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An end to Brotherhood hegemony?

ahram weekly

20/2/2013

A new report has predicted an all but even split of the 2013 parliamentary seats between the regime and opposition, writes Dina Ezzat, who spoke to the report’s author Mohamed Agati

An end to Brotherhood hegemony?

The Muslim Brotherhood and its allies are unlikely to secure more than a little over 50 per cent of the total parliamentary seats in the elections that should be conducted this spring, should the electoral law be passed by March and the opposition decide to join the electoral race, suggests a fresh study.

The study, to be issued in a few days by the Al-Rawfid Publishing House, is by researcher Mohamed Agati, and it suggests that the opposition, as represented by National Salvation Front (NSF) figures and parties as well as other liberal quarters, former regime opposition figures and split-offs from the Islamist camp, would also secure a little under 50 per cent.

“This makes an all but even split of parliamentary seats between the regime and opposition,” Agati told Al-Ahram Weekly as his study was being sent to print.

In early 2011, the Islamists, still not ruling and not divided, made an outstanding gain of over two-thirds of the parliamentary seats in the elections. This was exactly the reverse of the 2010 parliament, the last before the 25 January Revolution, when the then ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) of ousted former president Hosni Mubarak controlled over two-thirds of the seats.

“Now we are moving in a more participatory set-up in which some Islamists would be standing on the right and may be even on the left of the opposition on many issues,” Agati suggested.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) with its allies the Salafist Watan and more moderate Islamist Wasat Party, along with other smaller political parties and entities made up of Salafis and Jihadis, would have to face the opposition of the more radical Salafist Nour Party that has been engaged in an uphill struggle with the FJP on matters related to the application of Islamic Sharia.

Earlier this month, the Nour argued with the FJP over a government decision to accept a loan with an interest rate in what was qualified by the Salafist party as a violation of Sharia law.

This debate took place in the Shura Council, the upper house of Egypt’s parliament that was elected in 2011 and that is dominated by the Islamists, aside from those of the then-unformed Strong Egypt Party.

“This is an example of the kind of disputes that we can expect in the 2013 parliament between the Islamist ruling regime and the right-wing Islamist opposition,” Agati suggested.

Agati is meanwhile predicting a more fundamental dispute between the FJP camp and MPs from the Strong Egypt Party, led by ex-Muslim Brotherhood figure Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh.

“On the face of it, the Strong Egypt Party has an Islamist composition, but at the heart of its platform it fully subscribes to concepts of social justice. This means that its MPs would give the regime a hard time on matters related to the budget,” Agati said, adding that “as the new parliament should start to convene early next summer, and as the new budget should be passed next July, we could expect this debate to be at the forefront of parliamentary disputes.”

Otherwise, Agati said his study indicated that the all but even split of seats between the regime and opposition “at a moment of unmasked and maybe even unchecked political polarisation simply means that the upcoming parliament is unlikely to have an easy time agreeing on fundamental matters.”

This, he added, “would simply mean that the pressure from the street would continue and that may be even confrontations on the street would continue.”

“Unfortunately, the outcome would be rather unfortunate because it looks as if we are awaiting yet another phase of slow decision-making at a time of serious socio-economic challenges,” Agati said.

Another outcome, Agati suggested, of the new formulation of the parliament was the end, may be once and for all, of the previously grouped together Islamists. “Now we are getting more into a phase of true political parties that agree or disagree on the basis of their political interests and agendas. In fact, we are about to see possible alliances between the Islamists and non-Islamists on some fundamental matters, like those related to social justice for example,” he added.

Other key matters that Agati is expecting the 2013 parliament to debate include controversial laws relating to personal liberties and political freedoms that are due for debate and “in theory adoption”.

“I am not sure that with an all but evenly split parliament one could expect many laws to be adopted, especially the controversial ones,” he said.

Agati is anticipating that the expected nature of the 2013 parliament will make the already tough job of president Mohamed Morsi and his next government “to be formulated after the parliamentary elections even harder than it already is, due to the expected lack of agreement on most matters.”

“It might be even safe to argue that this new parliament will only accentuate the political handicaps of the presidency, and it may even prompt a premature end to the rule of the president due to consequent complications,” Agati said.

He added that “in this case we would be talking about the fall, rather than the ousting of the president.”

The new study comes almost on the eve of the beginning of the registration of candidates for the 2013 parliamentary elections, which may see a sharp drop in the share of the Muslim Brotherhood of parliamentary seats compared to 2011.

The fall will be based on the political turmoil that the regime has been facing since last autumn and the deteriorating economic conditions.

Agati’s study states in no uncertain terms that Port Said, Suez and Ismailia, which have seen some of the worst confrontations between the regime and the public, “rather than the regime and opposition per se”, are already lost by the FJP-led Islamist camp.

Equally lost are areas of the lowest socio-economic echelons of society, where pessimism reigns supreme and where the credibility of the Muslim Brotherhood regime has been all but lost, the study says.

“Today, one could safely argue that the best results for the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies will be in the border governorates like north and south Sinai and Marsa Matrouh,” Agati suggested.

Other areas where the FJP-led camp could secure good support are in governorates of average poverty and average unemployment — a governorate like Fayoum is one example that the Agati study offers.

“Meanwhile, like the most underprivileged, the most privileged would vote for the opposition,” Agati said. He hastened to add that it was important to avoid making this divide an Islamist versus secularist one, however.

“It is basically a vote for or against the regime and for or against the opposition, and the opposition does have an Islamist component now,” Agati stated.

The key to the gains of the NSF and the rest of the opposition, including those who subscribed directly and indirectly to the regime of ousted former president Hosni Mubarak, Agati explained, was their control of key voting blocs in governorates like Cairo and Alexandria.

“In fact, if the opposition works hard it could push up its chances because some of the governorates that are expected to vote for the FJP-led camp, like Aswan for example, traditionally have a relatively low turn-out, meaning that there is a swing voting bloc there that could be gained by the opposition.”

Meanwhile, Agati expected that the new parliament would likely give credit to some new political entities if their MPs managed to make an imprint.

“For example, few as they might be, the MPs of the Strong Egypt Party could choose to abandon their neutral political positioning during the recent turmoil,” Agati said.

He added that public opinion did not have much faith in general in the performance and promises of the old political parties due to their record before and after the 25 January Revolution and that it was looking for credible alternatives that could emerge.

“Inevitably, the coming parliament might be the last for the hegemony of the traditional political forces. The following parliament is bound to bring in new faces and new political dynamics,” he stated.

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