Then and Now: The Muslim Brotherhood’s Electoral Problem

The first cartoon, on the right, reads: Candidate — “I will build you irrigation canals and drains, I will distribute food and clothing and I will employ your sons, etc., etc.” Voters — “We’ve had enough of these promises.” The second cartoon: Candidate — “God is our aim, the Prophet is our leader, the Qurʾan is our constitution and death in the way of God is our strongest aspiration.” Voters — “How beautiful are these words!”

These cartoons come from the January 2, 1945 edition of Muslim Brotherhood magazine. The Brotherhood was about to run its first candidates ever in an election for Egypt’s chamber of deputies, then the lower house of parliament. The founder Hassan Al-Banna ran in Ismailia, and his right hand man and magazine editor Salih ʿAshmawi ran in Old Cairo, among six total candidates. None of them won, despite building strong electoral machines in the districts of their choosing. The Brotherhood had been allied with the Wafd party, which had just been thrown out of government and the new Prime Minister Ahmed Maher made sure to shut them out in what was considered a more crooked election than usual. The period 1942-1948 was the golden era for the Ikhwan, at the end its rise to wide popularity, but before the government crackdown that followed its assassination of Maher’s successor Mahmoud el-Nuqrashi. Even though the Brothers helped Nasser and the Free Officers take control in 1952, Nasser first sidelined them and then outlawed and persecuted the group for two decades after it made a clumsy assassination attempt on him, in retaliation, in 1954.

The Brotherhood is a much different group today than it was in those days, and the political situation is also vastly different. They have been ideologically moderate since the political and economic ‘opening’ of Sadat, even to the point of political collusion with the NDP regime in matters of representation in parliament. They have ridden the revolution into the daylight of legitimacy. Until the Supreme Constitutional Court ruled last December’s elections illegal on Thursday, the Brotherhood sat for the first time as the majority party in Parliament. They had become so powerful, in fact, that they had not considered it necessary to make compromises with the other non-regime groups and candidates.  Their refusal to negotiate with liberal and leftists over their representation on the constituent assembly, to force an “Islamic” interpretation of the new constitution, was the best example of this attitude.

Despite their age, the cartoons above encapsulate the problem for the Brotherhood (and all Islamists) once they get elected. Yes, “Islam is the solution” works great in opposition. But woe to the government that ignores public works, food distribution and employment. The news is filled today with stories of people all over the country who have fallen away from the Brotherhood “because they didn’t do anything in the past five months” and are voting Shafiq. The drop in support for the Brotherhood candidate Morsi was evident in the first round of the Presidential election three weeks ago. Sure, there has been political chaos and a ceaseless conspiracy of the “deep state” against the group. The Brotherhood’s ideological message is not only divisive to Christians and liberals. More importantly, it robs the political opposition of the ability to take consensus stands on personal dignity, civil and legal rights and jobs, issues everyone cares about.

P.S. Dear New York Times, no, the fate of the revolution is not at stake on this particular day.

Remember: the coup was on February 11, 2011. We’re just understanding the truth about it now. Read Hossam el-Hamalawy’s take.


About ericschewe

PhD, History. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License.
This entry was posted in Constitution, Egypt, Elections, Religion and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Then and Now: The Muslim Brotherhood’s Electoral Problem

  1. Reading el-Hamalawy’s article I was most struck by his comments on the scale, placement and traction of the labor actions – and, in consideration, the lack of coverage on such and their impact (actual and potential) in general reporting on the situation in Egypt.*

    In respect of that, if you find the time, why not consider giving us a (detailed? moderately?) post on the military’s full footprint in the Egyptian economy.

    * this, I would suggest, a side-effect of American journalism’s now-reflexive commitment to covering our elections (and, inevitably all elections, anywhere in the world at any time) as if they were sporting events, a la, “Who’s out in front today? And … will I WIN as a reporter by guessing right (and first!) who’s going to win and how?”

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