short answer is: belief. Nobody in Egypt believes they can make a difference, and more importantly no one in Egypt is entitled to believe they can make a difference.
Everyone believes it is someone else's responsibility rather than his or her own. Neither the individual voters, nor election monitors, opposition papers or political parties believe they can make a difference. That lack of belief stems from the systematic and deliberate marginalisation of a people for nearly half a century.
There are three loose groupings in Egypt: the guns, the banks and the people.
Control any two out of the three and you can control the country. The question is, which two are the most important to control? You can learn a little from each of Egypt's presidents, what each opted to control during their terms in office.
In the 1950s, a popular revolution brought to power a young Egyptian military officer. Gamal Abdel Nasser was a military man, but he was also emboldened by massive popular support that extended beyond the borders of his country.
Controlling the military, and with the support of the people, Nasser ruled Egypt untill his last breath, through a tumultuous period of independence, industrial prosperity and crises that earned Egypt its place in the international community.
Despite criticism, most view Nasser's presidency as the penultimate period of Egyptian and Arab pride, and more importantly, social and economic development.
In short, Nasser's socialist policies earned him the disdain of capitalist countries, but his military backing and control of the street ensured he and Egypt were a force to be reckoned with when it came to regional issues. Nasser ruled the military and the people, but never the banks.
Anwar Sadat, Nasser's successor and himself a military officer, had a different vision. After coming into power, Sadat used his military credentials as a hero of the people, having restored national pride in the military after reclaiming Egyptian territory lost to Israel in 1967.
But despite his military success, Sadat opted to forgo the socialist and pan-nationalist policies that made his predecessor so popular with the masses.
Falling from grace
In essence, Sadat gave up the street and popular support and began to shift the country towards more market-oriented capitalist policies. The power of private businesses and the banks began to take over Egypt creating a new and powerful wealthy elite that had been marginalised by his socialist predecessor who had nationalised key industries.
Sadat controlled the military, let go of the people, and began to bring in the banks.
He was showered with American praise and billions of dollars in aid for making this shift and breaking with Egypt's populist past. But it would come back to haunt him. President Sadat was gunned down by a soldier from the very same military he helped re-establish. He was gunned down for doing the most unpopular act imaginable – making peace with Israel.
Hosni Mubarak, the current president and a decorated military officer, continued his immediate predecessor's policies, but he was not about to let the country's internal security run amok amidst internal tensions and the growing frustration over Sadat's marginalising of the street.
So Mubarak began to strengthen the state's security apparatus and tightened his grip on key security institutions including the intelligence services, the police and the military.
Mubarak appeased the military by filling its pockets with billions of dollars of American aid, and he allowed it to become a business enterprise in its own right.
With the backing of the military, he accelerated the privatisation of Egypt and introduced even bigger businesses to the country. He opened Egypt to greater foreign investment and trade and by extension greater foreign control.
Banks and industry in Egypt swelled. Sadly the wealth was not shared among the masses who continued to get poorer while the elite got wealthier. Mubarak chose control of the military and the banks. He never enjoyed the popular support of Nasser, nor the albeit short-lived popularity of Sadat.
Today, the future of Egypt is being fought behind the scenes over which two of these three groups need to be controlled. But none of the leading major forces in Egypt can categorically say they control two out of the three.
The military will certainly favour whoever recognises its place at the table, so too will the banks, and the people don't think anyone will care for them.
Up and coming
Gamal Mubarak, the president's son, leads the new guard of the ruling regime - which is much more capitalist and business savvy. He is likely to accelerate and deepen the capitalist agenda of his father by shifting Egypt away from its socialist-laden welfare policies.
Banks would do very well under a Gamal-esque Egypt - most believe - but the street not so much. And the military? That is yet to be seen, but it is worried that its bloated slice of the Egyptian economic pie could be reduced to free up more state money for big business.
On the other hand, none of the major opposition groups would rank favourably among the military or the banks. The opposition, led by the Muslim Brotherhood, is banking on the people to awaken and drive them to power.
So too is Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel prize winner. He is trying to mobilise the masses into rejecting the regime and forcing change from the bottom up.
From the top
ElBaradei pro-democratic calls would certainly be better received by businesses which have been quiet about their support for him, but it is believed he has the backing of some wealthy Egyptians who are watching what he can do on street level.
He would not be a favourable option for the military, however, which would most likely fear he might curb their influence through a reinvigorated system of checks and balances.
Regardless of which two of these groups are controlled, one thing is certain: change in Egypt has historically been driven from the top down.
For those who are hoping the future of Egypt rests with the rise of the people, history shows if you rise to the top from within you have a much better chance of making the people believe they actually matter and bringing about the change that all agree is needed but few dare to pursue.