Muslim Brotherhood in pre-election conflict | World| Breakings news and perspectives from around the globe | DW | 12.05.2012
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Muslim Brotherhood in pre-election conflict

The military council currently calls the shots in Egypt, and the Muslim Brotherhood has been challenging that for weeks. To achieve their ends, the Brotherhood has taken to breaking promises - it's a risky strategy.

Mohamed Saad al-Katatni of the Muslim Brotherhood speaks to other members of parliament during the first Egyptian parliament session, after the revolution that ousted former President Hosni Mubarak, in Cairo January 23, 2012. Egypt's first free parliament in six decades got to work on Monday with Islamists holding by far the most seats and opponents comparing their grip on the chamber to that enjoyed by the now defunct party of deposed Mubarak

Mohamed Saad al-Katatni of the Muslim Brotherhood speaks to other members of parliament during the first Egyptian parliament session

The Muslim Brotherhood did not demonstrate alongside other activists on Tahrir Square against the state apparatus of ex-President Hosni Mubarak. But since its formation in 1928, the Brotherhood has continually stood in opposition to leaders - and would always blame the government for wrong decisions and political failures.

Because of that, following the overthrow of the old regime, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) of the Muslim Brotherhood won 46 percent of the vote in the first parliamentary elections in November 2011.

But in the run-up to the presidential elections on May 23 and 24, the party appears to be losing public support. According to Annette Ranko of the GIGA Institute for Middle East Studies in Hamburg, the Muslim Brotherhood has reached a number of decisions in the last few months that have cemented the impression that the Brotherhood is merely protecting its own interests. The Muslim Brotherhood had always emphasized how important it was that members from across the political spectrum participate in finding a solution to country's problems.

Broken promises

Mohammed Mursi is running for the presidency on behalf of the Muslim Brotherhood

Mohammed Mursi is running for the presidency on behalf of the Muslim Brotherhood

As the constituent assembly was due to be elected, the Muslim Brotherhood consistently asserted that it wouldn't allow it to be dominated by Islamists. But half of the 100 representatives were appointed by parliament, giving the FJP and the Salafists a clear majority. Leftists and liberals accused the Islamists of undemocratic behavior. In the end, an administrative court in Cairo suspended the assembly.

Equally, the Muslim Brotherhood had taken every opportunity to reiterate that they would not nominate their own presidential candidate. But then it shut the well-respected and liberal Abdel-Moneim Abdul-Futuh out of the Brotherhood when he declared himself a candidate at the end of 2011 and nominated vice chairman Chairat Al-Schatar.

What sounds like a matter of course actually caused a political earthquake in Egypt. After Al-Schatar and nine others were excluded from the election, pushing the ultra-conservative Mohammed Mursi into the running. "With that the Muslim Brotherhood once again broke its promise and lost credibility," says Egyptian political scientist Sally Khalifa Isaac. The electorate simply don't know what to believe.

Islamists against Islamists

For a long time the Muslim Brotherhood was the only Islamist power on the Egyptian political landscape. But now other Islamist parties have begun to increase in popularity and influence. "Salafists, but also a few moderate Islamists, fear that the Muslim Brotherhood wants to monopolize political Islam," says Ranko. Because of that, rivalries are developing.

Candidates such as Abdul-Futuh, the former Muslim Brother, are now being supported by the ultra-conservative Salafists. They want to prevent the Brotherhood's Mohammed Mursi from winning. "New strategic alliances are coming together in order to curtail the dominance of the Muslim Brotherhood," says Ranko.

Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, head of Egypt's ruling military council, points to a painting as he accompanies Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, not pictured, at the defence ministry in Cairo, Egypt, Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2011. Erdogan, intent on broadening Turkey's influence in the Middle East and the Arab world, started a visit to Egypt and will also visit Tunisia and Libya, two other countries where popular uprisings have ousted autocratic leaders

Tensions are high between Mohammed Hussein Tantawi and the Muslim Brotherhood

Securing privileges

The main reason for the Muslim Brotherhood's change of course is its vacillating power struggle against the ruling military council under Field Marshall Mohammed Tantawi.

The more candidates seeking to rein in the power of the military council, the more the generals fear the loss of their privileges. For the military council, the presidential elections mean everything: the securing of their economic interests, possible criminal prosecutions and their future influence on Egyptian politics. For them, it is vital that the new president is willing to protect their interests.

The FJP is the strongest party in the country ever since the parliamentary elections, but the military council still has the final say. Tantawi may repeatedly proclaim his wish to make way for the Muslim Brotherhood, but he has failed to do so. For the Muslim Brotherhood, that is a signal that the council want to carry over their privileges to a new Egypt, said Ranko.

Going it alone?

At the moment, the Muslim Brotherhood appear to be isolating themselves on the political playing field. That is clear from the conflicts with other Islamists, with the military council and the general population. According to Isaac, nobody is interested in the Muslim Brotherhood having a monopoly on the political process in Egypt. In light of the catastrophic economic situation there, the Brotherhood may also have little interest in taking over political responsibility for the country alone. If they do, they will need to prove to their supporters that they can also solve problems alone.

Author: Diana Hodali / hw
Editor: Ben Knight

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