Al-Ahram Weekly Online   24 - 30 November 2011
Issue No. 1073
Election 2011
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Islamist election map

Amani Maged reviews the confluences and fault-lines engineered by the plethora of Islamist factions

photo: Sherif Sonbol Click to view caption
Islamists are heavily represented in the electoral campaign as they are expected to win 45 per cent of People's Assembly seats photo: Sherif Sonbol

The 2011 parliamentary elections are not only the first to be held in post- revolutionary Egypt but also the first in which the full gamut of Islamist movements and factions will take part. The Salafis, Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya, Jihad and the Sufis have never before participated in the political process. For some, such as the Salafis, non-participation was voluntary. Before the revolution they shunned political involvement, denouncing it as sinful and the democratic process as heretic. While in the past Muslim Brotherhood members fielded themselves as independents, with the creation of the Freedom and Justice Party the group is now participating in an official capacity.

With their newly formed political parties, the Salafis and Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya are encroaching onto what was once a Muslim Brotherhood preserve. Until the revolution, the Muslim Brotherhood had been the sole representative of the Islamist trend in the political process. In part because of public sympathy at the way it was repressed by the regime it became a formidable opposition force and succeeded in making major inroads in syndicate, municipal and parliamentary elections.

The revolution, however, has turned earlier balances and assumptions in the Islamist camp upside down. Now they have hit the campaign trail Islamists, as a whole, expect to win 45 per cent of the seats in the People's Assembly. The following is a brief overview of the major Islamist parties:

The Freedom and Justice Party is the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, the oldest Islamist organisation which has a daunting reputation for organisation wedded to political experience gained from having participated in parliament since 1987. The party is headed by Mohamed Mursi.

The Nour (Light) is the largest of the Salafist parties participating in the political process. It is headed by Emad Abdel-Ghafour.

The Wasat (Centre), the first party to be licensed after Mubarak was ousted, maintains an Islamic frame-of-reference and is headed by ex-Muslim Brother Abul-Ela Madi.

The Reform and Development Party is the political wing of Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya. Tareq El-Zomor is one of its founders.

The Asala (Authenticity) is a Salafist party founded in July 2011 and headed by General Adel Abdel-Maqsoud Afifi. It is supported by Salafi preachers such as Sheikh Mohamed Hassan and Mohamed Abdel-Maqsoud Afifi.

The Reform and Revival Party, set up on 18 July 2011, is an outgrowth of the Islamist Project for Social Reform which began operating in Alexandria in 1997. Both are headed by Hisham Mustafa-Abdel Aziz.

The Egyptian Liberation Party is the first political party to represent the interests of Sufi orders, including the Azamiya order founded and led by Mohamed Alaaeddin Abul-Azayem. Ibrahim Zahran heads the party.

THE DEMOCRATIC ALLIANCE: Several months ago the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) joined with a host of other political groupings to form the Democratic Alliance. From a highpoint of 40 members, the Alliance has shrunk to just ten and now includes, alongside the Muslim Brotherhood's political wing, the Karama (Dignity), Ghad (Tomorrow), Reform and Revival, Hadara (Civilisation), Labour, Social Peace, Geel (Generation), the Arab Socialist Egypt and the Liberal Parties. The Alliance will contest the elections under the slogan "For the Good of Egypt" rather than the Muslim Brotherhood's motto "Islam is the solution".

It will field 678 candidates on its lists -- 498 for the People's Assembly and 180 for the Shura Council -- of which the vast majority, 500, are FJP members. The FJP, which is fielding 76 female candidates, is the only member of the coalition to have placed women on its lists. The Alliance's Cairo list is headed by Wahid Abdel-Meguid, chair of the coalition steering committee. Leading Karama Party figure Amin Iskander, ranks third in the list, behind Hazem Farouk, an FJP member and former MP.

Recent changes to the electoral law dictate that half of any list must comprise workers and farmers, and that each list includes at least one female candidate. The rankings of FJP female candidates on Alliance lists vary. Manal Mohamed Abul-Hassan ranks fifth on the list for Cairo's district. Nagafa Abdel-Mawla, who doubles as a "worker", ranks sixth on the list for Cairo's District 3. Wafaa Mustafa Mashhour, daughter of the sixth Muslim Brotherhood Supreme Guide, heads the list for Assiut, followed by Maha El-Sayed Abul-Ezz.

In Alexandria constitutional scholar Sobhi Saleh leads the first list. He faces competition from Salafi candidates and former NDP bigwig, construction magnate Hisham Talaat Mustafa.

Despite a large Salafist presence, Alexandria's Islamist politics have long been overshadowed by the Muslim Brotherhood. With the emergence of Salafist parties such as the Nour, competition between these two camps of the Islamist movement is expected to be tough in the Mediterranean city.

In Minya the FJP is fielding its Secretary-General Mohamed Saad El-Katatni. He faces an uphill battle against Wasat Party Chairman Abul-Ela Madi who broke away from the Muslim Brotherhood 15 years ago.

In Qalioubiya FJP candidate Secretary- General Mohamed El-Beltagui is almost guaranteed victory in a constituency he has long served as MP.

Key JFP members top the Alliance's lists in other districts. In Giza Districts 1 and 2 JFP is fielding, respectively, its Vice President Essam El-Erian and Helmi El-Gazzar. In Gharbiya District 2, Sharqiya District 2 and Beheira District 1, the lists are headed by Saad El-Husseini, Farid Ismail Abdel-Halim and Gamal Hishmat.

In some governorates the 10-member Democratic Alliance will compete against "remnants" of the former regime. In Qena District 1 Mahmoud Abdel-Rahim faces former MP and NDP stalwart Abdel-Rahim El-Ghoul.

The coalition has not concentrated its efforts evenly across governorates. In North Sinai, where tribal allegiances are likely to prevail, it is fielding just four candidates: Suleiman Saleh, Khaled Mohamed Muslim, Mohamed Nassar Ibrahim and Inas Mustafa Hamdan. Campaign strategists appear to have assumed their candidates would be unable to compete against Sinai Bedouin.

THE ISLAMIST ALLIANCE: When the Salafist Asala Party and Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya's Reform and Development Party withdrew from the Democratic Alliance in protest at the FJP's refusal to give them greater prominence on the candidate lists, they turned to another Salafist Party -- the Nour -- to form an alternative electoral coalition. The Islamist Alliance is fielding 695 candidates in the People's Assembly and Shura Council elections. Of these, 610 are members of the Nour, including 60 women. Many suspect the latter were included out of legal necessity to meet the quota demanded under the electoral law. Certainly their presence does not shield the Salafis from charges of misogyny, given that the ultra- conservative parties refuse to allow their photographs to appear on posters or campaign literature. In place of their images a flower symbol has been substituted.

The Nour Party's strongest support is thought to be in the Delta, in Alexandria, Beheira, Damietta and Qalioubiya. The Asala Party, headed by General Adel Afifi, is fielding 40 candidates (35 for the People's Assembly and five for the Shura Council) and the Reform and Development Party is fielding 45 candidates (38 for the People's Assembly and eight for the Shura Council). Whereas the Asala is focussing on the capital and Middle Egypt, the Reform and Development Party is homing in on the Saeed, or Upper Egypt.

Among the Islamist Alliance's most prominent candidates are Abdel-Moneim El-Shahat, spokesman for the Salafist Calling in Alexandria, who is running in the Montazah District, Hazem Shuman in Mansoura and Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya lawyer Mamdouh Ismail, standing in District 1, Cairo. In districts where leaders of the Ansar Al-Sunna Society and the Islamic Law Society are standing they have been placed at the top of the lists in an attempt to capitalise on the popularity the two organisations have won by providing health services.

Salafist sources claim that the alliance has a huge following and predict that it will win 30 per cent of parliamentary seats.

Despite defecting from the Democratic Alliance, the Salafis and other Islamist parties continue to coordinate with the FJP led coalition in the face of challenges from "remnants" of the former NDP, allocating districts so as to avoid competing Islamist candidates and a split in the Islamist vote. The Islamists have also reached agreement in some constituencies being contested by independents. The Salafis, for example, agreed not to contest the independent constituency of Talbiya, leaving it to a Muslim Brotherhood candidate, and in return the Brotherhood is leaving the field open, in the same constituency, for the Nour's "worker" representative.

In northern Cairo the FJP and Nour engaged briefly in a tug-of-war over Mohamed Yosri Ibrahim, Secretary-General of the Islamic Law Organisation for Rights and Reform. Both parties wanted him to head their list in Madinat Nasr. Ibrahim settled the dispute by opting to run as an independent.

Although the Nour is a new party, it has already shown formidable organising ability. Since being founded it has made rapid strides towards building up a nationwide, grassroots base and now has 100,000 members spread between 150 branch headquarters.

WASAT LEADERS HEAD THEIR PARTY LISTS: The Wasat is fielding 322 candidates for the People's Assembly elections on lists in 46 voting districts and 70 candidates in single-ticket ballots. Party leaders top the lists in the hope their names will attract votes. In the Shura Council elections the party will contest 24 out of 30 districts, with 96 candidates on proportional lists and 20 on single-ticket ballots. The party's candidates include two Copts and 69 women.

In Minya Wasat Party head Abul-Ela Madi faces FJP Secretary-General Mohamed Saad El-Katatni. In Damietta veteran lawyer and Wasat Vice President Essam Sultan also faces a tough Brotherhood challenge in a campaign that has already degenerated into mutual accusations and slurs.

Less fraught, but also interesting, will be the race in North Giza/Imbaba where the Wasat list is headed by Nader El-Sayed, an Egyptian national football team goalie.

"COME TO SUCCESS!": Hayya ala al-falah (Come to success!), one of the refrains of the call to prayer, has been chosen as the motto of the Egyptian Liberation Party, the first official Sufi grouping to stand in elections. Led by Ibrahim Zahran, the party represents the Azamiya order, the largest Sufi group in the country.

The motto, says the party's Secretary- General Essam Mohieddin, reflects his party's belief in the work ethic.

The Egyptian Liberation Party has held several workshops for its members in an attempt to turn political novices into effective campaigners and organisers. Sheikh Alaa Abul-Azayem, the master of the Azamiya order and one of the founders of the party, is shuttling back and forth between Aswan and other Upper Egyptian cities to support the party's candidate and Sufis running as independents or as candidates of other parties. The Egyptian Liberation Party is fielding 15 candidates, including three women, in three governorates. Sufi candidates also appear on the lists of Wasat, the Wafd and the Liberal Party.

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