The Brotherhood's next move
What will be the Brotherhood's tactics now it is no longer represented in parliament, asks Dina Ezzat
Pre-election speculation and official, including security, sources suggested that the 88 seats the Muslim Brotherhood won in the 2005 parliament would be reduced to a single digit. Even the most optimistic assessments predicted no more than 20 seats for the Muslim Brotherhood.
The result was much more shocking. Only one of the 130 candidates fielded by the outlawed but popular group made it through the two rounds of parliamentary elections held on 28 November and 5 December.
Despite the group's withdrawal, the single MP told the daily Al-Ahram that he intends to keep his seat.
"We are out of the new parliament but this does not mean that we will be absent from Egypt's political and social scene," insisted Essam El-Erian, a leading figure within the group.
The almost 80-year-old organisation has been represented in just three parliaments, in 1984, 2000 and 2005.
"For us it is neither shocking nor disarming to be out of parliament," said El-Erian.
According to Hamdi Hassan, a Muslim Brotherhood member of the 2005 People's Assembly, "the legitimacy of the Muslim Brotherhood and their presence in society was never based on parliamentary seats despite the ability of the 88 members of the outgoing assembly to bring corruption to the attention of the public."
The Muslim Brotherhood's charities, media channels and religion-related activities will continue to link them with the public.
"The Muslim Brotherhood is not just a political party, it is a movement that has been active and survived rounds of persecution under both the monarchy and republic," says political analyst Mustafa Kamel El-Sayed. It is, he says, a mistake to assume the group will disappear from the public arena because its road to parliamentary representation was blocked.
"To the Muslim Brotherhood, parliament is just one of many political and social venues used to promote their political agenda. It is one aspect of a complex apparatus."
Both in Egypt and abroad people are asking what next for the group. Will the Muslim Brotherhood maintain its policy of non-confrontation towards the regime or will it change tactics?
"We are not expecting a major shift. They know that they have little room to act, they are too weak, and will grow weaker," said one official source who declined to elaborate on the expected further enfeebling of the Muslim Brotherhood. The group has already faced a year long security campaign that has seen many of its members detained.
El-Sayed, too, thinks any major confrontation unlikely, though more severe "harassment by the government", he says, could tip the balance.
"Otherwise I doubt very much that the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood will pursue direct confrontation with the regime."
Hassan, who lost his seat in the Alexandrian district of Mina Al-Bassal, does not sound very keen on a long process of litigation to challenge the result given "the government has already ignored court rulings calling for the suspension of election results in some districts and for a re- election in others."
Nor can elected MPs be expelled once they have been sworn in except by a parliamentary ruling -- something unlikely to happen in the NDP-dominated People's Assembly when the majority of contested seats are occupied by NDP members.
According to both observers and members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the group will probably now attempt to coordinate with other political forces.
El-Sayed and El-Erian suggest the possible creation of a new opposition front gathering political forces -- including the Muslim Brotherhood and the secular parties -- along with social groups such as the Egyptian Movement for Change.
Working with El-Baradei is an option, said El-Erian, adding that for El-Baradei to secure mass support from the Muslim Brotherhood or any other political bloc he "needs to start working on a coherent project" for reform that goes beyond simply calling on society to act to induce it.
It is very much an open question whether El-Baradei will pursue such a course. Yet with or without El-Baradei, El-Erian and Hassan insist, the Muslim Brotherhood will seek to coordinate positions with other political forces, given that most of the opposition has been excluded from the new parliament in elections that many rights groups say were marred by extensive irregularities.
According to El-Erian, the message of the Muslim Brotherhood to the opposition forces is short, simple and to the point: "We are all in one boat."