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(Updates with statement from the main secular alliance in 10th paragraph. Click here for background on the group.)
Dec. 1 (Bloomberg) -- The Muslim Brotherhood may need to wrest power from Egypt’s generals to meet the expectations of voters, whose backing helped the group claim it’s on course for a historic election victory.
Ali al-Korey, a self-proclaimed secularist, voted for the Brotherhood’s surrogate party because, he said, it’s “capable of helping build Egypt.” So did Fatma Azzam, for a different reason: she said it can help the country get “closer to God.” And Mona Rida was impressed by the free medical services the group offers in her working-class neighborhood.
Such support helped propel the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party into an early lead, according to the group, which said it is set to win 40 percent of ballots counted so far. Even if the group secures a strong presence in the new parliament, it may not be able to fulfill its pledges to voters without beefing up the powers of the assembly.
“There’s going to be a confrontation between the Brotherhood and the military,” said Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar. “The Brotherhood wants a strong parliament and the military council wants a weak one. The reason the Brotherhood fought for parliament is because they’re going to use it as an agent of change.”
Results are due today from the first of three rounds of voting in Egypt’s first election since the toppling of Hosni Mubarak. The Brotherhood’s parliamentary strength is unlikely to become clear until final election results are announced in January.
After that, voters will be entitled to judge the party by its actions, said Moustafa Gamal, a campaigner in Cairo’s Sayeda Zainab suburb. “Once we’re in, hold us accountable,” he said. “If we don’t deliver then, don’t give us your vote again.”
The party campaigned on a platform to trim the budget deficit, link subsidies to job creation and help bring back the investors who shunned the country amid the turmoil that accompanied Mubarak’s ouster.
Egypt’s economy grew 1.8 percent in the fiscal year through June, the slowest in at least a decade. Dollar bonds due April 2020 are trading to yield 6.95 percent, close to a 10-month high. The benchmark stock exchange has rallied more than 7 percent this week, boosted by the high voter turnout and lack of violence, yet it’s still down 43 percent this year.
The Brotherhood’s party adopts a largely pro-market stance, supporting private enterprise and promising to create jobs by directing more investment toward industries, agriculture and information technology. Aware of fears surrounding its political ascent after decades of suppression, officials of the once- banned Brotherhood, some accomplished businessmen in their own right, have been greeting investors and bankers at their offices with business-friendly messages.
The Egyptian bloc, the main secular alliance contesting the vote, said today that preliminary results show it ranked second in most polling stations. “This is a very satisfactory result given the difficulties that the bloc has faced,” it said in an e-mailed statement. “We expect a stronger performance and higher percentages in the coming two phases.”
The alliance said it filed complaints against some “violations” marring the process, such as “electoral bribes” and the use of “religious slogans” in some polling stations where it wants a repeat.
The run-up to the poll was marred by a week of clashes between security forces and protesters demanding an end to military rule that left more than 40 dead. The Brotherhood stayed away from the latest rallies in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Volunteers instead marched through the pot-holed and garbage- strewn streets of the capital’s poorest districts, thrusting group literature into the palms of passersby and going door-to- door to canvass votes.
“I saw no other party on the scene that has a campaign like ours,” said Rofayda Hatem el-Shazly, a volunteer sitting under a party banner on a muddied sidewalk outside a voting station in the Basateen neighborhood. “The Brotherhood has an edge because of its long experience in public work.”
Founded in 1928 in Ismailia by Hassan al-Banna, a teacher, and workers from the Suez Canal Company, the Brotherhood began as a social organization that set up hospitals and teaching programs. Its opposition to colonialist rule gained it widespread popular support across the Middle East. By the late 1940s it had grown branches in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, and would be banned by most secular governments in the region.
Under Mubarak, Brotherhood members continued to run a widespread network of services and charities that endeared them to many Egyptians fed up with a government they saw as corrupt and aloof.
In a scene mirrored outside many other polling stations, el-Shazly and volunteers tapped on laptops as would-be voters asked for guidance on exactly where to cast ballots and how the complex voting system worked.
Inside, Mona Rida waited to vote. She had been impressed by the Brotherhood’s provision of services and medical aid in her neighborhood, she said. “They say they will help people learn industries and establish projects for the youth. People are scraping by. It’s not a religious thing. We need someone to extend a hand to the poor and the unemployed.”
‘Task of Building’
Speaking from the nearby, affluent suburb of Maadi, al- Korey said the group offered candidates who can “shoulder the task of building.” Many secular groups and the youths behind the anti-Mubarak revolt lack experience, said al-Korey, who also described himself as an “observant Muslim.” “At this stage, we cannot afford to experiment.”
Many Egyptian Christians, who make up about 10 percent of the population, say they’re troubled by the prospect of a Brotherhood with more political clout, and headed to the polls to counter that weight. Christian billionaire Naguib Sawiris, co-founder of the secular Free Egyptians Party which a member of the Egyptian bloc, warned this week that the political exploitation of religion is “the most dangerous thing for Egypt.”
Following Mubarak’s departure, some protesters said the military-drafted timeline for elections favored established forces such as the Brotherhood, prompting accusations of a secret alliance between the group and the ruling generals. Military officials have said they struck no deals with the Brotherhood.
“There was a temporary convergence of interest in the early months after the revolution but there was no real alliance,” Hamid said. “The interests no longer converge.”
The Brotherhood led mass rallies on Nov. 18 to protest a military-backed draft of constitutional guidelines. It includes articles protesters said aim to enshrine a political role for the army, shield its budget from civilian scrutiny and curb the power of the upcoming parliament.
“We reject any kind of guardianship over parliament,” said Mohammed el-Beltagy, an official with the Freedom and Justice party. The military, which has a network of economic interests to protect, has said it will stay at the helm until a new constitution is written and a president is elected by the end of June.
El-Beltagy said parliament should have the right to form a government.
“Having had a revolution, we must demand full powers to parliament, the government and the president,” he said. “This is what transferring power to a civilian authority means.”
--Editors: Digby Lidstone, Ben Holland, Karl Maier.
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