Wednesday,13 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1131, 17 - 23 January
Wednesday,13 December, 2017
Issue 1131, 17 - 23 January

Ahram Weekly

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To what extent will waning Islamist support be reflected in the results of parliamentary elections, asks Dina Ezzat

Al-Ahram Weekly

Muslim Brotherhood (MB) strongman Khairat Al-Shater has taken charge of the group’s monitoring of the political scene ahead of parliamentary elections amid growing concern that support for Islamists is steadily eroding.
According to sources, Al-Shater is determined to identify where the MB’s support is holding up, where it is in danger of collapsing, and the constituencies likely to witness the closest run election battles.
“It is no secret that the MB’s support is declining in a number of areas,” says one source. “A concerted effort is underway to recapture this support through lobbying and social-financial aid.”
The MB, at Al-Shater’s instigation, has already appointed three new spokesmen drawn from the younger, and better educated, generation in an attempt to polish the image of the group, tarnished by the generally lacklustre performance of President Mohamed Morsi and his government.
The MB and its political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), has drawn back from its strategy of the last two years, in which consensual politics has been promoted — in public at least — over hegemony. It will complete in all list-based constituencies, and is busy grooming members to stand in constituencies reserved for independent candidates.
The group’s strategy, say informed sources, includes compiling candidate lists in cooperation with its ally, the Wasat Party.
The dispute earlier this month between the FJP and Wasat over the failure to appoint Wasat leader Abul-Ela Madi — a former member of the MB — as prime minister as a reward for his party’s support of the FJP during the battle over the recently adopted constitution, appears to have been patched up.
“The Wasat has had to swallow its pride. Its members cannot run outside a larger bloc, and it had no one to turn to apart from the MB,” says Sobhi Essila, senior researcher on political parties at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies. “The Salafis are too far to the right for the Wasat,” and it was never going to be welcomed by the liberals.  
Wasat sources say the party had tentatively approached the Strong Egypt Party (SEP), led by MB dissident Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh, about an electoral alliance, only to be rebuffed.
On Tuesday, Wasat leaders said they might forge a coalition with smaller Islamist political forces and parties, including the SEP.
SEP seems more willing, according to sources, to coordinate with other opposition groups, though not any that include members of the ousted regime of Hosni Mubarak. This includes the Conference Party, headed by Amr Moussa, who served as Mubarak’s foreign minister during the 1990s. The Wafd Party is also out of bounds for SEP. Its leader, Al-Sayed Al-Badawi, is known for his close association with the state, both before and after the revolution.
The Conference and Wafd are members of the National Salvation Front (NSF), a coalition of liberal and leftist parties that recently welcomed Islamic preacher Amr Khaled’s Misr Party.
Sources within the NSF say the opposition bloc recently rejected a SEP proposal to run two election lists to allow for a coalition between the SEP and Dostour, headed by Mohamed Al-Baradei, and for the Wafd to run alongside the Conference and Misr parties.
The NSF’s refusal to enter into an electoral alliance with SEP makes perfect sense, says Essila. “The NSF is opposed to political Islam. Its supporters, for the most part, see SEP as a member of the political Islam camp and would feel betrayed if the NSF entered into a coalition with it.”
The non-Islamist camp intends to present a single list in the vast majority of districts though there will be exceptions in constituencies where two lists might result in a tactical advantage. Islamists, meanwhile, will be divided between one list headed by the FJP and including the Wasat and the original Salafist party, the Nour, with more radical factions of Salafis, including the Watan Party, running their own joint lists.
“The Islamists are well aware of their declining popularity. It is inevitable that they will contrive to coordinate somehow, whether they announce it or not,” says Essila. And “when parliament assembles,” he adds, “they will all join ranks under the banner of the Islamic bloc.”
The opposition, Essila suggests, is also likely to be united in parliament, “even if not as efficiently as the Islamist bloc”.
“I think the opposition has learned the lesson of battle over the constitution. Its strength derives from unity,” he says.
The NSF has yet to announce whether or not it will contest all electoral districts. The opposition, including SEP, has already voiced complaints over the boundaries of districts. Most analysts expect the NSF and SEP — together with associated independents — to stand in 90 per cent of seats.
While there is little consensus over the detailed results of the elections, commentators agree that the Islamists are likely to emerge as a majority.
The 2011 parliamentary elections, conducted under the transitional rule of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, saw the MB and Salafis win over 70 per cent of seats. Today, say sources, Al-Shater fears that if matters are not taken in hand that figure could fall to a little over 50 per cent.
Leading NSF member Wahid Abdel-Meguid agrees with that assessment, while Essila expects the Islamist lead to be closer to 60 per cent.
Political researcher Mohamed Al-Agati says initial indicators suggest a fall off in popular support for Islamists, “essentially due to unsatisfactory living conditions and collapsing optimism, especially in the short term”.
The urban vote, says Al-Agati, will go “predominantly for the opposition”. He also expects the opposition to do well among young voters, and in districts where industrial workers outnumber peasant farmers.
He argues that, “it would be a mistake to assume districts that voted in favour of the [Islamist supported] constitution will support Islamist candidates in the legislative elections.”
“Many voted in support of the constitution in the hope of prompting stability that would lead to an improvement of the economic situation.”
Upper Egypt presents a conundrum to both the NSF and the Brotherhood. Apart from Christian voting blocs the trend in the villages of this impoverished part of the country has long been to follow family notables who traditionally support the ruling party.
These long established voting patterns, however, could be about to break. Essila attributes a possible shake up to the failure of Egypt’s new rulers to reach out to the poor south, while Abdel-Meguid points to the law adopted by the overwhelmingly Islamist Shura Council banning members of the National Democratic Party of ousted president Mubarak from standing in elections. “This law effectively ends the parliamentary ambitions of many notables and has ignited the anger of their families against Islamists,” says Abdel-Meguid.
Halting the decline in support for Islamists in Upper Egypt is one of the key goals of Al-Shater’s strategy.
If the elections are not marred by any irregularities, says Abdel-Meguid, the decline in popular support for the Islamists will be “very visible”. Essila expects to see a continuation in the erosion of the Islamists’ core support that became apparent during the poor turnout for the referendum on the constitution.
“The Islamists are running out of excuses for their poor performance,” says activist and film director Amr Salama. He argues that the public is less willing to accept Islamist arguments that the failure to make progress is a result of the dreadful conditions they inherited, and increasingly sees the Brotherhood’s unwillingness to work with other political forces as part of the problem.
“I am not saying that the Islamists will vanish but I am saying that they are failing and that this failure is becoming ever more difficult to conceal.” Anyone, says Salama, who believed the Islamists would have an easy ride and then continue to dominate the political scene is hearing the wakeup call.

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