In Focus: The MB and Municipal Elections: Losses without Gains
In Focus: The MB and Municipal Elections: Losses without Gains
Tuesday, February 26,2008 10:42
By Khalil Al-Anani

The Muslim Brotherhood group recently announced in a statement and on their official website, that it will field candidates in the April 8 municipal elections, stressing that their participation is a religious duty.

It is every citizen’s right to participate in the political process; it’s a basic right guaranteed by all constitutions. The rule is that in politics all is permitted and prohibitions are the exception. However, participation is not an end in itself, but rather a way to achieve certain goals, and so the Brotherhood must be making some gains through participating.

But it seems that the decision was hasty and uncalculated, not only because of the increased humiliation and oppression of Brotherhood members — unprecedented since the 1960s — but also because there seems to be no tangible advantage to justify their decision.

Objectively, we can assess the group’s decision in terms of “cost and return” to clarify the magnitude of the losses and gains this would mean to the group, without getting into a rambling whirlpool of condemnation or praise.

Starting with the costs, it’s known that the group has been facing an aggressive arrest campaign since their victory in the 2005 parliamentary elections.

It seems there is an implicit decision to halt any Brotherhood attempt to use their parliamentary victory to make social gains or to infiltrate the government and its institutions. This is seen by the authorities as a red line which cannot be crossed by any dissenting current since it poses a threat to the regime’s existence. Yet the MB’s insistence on participating in the municipal elections breaks the rules of the game that has been ongoing for a quarter of a century, one which fits into the formula of "containment without integration."

The government uses a set of political, legal, security-related and constitutional “sticks” to control and besiege the activities of Brotherhood members, whether in mosques, universities, civil associations or the People’s Assembly.

If it has become routine to intensify attacks against the Brotherhood before they participate in major political events (protesting during the Gaza crisis, for instance) or elections (Shoura Council and municipal elections), the group should then be more discreet before making political decisions that would lead to more violence and oppression against them.

It would be politically “stupid” to give the regime a legitimate pretext to continue to eliminate them and deplete their resources.

Besides other justifications for participating in the municipal elections (despite the objection of some Brotherhood strongholds) the group’s fear of isolation is the biggest motive. The MB is aware of the regime’s determination to force a new political reality on the scene to go with the March 2007 constitutional amendments, and so it believes that its decision  will at least deprive the regime of enjoying the fruits of this imposed reality.

But the MB should have done its math before deciding to participate. On the one hand their participation will give a false air of legitimacy to the electoral process and hence cover up all the possible violations; and on the other hand they know full well that they will not rake a single seat.

The issues at stake do not merely revolve around electoral fraud or vote-rigging, especially in the absence of judicial supervision of elections. The problem has more to do with the “single party” ideology that prevents any opposition or Brotherhood candidates from competing against the ruling National Democratic Party candidates. Their participation also gives the government a strong excuse to arrest their potential candidates for “membership of a banned group.”

Perhaps the only positive outcome of joining the municipal elections for the MB is to test the ability of mass support in the polls without their use of the slogan “Islam is the solution.” This is indeed worthy of attention, since it would be the first time such a thing has been attempted since the motto"s launch in 1987.

It would also be interesting to monitor what would happen if the group makes a last minute declaration that it will withdraw from the elections. It means that the MB would have accomplished its goal of revealing the regime’s violations and possible electoral fraud.

Khalil Al-Anani is an expert on Political Islam and Deputy Editor of Al Siyassa Al Dawliya journal published by Al-Ahram Foundation.

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