As the MPs pledged their loyalty to serve the Egyptian nation in the newly elected Parliament on Monday (23rd January), almost a year to the day since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, political divisions and cracks were already beginning to show. A number of parliamentarians added their own personal flourishes to the scripted oaths, beginning with the Salafi Mahmoud Ismail, who chose to add “if not in contradiction with God’s doctrine” onto the end of his oath. Others chose to wear distinctive yellow armbands stating “no to military trials”, making clear their opposition to the continuing repressive tactics of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). Meanwhile, a significant number of anti-military junta protesters were lined-up outside the parliamentary gates, highlighting the fact that for many Egyptians, the ‘revolution’ of January last year continues to be an ongoing process.
This first attempt at a democratic election for the Egyptian Parliament since the 2011 overthrow of Mubarak has resulted in a decisive victory for the Islamist parties, gaining 67% of the total. The Muslim Brotherhood’s ‘Freedom and Justice Party’ achieved the highest proportion of votes, 38%, whilst the more conservative Islamist Salafi ‘Al Nour’ party gained an impressive 29%. They were followed by the liberal ‘New Wafd’ and ‘Egyptian Bloc’, coming third and fourth respectively. The ‘Revolution Continues’ party, largely composed of the young activists who were at the forefront of the January protests, took less than a million votes, which translated into a disappointing 7 seats.
The triumph of the Muslim Brotherhood in the elections is clear evidence of their success in harnessing support amongst the Egyptian public, a result of having spent over eighty years embedding themselves deep within local communities through social welfare and education schemes. The Muslim Brotherhood are undoubtedly the best-known socio-political organisation in Egypt, and have been able to capitalise on both their pre-existing support base, as well as the failures of the liberal opposition to effectively organise and lobby public support. The success of the Muslim Brotherhood in the elections, alongside these long-standing social welfare efforts, has been their achievements in adapting to the contemporary political climate, and harnessing the support of youth activists through social media.
As well as the disappointing results for the liberal parties in the Parliamentary election, the recent withdrawal of the internationally well-known liberal Mohammed El Baradei from the Presidential election campaign has come as a further blow to those hoping for the new regime to take on a moderate and secular slant. El Baradei blamed the continuing repressive and undemocratic tactics of SCAF for his decision, stating “my conscience does not permit me to run for the presidency or any other official position unless it is within a democratic framework.”
Whilst the Muslim Brotherhood certainly appear to be on the brink of taking power due to their majority in the parliamentary assembly, it is important to note that the President retains the power to choose the government, and the Brotherhood have chosen not to run a candidate for the Presidency. The elections for the Presidency are due to take place this June, and the outcome may have an important influence over the balance of political power. However, the Muslim Brotherhood’s majority means they have been able to name one of their candidates, Saad Al Katatni, as the parliamentary speaker, giving them an indisputably strong influence over government proceedings and the writing of the new Egyptian constitution.