As Egyptian municipal elections scheduled to be held next April, 8th, come nearer, the Egyptian government"s escalation against the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) gets more aggravated. This escalation included the latest detentions against MB leaders nationwide. Several chairman and many members of MB administrative offices (the highest MB body governoratewide) were detained.
Chairmen were released later. These detentions and municipal elections take place as 40 Muslim Brotherhood (MB) leaders are standing trial before the military tribunal whose sentencing session is scheduled to be held next March, 25th, nearly one week before the municipal elections. These MB detainees include engineer Khairat Al-Shater, the second deputy chairman of the group and Dr. Mohamed Ali Beshr, a member of the group"s Executive Office. This actually raises several questions.
- Are these municipal elections important for the Egyptian regime
- Why the sentencing session of the military trial against the MB detainees was adjourned
- Does the regime seeks a bone crushing round in its war against the Muslim Brotherhood
- Is this a remake of the Muslim Brotherhood"s ordeal during the Nasserist era
Plus several other questions which we will try to unveil in this report.
The Muslim Brotherhood and the regime, a tug of war
The relation between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Egyptian regime during era of president Hosni Mubarak was marked by a tug of war. Both parties fully understood each other"s strategy. Both of them managed to impose themselves in a relatively stable political landscape in Egypt . This Egyptian political landscape even can"t bear the fact that any party of them leaves the stage.
The relation between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Egyptian regime has been jittering without any stable or clear definition except that both parties accepted their current positions while there have been red lines or lines which both parties implicitly agreed on not to surpass.
The Egyptian regime accepted that the Muslim Brotherhood practices a marginal role in the Egyptian society in a very narrow margin that expands and shrinks according to regional and international influences.
For its part, the Muslim Brotherhood accepted this narrow margin without seeking any expansion to it or any real democratic practice.
The relation between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Egyptian regime revolved around this including in any previous elections. In Egyptian 2005 People"s Assembly elections, the Muslim Brotherhood garnered 88 seats, a fifth of the seats of the People"s Assembly, despite the regime"s attempts to curb the number of MB seats. Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif said after the elections that the Muslim Brotherhood could have garnered more 40 seats. Despite the violations committed during the elections, the MB leaders detained were mostly executive leaders (ordinary members- officials – regional officials at most) and the violations rarely included anyone outside this.
By end of 2006, the first clear violation in these lines was the detention of 44 Muslim Brotherhood leaders topped by engineer Khairat Al-Shater, the second deputy chairman of the Muslim Brotherhood and chairman of the MB election file in the 2005 legislative elections Dr. Mohamed Ali Beshr, a member of the MB Executive Office, and another number of MB group leaders. This attack even snowballed with the detention of a big number of officials of administrative offices in governorates. Were there any new developments that made the Egyptian regime tune up its crackdown the Muslim Brotherhood or is it an eradication campaign against the group?!!
Do the Municipal elections require such a huge crackdown or it just an opportunity from the regime to exercise such an escalation.
The Municipal Elections
The municipal elections were postponed for two years in 2006 after the successful performance of the Muslim Brotherhood in 2005 People"s Assembly elections. In 2002 municipal elections, more than 49 thousand seats were up for grab for candidates in Egypt plus 3230 seats of municipal councils governoratewide.
The Muslim Brotherhood fielded in 2007 Shura Council elections candidates to compete on 20% of the seats but it didn’t manage to win any seat in elections which were marred by violations and rigging according to analysts, human rights activists and opposition politicians.
The municipalities don"t have a big effect if compared with those in other countries because the central government appoints governors who are mostly former army or major general. Also, these municipal councils have a small power in imposing taxes.
However, the seats of the municipal councils may become effective in the future on the national level in case an independent politician run for presidency rivaling the ruling National Democratic Party. According to the constitutional amendment introduced in the 2005 package, any independent candidate needs, for his presidential bid to be accepted, the backing of 65 elected members of the People"s Assembly, 25 members of the Shura Council and 140 members of the municipal councils.
Does the regime is actually launching this campaign lest the Muslim Brotherhood"s candidate gain some seats the municipal elections. The answer is no because:
- The Egyptian regime can deny the Muslim Brotherhood any win in the municipalities like what it did in 2007 Shura Council elections.
- The regime knows very well that the Muslim Brotherhood doesn"t go through the municipal elections for gaining signatures of 140 members of municipal councils if the group wanted to field a presidential candidate in the coming presidential elections, especially after denying any MB candidate a win in the 2007 Shura Council elections and the regime knows very well that the Muslim Brotherhood doesn"t want to challenge the Egyptian regime on the presidential office.
Well, what are the real reasons for this aggravated campaign?
There are several reasons, foremost among which are:
1-Preparing the domestic scene for a possible crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood, starting from Al-Azhar University militias incidents in late 2006 and the ensuing intensive media campaign from all Egyptian media outlets.
2-Heating up the domestic milieu against the Muslim Brotherhood after the Muslim Brotherhood released the initial reading of its political program through which the regime managed to deal a death blow to group after stoking up fears of the intellectuals, women and Copts after the Muslim Brotherhood have managed in the last period to get the backing of some of these sections with their reformist view.
3-The Egyptian regime managed to marginalize any role, reactions or even any ceremonial opposition of other political powers through election promises.
4-There is another foreign dimension which is the US alleged role in the reform process. The US administration has recently stopped calls for the Egyptian regime to reform. This may be attributed to the focus on the next elections or it doesn"t likely want to pressure on the Egyptian regime to gain its support in its attitudes against Iran .
These factors may be beneficial for any repressive regime like the Egyptian regime to curb the role of the biggest opposition political power.
I think that the coming few days may witness more escalation, especially after the Muslim Brotherhood attitude of participating in the municipal elections.