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Islamists go back to basics in Egypt vote campaign
Islamists go back to basics in Egypt vote campaign
SAFF, Egypt - Muslim Brotherhood candidate Gomaa al-Badry raises his voice over chants of “God is greatest” to tell thousands of Egyptians why they should vote for his Islamist group in parliamentary elections this month.
Friday, November 4,2005 00:00
by Ikhwan web

Islamists go back to basics in Egypt vote campaign
(Reuters)

SAFF, Egypt - Muslim Brotherhood candidate Gomaa al-Badry raises his voice over chants of “God is greatest” to tell thousands of Egyptians why they should vote for his Islamist group in parliamentary elections this month.


“We’ve tried communism, socialism and capitalism. Islam is the solution to the moral decay which afflicts many Muslims and the state,” he told some 4,000 people at a Brotherhood election rally in the town of Saff, just south of Cairo.

With slogans like “Islam is the Solution” and “The Koran is our Constitution”, the Brotherhood poses the biggest challenge to President Hosni Mubarak’s ruling National Democratic Party in the three-stage polls, which start on Nov. 9 and run until early December.

Although the Brotherhood is officially outlawed as an organisation, the authorities have given it unusual leeway in the run-up to the polls by releasing its jailed leaders and letting it hold marches and meetings.

Brotherhood candidates, standing as independents to sidestep the ban, won 17 of parliament’s 444 elected seats in 2000 elections, making them the chamber’s biggest opposition bloc.

Enjoying more space from the authorities, the group expects to at least treble its number of seats this time. It has pledged to solve voters’ most basic problems and argues that only Islamic values can tackle the corruption it sees in government.

Shawki Dawoud, Brotherhood candidate for the working-class town of Saff, says he will seek to bring his constituents better public transport, sewage systems, higher quality bread and rubbish bins for the streets.

“We know very well the problems our constituency suffers,” he told a rally, while young men in suits and ties handed out pamphlets outlining his ideas for meeting basic local needs.

The message was met with loud applause and chants of “Praise be to God” by the people listening, who were segregated by sex.

“They will serve everyone and not just themselves. They will bring us clean water. That’s why we are behind them,” Mohamed Abdel Aal said after listening to the speeches.

In every mosque
Despite frequent crackdowns by the state, the Brotherhood maintains its popularity through grass-roots contact with Egyptians, says leading member Essam el-Erian.

“The direct channels are more important than propaganda,” he told Reuters. “We are in every street, in every mosque.”

Although the Brotherhood draws on religious symbols and slogans familiar to Egyptians, more than 90 percent of whom are Muslim, its election programme shares the demands of secular opposition groups for more political freedoms.

The programme says the group is committed to democracy, challenging opponents who say the Islamists would set up an authoritarian theocracy if they won power at the ballot box.

“The people are the source of all authority and it is not permissible for any person, group, or authority to claim the right to hold power,” the Brotherhood’s programme says.

Mubarak extended his 24 years in power by winning Egypt’s first multi-candidate presidential election in September, as expected. Tight terms on who could stand blocked the Brotherhood from fielding a candidate.

The American challenge
Mubarak has faced unprecedented criticism and calls for political reform over the last year.

While the Brotherhood has joined the calls for reform, it has been careful not to confront Mubarak’s regime and is contesting only one third of the seats in parliament.

Some observers say that could be why the authorities are allowing it to campaign freely.

In being tolerant, the regime appears to be conducting a ”new experiment” with the Brotherhood, Erian said. “It’s tried the policy of detentions, the policy of trials, and failed.”

If it were to win 70 seats, the Brotherhood would challenge its ban by applying for legal political party status, he said. The authorities justify the ban on the grounds that the constitution prohibits parties based on religion.

The United States, a major donor to Mubarak’s government, has called for more political freedom in Egypt but supports the ban on the Brotherhood, which opposes U.S. Middle East policy in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Erian expects increasing influence for Islamist groups across the Arab world if governments, which have historically given them little or no space, allow more freedom.

“I think the future is for the Islamic movements to manage the affairs of this region. How to face up to the American challenges is a question which depends on America’s position,” Erian said.

“Will America respect the peoples of the Arab and Islamic region and their desires and retreat from its absolute support for Israel? Then, there could be a better future and an end to the waves of terror,” he said.


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