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The Brothers strike back
The Brothers strike back
Diaa Rashwan: "The wave of protest over the novel {A Banquet For Seaweed} in which the Brotherhood played a prominent role, erupted precisely as the largest Islamic grouping in Egypt had announced that it intended to take part in the parliamentary elections."
Monday, February 28,2005 00:00
by Ikhwan web

:"The Brothers strike back" By
Diaa Rashwan *
*`The writer is managing editor of the annual
State of Religion in Egypt Report,
issued by the Al-Ahram Centre for Political
and Strategic Studies

HEADING "Unobtrusive campaigning, grassroots support and
punitive voting: Diaa Rashwan assesses the Muslim
Brotherhood’s fall and rise."

QUOTES FROM TEXT:
"The wave of protest over the novel {A Banquet For
Seaweed} in which the
Brotherhood played a prominent role, erupted
precisely as the largest Islamic
grouping in Egypt had announced that it intended to
take part in the
parliamentary elections."

"The Brotherhood entered the elections with such
vitality that seven of its 80
candidates won parliamentary seats."

"Arrests and trials hampered its prospects ... prison
terms took many of its
most promising candidates out of the race."

The past year was highly significant for the Muslim
Brotherhood. The
parliamentary elections had an impact greater
than any other
development of the past year, if not the past
decade, while the
republication of Haydar Haydar’s A Banquet for
Seaweed was the most
formidable crisis to confront the Islamist trend
in general, and the
Brotherhood in particular.

The wave of protest over the novel {Banquest of Seaweed}, in
which the Brotherhood played
a prominent role, erupted precisely as the largest Islamist
grouping in Egypt had announced
that it intended to take part in the parliamentary
elections. Government and certain political
elite circles were already uneasy about the Brotherhood’s
decision to participate in the
polls. Further augmenting these apprehensions was the
Brotherhood spokesman’s
statement that the organisation, still illegal in Egypt, was
determined to assert its presence as
the country’s largest and most influential opposition force,
even if it did not win seats in
parliament. Indeed, this objective may have been one of the
main reasons why the
Brotherhood, alongside the Labour Party, its main political
ally, engaged so energetically in
the campaign against the novel. Here, it seemed, was an
opening for its campaign,
especially other sectors of public opinion found the novel
deeply offensive to Islam and
Islamic sensibilities.

The Brotherhood leadership, however, had not anticipated
that the crisis would escalate as
it did, leading to the closure of the Labour Party’s
newspaper, Al-Shaab, not to mention the
dissolution of the party itself, and, consequently, to the
loss of a public forum the
Brotherhood would find it almost impossible to replace.

Despite this setback, the Brotherhood entered the elections
with such vitality that seven of
its 80 candidates won parliamentary seats. This was a
remarkable feat by any standards.
Not only has the organisation been under considerable
pressure; in 1995, and more so last
year, it became the target of a concerted security and media
strategy to undermine its
performance at the polls. Arrests and trials hampered its
prospects in at least two respects.
The pressure placed it so on the defensive that it lost much
of its ability to manoeuvre;
simultaneously, prison terms took many of its most promising
candidates out of the race.

Still, the fact that the Brotherhood won only one seat in
1995,... suggests that several other
factors were at work. ... there were the Brotherhood’s
nomination criteria. Apart from a
few nationally reputed figures, this time around most of the
organisation’s candidates were
carefully selected for their potential appeal at the local
level. . . .

Also working in the candidates’ favour was the Brotherhood’s
effort to allay the impression
that it was conducting a single, nation-wide campaign. It
never officially announced an
electoral list or adopted a party platform or slogan, . .
.

The third internal factor was the Brotherhood’s media
strategy. The campaign began
without fanfare, so as not to provoke the government. It was
then built up gradually, in a
way calculated to convey the impression that there was no
centralised direction, . . .
the candidates made extensive use of all available media,
particularly the foreign-based press ... .

... full judicial supervision of the polls was a major
determinant of the Brotherhood’s
success. Voter turnout rates returned to normal levels,
which in turn enhanced the
prospects of the candidates best able to mobilise their
supporters. The Brotherhood
proved adept at exploiting these new circumstances.. . .

The second external factor was the voting pattern. It is
clear that the NDP lost many seats
because a significant proportion of voters had decided to
cast their ballot for any candidate
not affiliated with the ruling party. The Brotherhood
candidates were certain to reap at least
some of the spill-over from this "punitive vote" . . . .

 


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