Al-Ahram Weekly Online   19 - 25 January 2012
Issue No. 1081
Egypt
 
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Brothers seek parliamentary alliance

In the absence of an overall majority the Muslim Brotherhood's political wing is seeking parliamentary allies, reports Gamal Essam El-Din

Click to view caption
Saad El-Katatni after he was announced as speaker of the newly elected People's Assembly

Egypt's first post-Mubarak parliamentary elections closed on 11 January with Islamist parties having secured more than two thirds of People's Assembly seats.

The Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) -- the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood -- said it expected to occupy around 233 seats, or 46 per cent, of the 508 total, following the three stage poll. According to the party it won 207 seats in the first and second stages and 26 in the third stage. In this week's delayed elections the FJP secured four further seats, raising its presence in the next parliament to 237 MPs. Some results have yet to be declared.

The FJP thus remains short of the 255 seats required for an overall majority.

The Salafist Nour Party had won 121 seats, or almost 22 per cent of the total, prior to this week's by-elections. According to party officials, 111 of its candidates were returned in the first two stages and 10 in the third stage. In this week's delayed polls it secured two more seats.

The moderate Wasat Party, and the Reconstruction and Development Party, the political wing of Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya, have won 11 and 15 seats respectively.

So far Islamist parties have won 70 per cent of all seats. This figure could rise to between 73 and 75 per cent after election results in 37 seats are completed on 20 January.

In the absence of an overall majority, says FJP Secretary-General Saad El-Katatni, his party will look to forge an alliance with other parliamentary forces. The most likely candidate is the liberal-oriented Wafd.

Semi-official figures suggest the Wafd will have between 43 or 45 MPs. During a visit to the People's Assembly last week, El-Katatni said a meeting could take place within days between FJP officials and the Wafd to discuss the possibility of coordinating in the upcoming parliament.

Hussein Ibrahim, chairman of the FJP's Alexandria office, told Al-Ahram Weekly that "an alliance between the FJP and Wafd could include coordination over the selection of the parliamentary speaker, his two deputies and the heads of the assembly's 18 committees."

On 16 January the FJP announced El-Katatni as its candidate for the post of speaker.

"The secretary-general of the party which wins the highest number of votes would expect to be his party's candidate for speaker," says Ibrahim. "I would also think his two deputies would be drawn from the parties -- the Nour and Wafd -- that secured second and third place in the polls."

Speculation is rife that the FJP will head at least eight parliamentary committees. The chairs of the remaining 10 committees will be divided among other parties.

The Wafd, like Nour, was once a member of the FJP-led Democratic Alliance. It abandoned the coalition weeks ahead of the poll following arguments over candidate lists. But Wafd Chairman El-Sayed El-Badawi insists a new alliance could work, especially if it is based around the document on constitutional principles drafted last September which both the Wafd and FJP signed.

According to El-Badawi an alliance with the FJP could include implementing the document on constitutional principles, especially in selecting members of the constituent assembly tasked with drafting the new constitution, the speaker and two deputy speakers and the heads of parliamentary committees.

Meanwhile, Cairo has continued to see an influx of delegations visiting from the US. They have US assistant secretary for Near East Affairs Jeffrey Feltman, US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns and former US president Jimmy Carter (1976- 1980). All have made the pilgrimage to the FJP's headquarters, keen to explore the position of Egypt's largest parliamentary party on a number of strategic issues, not least the 1979 Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty, and to assess its commitment to democracy, human rights and religious tolerance.

FJP leaders have been keen to reassure their visitors that they will not seek to use their majority in parliament to turn Egypt into a religious state. El-Katatni told parliamentary correspondents that "we also told the Americans that the large number of Salafist members of the new parliament should be seen as a blessing since their involvement in formal politics means they will have to learn the art of compromise rather than push an extremist agenda".

El-Katatni did not explain why the Salafis would want to compromise if it did not involve securing some elements of their agenda. His failure to do so reinforced concerns expressed by liberal commentators that, following presidential elections, the FJP and Nour are likely to draw closer to one another, especially when it comes to pseudo- religious issues such as imposing stricter censorship. FJP lawyers have already filed a case against liberal businessman Naguib Sawiris, accusing him of insulting Islam for posting a cartoon of a bearded Mickey Mouse and face-veiled Minnie.

Following the three-stage polls the liberal Egyptian Bloc -- an alliance including the Sawiris-led Free Egyptians, the Egypt Social Democratic Party, and the leftist Tagammu -- won around 40 seats. Other forces -- independents, the leftist Revolution Continues alliance, and remnants of ousted president Hosni Mubarak's defunct ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) -- are expected to occupy between 35 and 40 seats.

Of the FJP's MPs, 30 served in the 2005- 2010 People's Assembly. Among them are El-Katatni, expected to be speaker of the new People's Assembly, Sobhi Saleh, tipped as chairman of the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee, Ashraf Badreddin, tipped to head the Budget Committee, Hussein Ibrahim, expected to chair the Industrial Committee, Akram El-Shaer, tipped to head the Health Committee and Al-Azhar cleric Sayed Askar, a strong contender for the chairmanship of the religious affairs committee.

Others, who are members of the FJP-led Democratic Alliance but not of the party, expected to occupy leading positions are Al-Ahram political analyst Wahid Abdel-Meguid, tipped to head the Foreign Affairs Committee, and Mohamed El-Sawy, expected to chair the culture, tourism and media committee.

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