Official results from the first round of voting won’t be known until tomorrow but you know the pessimist motto: It’s never too early to panic. There’s no doubt the Muslim Brotherhood will win a plurality of the seats. The only doubt is whether they can grab an honest-to-goodness majority, which will maximize their leverage against the military and their influence over the drafting of the new constitution, or whether they’ll have to share power with one or more other parties to form a governing coalition.
The good news? We might be headed towards a coalition. The bad news? Their likely coalition partners are even nuttier than they are.
Both the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), which is backed by the Muslim Brotherhood, and its rivals agreed that it was leading the count in the first tranche of nine out of Egypt’s 27 governorates, including its two most important cities, Cairo and Alexandria.
More unexpected was the apparent success of the FJP’s radical rival, Nour, which represents a movement of Salafis inspired by the puritanical political Islam of Saudi Arabia.
Its lack of previous involvement in political campaigning had been viewed as a handicap. But it may have won as much as ten per cent of the vote, according to some estimates, challenging the main liberal coalition for second place…
The Nour party … says it would impose strict Sharia, exempting only non-Muslims in the privacy of their homes.
Some estimates have the Brotherhood winning 40 percent of the vote; one of the Brotherhood’s own spokesmen says it’s more like 50 percent. But as I say, that’s sort of expected. What wasn’t expected, per that last link, is the Nour Party possibly getting more than 20 percent in the Nile delta region of Kafr el-Sheikh. That was one of the provinces singled out yesterday as a bellwether by Samuel Tadros in this must-read election preview for NRO. If the Salafists did well there, he argued, they’d do well elsewhere — and since this first round of voting (there are two more to come over the next month) is focused on metropolitan areas like Cairo, you can expect the Brotherhood and the Salafists to do even better once the voting spreads to less educated, less liberal areas of Egypt.
How are they doing it? Partly by waving the Koran, of course, but also partly through dynamite organization. Eric Trager at TNR marvels at what he’s seen in Cairo:
Indeed, everywhere I went, the Brotherhood operation was in full swing. In the working class neighborhood of Sayida Zeinab, Freedom and Justice volunteers manned four laptops right in front of the polling station, while other Brotherhood members monitored the long line of voters. On the Nile island of Manial, Freedom and Justice youths managed two computers and handed out campaign literature, while additional female volunteers were on hand to assist religious women voters who might feel uncomfortable dealing with men. “I’m here to help my party,” Jehan Darwish, one of the female volunteers told me. But this conflicted with the Brotherhood’s official line, and the kiosk’s manager quickly intervened. “It’s a community service for voters to tell them where to vote,” interjected Mohamed Mansour. “It’s a free service for those who vote for us and those who don’t.”
To be sure, the Brotherhood wasn’t the only group that had organized effectively for the elections. In Heliopolis, a few independent candidates had also set up stations, and in many areas the ubiquity of Freedom and Justice banners was matched by that of the Salafist Nour party, which is reportedly making an especially strong showing in lower income neighborhoods. But what makes the Brotherhood’s showing so remarkable is how consistent it is: they are, simply put, everywhere. And given that they are pushing an Islamist message that holds visceral appeal for the religious Muslim public of Egypt, they may have devised a formula for victory.
One Egyptian told Reuters, “I wanted to vote for the youth, but no one is organized enough. That’s why I voted for the Brotherhood. I don’t want an Islamist party, I just want some organization. Enough chaos.” The Brotherhood, at least for the moment, is styling itself after Erdogan’s party in Turkey, which will simultaneously ingratiate it to the Turks and make the west more comfortable with the new reality in Egypt. The new regime might not like us but they sure like our money and the Erdogan approach makes it more likely that it’ll keep flowing. But lest you think they’re pitching some sort of new, cuddly form of Islamism, read Trager’s piece to see what answer he got when he asked a Brotherhood member — a neurologist — whether gays should be stoned to death. Remember, even with the eyes of the world upon them, these cretins are still holding “death to the Jews” rallies. And they’re not even the most radical party on the ballot.
Then again, we’re talking about a country where even the comparatively enlightened secularist leaders are Truthers and Holocaust deniers. The only hope here of derailing an Islamist parliament is the run-off process for candidates who fail to get 50 percent in this round of voting: In theory the secularists and Copts could line up against the Brotherhood’s candidates in the run-off to help form an anti-Islamist majority, but … what happens if the run-offs are between the Brotherhood and the hardcore Salafist nuts, which seems likely given the stupid way Egypt organized this election? No wonder some Egyptian liberals are reportedly warming to the idea of military rule. Note to Israel: When, not if, Egypt launches a new war, keep the Sinai next time.