Al-Ahram Weekly Online   11 - 17 October 2012
Issue No. 1118
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Puppet show or real poll?

The Muslim Brotherhood's political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, is holding elections. How free are they, asks Amani Maged

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Al-Erian; Al-Katatni

The Freedom and Justice Part's (FJP) first election for chairman is scheduled for 19 October. On 14 October the final list of candidates will be announced from which the FJP's national convention will choose the successor to Mohamed Morsi who stepped down as chairman upon becoming Egypt's president.

Morsi was selected by the Muslim Brotherhood's Shura Council. His successor is to be chosen through a competitive electoral process against the backdrop of post-revolutionary Egypt.

Following parliamentary and presidential elections during which FJP leaders worked together, differences have begun to surface. Brotherhood sources describe them as "normal for any party organisation", brushing over the fact they are far from normal among the Brotherhood's senior cadres.

There were no surprises in the nominations apart from Sabah Al-Sakari, the only woman contesting the party leadership. The candidacy of Mohamed Saad Al-Katatni, speaker of the dissolved People's Assembly, was to be expected. So too was Essam Al-Erian's, FJP vice chairman and an MP in the dissolved People's Assembly. Problems did arise, however, when the fourth candidate, Khaled Ouda, accused Al-Erian of using party headquarters for campaign purposes. Ouda appealed to the Election Committee to defer the elections until after the action had been taken against Al-Erian.

Al-Katatni and Al-Erian are the frontrunners. The latter launched his campaign via his twitter account, with an appeal to all participants in the forthcoming FJP convention who wish to support his nomination to come to party headquarters or contact his son in order to obtain nomination forms. He added that the FJP is working towards establishing "a modern constitutional democratic civil state that applies Sharia law".

Al-Katatni's campaign opened more conventionally, spurning social media and instead despatching delegates to various parts of the country to obtain signatures for his candidacy.

Al-Sakari, whose high profile as a female member of the party has been criticised by some as tokenism, says she nominated herself for the chairmanship so that "politics can be practised as it should be inside the party."

"I am not new to the FJP," she said in a press statement. "I've been secretary for Women's Affairs since the party was founded. Everyone knows my capabilities and how committed and dedicated I am to my work."

She said that she would have refused to run if her candidacy served no other purpose than to furnish democratic credentials for the party. "I have a real programme and a comprehensive vision for responding to Egypt's current political condition."

Some observers believe the internal elections will mark the beginning of the FJP's development as a real political party, arguing that until now party members have been too involved in parliamentary and presidential elections to build proper party structures and mechanisms. No one is expecting much separation between the Muslim Brotherhood and its political wing, though there may be some division in administrative areas.

The Muslim Brotherhood will remain the "source of the party's popular fuel" as one Muslim Brotherhood member put it. Such comments are seen as a deliberate attempt to end speculation that the FJP's presidential elections will be the prelude to a battle to divorce the party from its mother organisation.

It is a subject unlikely to be addressed in the campaigns. Many expect electioneering to be intense given that the candidates have little to distinguish them in policy areas and all the victor needs is a simple 50+1 majority.

Others, though, see the whole process as window dressing.

"It's a democratic farce," says Mohamed Anwar Esmat Al-Sadat, head of the Reform and Development Party. The candidates standing against Al-Katatni are being directed by the Muslim Brotherhood in an attempt to provide a smokescreen for the group's bid to assert hegemony over both the state and society. It is inconceivable, says Al-Sadat, that the Muslim Brothers have not reached a tacit agreement over which candidate to support, adding that whichever candidate has the supreme guide's backing would receive even the votes of his rivals.

In a statement to the press Al-Sadat appealed to the Muslim Brotherhood to "show some respect for the intelligence of the Egyptian people". He added that there was no need to "fabricate an entire drama", certainly not when the Brotherhood is happy to see Al-Katatni receive a high level German delegation at the FJP's headquarters. The fact that the delegation visited Al-Erian, who is actually acting chairman, at the party's branch headquarters in Roda only after meeting Al-Katatni, underscored Al-Katatni's ascendancy, said Al-Sadat.

That some of the candidates have complained the office of the supreme guide is meddling in the election lends weight to Al-Sadat's assessment. The Muslim Brotherhood's leadership is accused of letting it be known that it backs Al-Katatni. They are allegations Al-Katatni denies.

"The Muslim Brotherhood does not intervene in FJP elections," he said. He went on to state that he would soon be unveiling his platform in meetings with party convention participants and was happy to have the chance to engage in the democratic contest with his "noble brother" Al-Erian.

Some commentators have suggested that as party chief Al-Katatni would be unable to stand for a parliamentary seat. Al-Katatni disagrees.

"Running for the head of the party is a personal decision. The party decides who will run for parliament and who will become parliamentary speaker."

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