Could the Salafists actually win Egypt’s elections?

posted at 7:42 pm on December 5, 2011 by Allahpundit

By “win,” I mean end up with the most votes, not a clear majority. Only the Muslim Brotherhood had a shot at that, and thanks to the Salafists, that possibility’s now up in smoke. The official results:

The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party won 36.6% and the Salafis of the Al Nour party won 24.4% of the 9.7 million votes cast. The Brotherhood’s dominance was expected, but the strong showing by the Salafis was a surprise, suggesting Egyptians were heavily influenced by the religious message and grass-roots organization of the Islamists.

If the trend continues in the second and third rounds, Islamists could control parliament. But in recent days the Muslim Brotherhood has distanced itself from the puritanical Salafis, attempting to strike a moderate tone that could possibly persuade secular and centrist parties to join it in a coalition government. The Brotherhood is pushing for a constitution anchored in Islamic law but has been careful not to emphasize religion over mending the nation’s severe economic and social problems…

The Islamists’ victory has been foreshadowed by preelection polls as well as by early unofficial reports about the elections’ outcome. But the official results showed just how thoroughly the young revolutionaries who plugged into social media to ignite a revolution that brought down President Hosni Mubarak in February had failed to excite voters. They won no more than 336,000 votes.

Most of the pre-election estimates I saw had the Salafists at 10-15 percent and the Brotherhood at 40-45 with a shot at 50. Which made sense: The MB’s been an institution in Egypt for decades despite the state’s best efforts to suppress it whereas the Salafists only started organizing recently. When you’re picking a new regime, you go with what you know. The flaw in that theory for the Brotherhood, it seems, is that what Egyptians know most of all is Islam, which boosted the one party in the field that’s even more ostentatious about Koran-waving than the MB is. So the Brotherhood wins this round, albeit with a smaller margin than expected, and now the election moves to more rural, less educated areas, which could cut either way. Because the MB is better organized, it might have a longer reach in the countryside than the Salafists do — sending volunteers to more villages, knocking on more doors, bribing people with food, etc. But these same rural, less educated voters are the Salafists’ potential base — and even if an undecided would otherwise lean towards the Brotherhood because of their brand recognition, Arab media coverage of the Salafists’ showing in the first round might be raising their profile enough to make them competitive. A Salafi party spokesman predicted yesterday that they will in fact win the next two rounds and become the biggest party in Egypt. Is there any reason to think that’s impossible, or even implausible? Anyone with expertise is invited to e-mail me confirming or denying that and I’ll update below.

Here’s the other wrinkle to this clusterfark. Assuming that the Brotherhood does hold on and emerge with a plurality in parliament, should they form a government with the liberals or with the Salafists? In theory, the more liberal and secular the new parliament is, the better for the west and for Israel. But is that true in the near term? Having ousted Mubarak and still in the grip of revolutionary fervor, Egyptians are probably expecting rapid improvement from the new parliament — but that’s simply not going to happen, and when it doesn’t, disappointed voters will look to the party that’s been locked out of power to be their new savior. If a second election is held, how big will the Salafists’ gains be under those circumstance? Also, if the MB forms a unity government with all sorts of non-Islamist factions, it vitiates the idea of an Islamist mandate. That in turn would strengthen the military’s hand over the new parliament, which also sounds good to western ears: The military, after all, is the friendliest institution in Egypt to the U.S. thanks to that filthy lucre we keep dumping on them. The problem is, the stronger the military’s hand, the more likely it is that there’ll be another popular backlash, new rallies in Tahrir Square, and repercussions in the next election (again, if there is one). That too would leave the Salafists, as the party out of power, positioned to ride popular discontent to huge gains, which means in a few years we could see an Egyptian parliament that’s even more radical than one dominated by the Brotherhood.

An MB spokesman has already rejected the idea of a coalition with the Salafists, but who knows how firm that commitment is. Look on the bright side: If the Brotherhood does end up partnering with them, they’ll share blame as Egypt’s economy continues to crumble, leaving the non-Islamists to benefit next time. The big question mark here, really, is how the MB will deal with its unlikely new identity as the, ahem, “centrists” in Egyptian political life. Do they pander to religious voters by pushing more Salafist-type policies than they otherwise would have or do they try to build international legitimacy by drawing a contrast between their policies and the Salafists’? We all know it’s going to end in disaster, the only question is how, specifically. Stay tuned!

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I’m relatively burned out on reading about Muslims rioting, revolutionizing, running amok.

Lourdes on December 5, 2011 at 7:45 PM

…though that’s not any criticism of your post, AP.

It’s just that by this hour I have a difficult time feeling patient with anything “Muslim”.

Lourdes on December 5, 2011 at 7:46 PM

Is that a photoshop of Obama and the blind Sheik? Because that’s what created this mess – Islamic radicalism enabled by feckless American leadership.

Ted Torgerson on December 5, 2011 at 7:47 PM

But the official results showed just how thoroughly the young revolutionaries who plugged into social media to ignite a revolution that brought down President Hosni Mubarak in February had failed to excite voters. They won no more than 336,000 votes.

someone should inform leftists and netroots that agit-prop and direct action are often the tools of the minority party, no matter how many idiots scream we are “Tahir” or we are the “99″.

rob verdi on December 5, 2011 at 7:48 PM

Also, remember that the Copts are (officially) 10% of the population, and they won’t vote for the Salafis or the Muslim Brotherhood at all. (unofficially, the Copts claim to be 20% of the population).

When you take those numbers into account, the voting breakdown of the average, Muslim Egyptian is even more stark.

Revenant on December 5, 2011 at 7:48 PM

So the Muslim Brotherhood is still taking lessons from the Liberal Democrats; ‘move to the center’, and once elected, advance an unstated, unacknowledged secret agenda?

Campaign consultants here in the US should know by now that a whole new market for their services has just opened up. Pundits, and pollsters too! Egypt has need of your services, and there is big money to be made there.

Skandia Recluse on December 5, 2011 at 7:54 PM

Islamic radicalism enabled by feckless American leadership.

Ted Torgerson on December 5, 2011 at 7:47 PM

lol

ernesto on December 5, 2011 at 7:56 PM

But, remember that Obumba;s Intel guru said that the “Muslim Brotherhood” was a secular group. Never understood how it could be secular if “Muslim” was in the group’s name.

Dingbat63 on December 5, 2011 at 7:59 PM

I’d say the likelyhood of another “one man, one vote, one time” scenario is pretty high.

Hollowpoint on December 5, 2011 at 7:59 PM

The quote:

“The term ‘Muslim Brotherhood’ … is an umbrella term for a variety of movements, in the case of Egypt, a very heterogeneous group, largely secular, which has eschewed violence and has decried Al Qaeda as a perversion of Islam,” Clapper said.

Dingbat63 on December 5, 2011 at 8:01 PM

Islamic radicalism enabled by feckless American leadership.

Ted Torgerson on December 5, 2011 at 7:47 PM

lol

ernesto on December 5, 2011 at 7:56 PM

Yes, I can’t count how many times I laughed out loud at the prospect of an Islamic Caliphate complete with nuclear weapons.. lets see that would be….. oh yeah,…. Never…..

Chip on December 5, 2011 at 8:04 PM

I’m relatively burned out on reading about Muslims rioting, revolutionizing, running amok. – Lourdes on December 5, 2011 at 7:45 PM

For once we are in agreement. Muslims make Christian fundamentalists such as you appear to be ultra-liberal.

SC.Charlie on December 5, 2011 at 8:07 PM

If the Brotherhood does end up partnering with them, they’ll share blame as Egypt’s economy continues to crumble, leaving the non-Islamists to benefit next time.

Or they whip out that dog-eared copy of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and blame it on the Jews, and The Great Satan with his ethanol programs. Distracting the population by drumming up hostility towards Israel is a tradition in Egypt.

sharrukin on December 5, 2011 at 8:08 PM

Everything in the Mid East seems beyond our control. Every change seems to have been for the worse. Can Iran be worse?

Cindy Munford on December 5, 2011 at 8:15 PM

This is when the hardliners start killing people

Kini on December 5, 2011 at 8:18 PM

I think the bottom line is that it won’t be possible to put together a governing coalition without the Salafists. Of that, I foresee little doubt.

We’ll find out if that coalition dynamic — as opposed to unrestricted rule by the Salafists — delays the shariazation of Egypt by a few months or so.

It may not be the lockstep march we might expect. Not all the Salafists or Muslim Brotherhood pols have a serious concept for winning the political infight. It’s that infight you need Bolsheviks for.

There’ll be some blood and teeth along the way. The Saudis and Turks will try to quietly back factions. Iran will try to influence the outcome — and is the most likely to turn ugly and start backing guerrilla malcontents if things don’t go well with the first ruling coalition.

Should be a lot of fun.

J.E. Dyer on December 5, 2011 at 8:23 PM

Everything in the Mid East seems beyond our control. Every change seems to have been for the worse. Can Iran be worse?

Cindy Munford on December 5, 2011 at 8:15 PM

No, the changes in Egypt were under our control and Obama got exactly what he wanted — Mubarak gone, chaos, and ultimate control by the Anti-Israel parties, whether the MB or the Salafists or both, with the ultimate goal of wiping Israel from the face of the earth.

It’s only a matter of weeks or months before the treaty between those nations will be abrogated and all hell breaks loose.

And, yes, Obama’s negligent and idiotic handling of Iran will make this Egypt fail look like a day at the beach.

I used to joke that Obama might well be the 12th Imam, but I’m not laughing any more.

TXUS on December 5, 2011 at 8:43 PM

TXUS on December 5, 2011 at 8:43 PM

I am sadly lacking in knowledge of the area and our relationship but I have no problem blaming Obama.

Cindy Munford on December 5, 2011 at 8:44 PM

I am sadly lacking in knowledge of the area and our relationship but I have no problem blaming Obama.

Cindy Munford on December 5, 2011 at 8:44 PM

The problem is, of course, that blaming Obama is only something that someone with little knowledge of the area would do.

ernesto on December 5, 2011 at 8:47 PM

ernesto on December 5, 2011 at 8:47 PM

Obama could have prevented this by supporting Mubarak!

OldEnglish on December 5, 2011 at 9:22 PM

Those Islamo weirdbeards need a fashion makeover.

Pablo Honey on December 5, 2011 at 9:29 PM

Yep, the Egyptians are going to get to hold an election. In that election, they will select a radical (actually orthodox) muslim form of government that will see to it that no more free and open elections will be held in the islamic state of Egypt. Ever again.

/Smart power indeed.

AZfederalist on December 5, 2011 at 9:30 PM

I’m relatively burned out on reading about Muslims rioting, revolutionizing, running amok.

Lourdes on December 5, 2011 at 7:45 PM

..Me too. I will enthusiastically work for and vote for the first candidate who enunciates a policy of turning the whole freaking region into a glass-covered parking lot.

The War Planner on December 5, 2011 at 9:44 PM

Well it looks like up to 39% of Egyptians sensibly do not wish to live under oppressive Islamic law. Most I suspect, realize that this would be just lead to a dictatorship of the clerics, complete with mutilations, beheadings, stonings, etc and all the other outrages of this outrageous cult of Muhammad. Hence I’m looking forward to a long civil war within Egypt that will make it even weaker and much too poor & chaotic to attack Israel.

Chessplayer on December 5, 2011 at 9:56 PM

ernesto on December 5, 2011 at 8:47 PM

Just like Obama blames Bush, see how that works?

Cindy Munford on December 5, 2011 at 10:01 PM

Just like Obama blames Bush, see how that works? Cindy Munford on December 5, 2011 at 10:01 PM

Sweet! Well played!

Dingbat63 on December 5, 2011 at 10:08 PM

Hence I’m looking forward to a long civil war within Egypt that will make it even weaker and much too poor & chaotic to attack Israel.

Chessplayer on December 5, 2011 at 9:56 PM

Good point.

That’s something I hadn’t considered.

Hmmmmmmmmmm . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

listens2glenn on December 5, 2011 at 10:09 PM

Mrs. Munford FTW

John the Libertarian on December 5, 2011 at 10:11 PM

The problem is, of course, that blaming Obama is only something that someone with little knowledge of the area would do.

ernesto on December 5, 2011 at 8:47 PM

You mean, someone like Obama?

An apologist for what is~ in its core Al Qur’anic beliefs~ an intolerant, theocratic totalitarianism.

Pretending that what is really a Withering of Human Decency and Reason should be called “The Arab Spring”.
Without laughing.

It is more a Koranic crackdown.

And never ends well.

See: Islam’s Own Record of itsProud Depredations.

profitsbeard on December 6, 2011 at 1:05 AM

Well it looks like up to 39% of Egyptians sensibly do not wish to live under oppressive Islamic law. Most I suspect, realize that this would be just lead to a dictatorship of the clerics, complete with mutilations, beheadings, stonings, etc and all the other outrages of this outrageous cult of Muhammad. Hence I’m looking forward to a long civil war within Egypt that will make it even weaker and much too poor & chaotic to attack Israel.

You mean like the Germans rose up against the minority Nazis?

The Islamists know how to deal with opposition. The same way that Mubarak did.

schmuck281 on December 6, 2011 at 1:43 AM

So. Obama and his minions/Soros/MediaMatters and crew, which fomented the Arab Spring (chirping birds and beheadings in several ME countries) destroyed Mubarak.

As a result, we have by design and in his place, the MB and Salafists/Wahhabists.

The MB is not moderate, any more than the democrat party is moderate.

They want to wipe Israel off the face of the Earth.

But then so does Obama.

Evil. Incarnate.

Opinionator on December 6, 2011 at 4:08 AM

Hence I’m looking forward to a long civil war within Egypt that will make it even weaker and much too poor & chaotic to attack Israel.

OH REALLY, AP? This is when I really have trouble even typing your name. You need a new one.

I’m sure you can say that as a non-Israeli. But if you were one?

Opinionator on December 6, 2011 at 4:16 AM

When will Obama nominate Louis Farrakhan (Leader of the Nation of Islam in USA) the next ambassador to Egypt?

albill on December 6, 2011 at 6:06 AM

Bad Santa in pic.

Sherman1864 on December 6, 2011 at 8:05 AM

If the Brotherhood does end up partnering with them, they’ll share blame as Egypt’s economy continues to crumble, leaving the non-Islamists to benefit next time

Except there won’t be a next time!! Once the Islamists gain power, they won’t let a little thing like democracy stand in their way of enacting utopia. Recall that the leading Salafist Imam in Egypt recently said that Egypt should adhere to a strict interpretation of Sharia, and that the Great Pyramids and other symbols of Phaoronic paganism should be destroyed, or at a minimum buried in sand so the faithful won’t be offended by them?? These people are nuts, but this was sooo predictable!! Why oh why couldn’t the brainiacs in charge get this?? We have an Islamism Spring, not an “Arab” spring as democracy goes down to defeat and theocracy rises in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Morocco, etc.

EasyEight on December 6, 2011 at 11:09 AM