Focus on Electoral Process & Elections

PITAPOLICY is pleased to announce two items:

#1: The month of June will focus on Electoral Process, Elections, and Election Politics.  The Arab Awakening has prompted a series of new elections in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya–as well as the renewed discussion of electoral process in others.  Last year the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia voted on whether or not women may vote in the future.  In other parts of the world, like in PITAPOLICY’s home country, the USA, 2012 elections dominate the headlines as both presidential candidates rally around parties and Congressional elections organize their primaries.  On a whole, lessons learned will be shared as pita-consumers compare and contrast election, voter, and party experiences.

#2: PITAPOLICY is joined by its first intern, Nadia Hannout, a graduate of George Washington University!  Nadia will be coordinating PITAPOLICY’s social media platforms: Tumblr, Facebook, and Twitter.  She will also engage with those who comment and wish to submit their contributions for the PITAPOLICY blog.  Nadia’s previous experience includes interning with the League of Arab States’ DC Mission–so we are excited to showcase her first submission to kick-off June’s theme: Electoral Process & Elections.


By: Nadia Hannout

The Muslim Brotherhood is an Islamist organization that has been active in Egypt since the early 20th century. It came into conflict with every regime in power due to the ideological threat it posed to them, although its original motives were not political.  Contrary to government owned media, The Muslim Brotherhood (MB) is primarily a civil society organization.  However it became increasingly political throughout the years despite the obstacles posed by each regime that intended to restrict its political activity.
Following the fall of the Mubarak regime in 2011, and the free parliamentary elections, the political wing of the Brotherhood succeeded in attaining a majority of the seats in Parliament, and although they were expected to be a triumphant group, the extent of their electoral success surprised many.

In order to explain this political success, the organization’s historical relationship with civil society must be analyzed, and by doing so, one can see that the Muslim Brotherhood’s involvement on the grassroots level in addition to its activity in the professional associations prepared the organization for its transformation and success as a political entity once it was able to freely engage in the Egyptian political sphere.
There are several reasons that could explain the political success the Muslim Brotherhood has seen–especially during the recent parliamentary elections that occurred after the fall of the Mubarak regime in Egypt.

MB Grassroots Activity
As mentioned earlier, the MB’s operations as a civil society organization is arguably one of the most important characteristics missed in debate.  Revisit this interview of Egypt scholar, Samer Shehata, for a contemporary update of the MB.  Ziyad Munson suggests that in the first half of the 20th century, its strong support and mobilization was the result of the organization’s prescription for the social ailments faced by many in Egyptian society as a result of rapid population expansion, urbanization, and industrialization. (Ziad Munson, “Islamic Mobilization: Social Movement Theory and the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood,” The Sociological Quarterly, 42, no. 4 (2001) p.491)

The Muslim Brotherhood showed an understanding of the problems faced by the majority of the population, and implemented programs to help address the issues.  By doing so it proved its commitment to societal reform and established a reputation for the organization as an alternative to the state-led institutions that were unable to fully meet the needs of the people.  Munson also argues that the way in which the Society tied the Islamic message to its organization and practical social service infrastructure resonated with traditional Egyptian beliefs and therefore solidified the relationship between the movement’s ideology and the everyday lives of Egyptians. (Munson, p.506)  The organization did not directly appeal to the people on an ideological basis, but instead showed through their programs that there was a shared ideology between the MB and those attracted to its provisions.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s focus on social work is not, however, the only way in which the organization’s engagement with civil society led to its political strength, and there are other ways in which the movement capitalized on civil society’s ability to influence Egyptian politics.  Mustafa Al-Sayyid describes the practice of civil society organizations as one that is used “to obtain concessions from the government or to effect societal change in ways consistent with their vision of an ideal social order.”(Al-Sayyid Mustafa, “A Civil Society in Egypt?,” The Middle East Journal, 47, no. 2 (1993): 238.)  Therefore, in many ways, civil society is used by organizations as an attempt to influence political outcomes.

Organizing Influence
Al-Sayyid argues that the [Islamist] movement utilizes its members’ knowledge, organizational skills, financial resources, and access to mosques, newspapers, publishing houses, professional associations, and political parties, as well as the votes of members and sympathizers in order to oppose governmental policies or the state. (Al-Sayyid, p. 239)  And the organization has proved its success in engaging in these aspects of civil society, particularly in the professional associations.

For example, of the twenty-two professional associations in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood took a controlling majority in the doctors, engineers, pharmacists, scientists and lawyers syndicates, which are also the most politically active. (Ninette Fahmy, “The Performance of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Egyptian Syndicates: An Alternative Formula for Reform?,” Middle East Journal, 52, no. 4 (1998): p.552) As a result of this, several political parties sought alliances with the Brotherhood as evidenced by its alliance with the Wafd Party in 1984, and the Labor-Islamic Alliance whose strength was evident in legislative and local elections that took place in 1987 and 1992. (Al-Sayyid, p. 239.)   Therefore, one can see that the motives of the Muslim Brotherhood’s civil society activity were twofold and targeted the masses to gain popular support while incorporating itself into the aspects of civil society with political influence.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s commitment to improving the social welfare status of the Egyptian population is directly related to the ideals it upholds as an Islamist organization.  Janie Clark points out that, “an essential aspect of Islamist identity is the creation of alternative institutions to those of the state, particularly social welfare ones.”(Janie Clark Islam, Charity & Activism p.14)   The Brotherhood advocated for a society that functioned in accordance with Islamic principles, and the way it disseminated its ideology was by showing the public how they would benefit from the features of an Islamic society.  “Since its establishment in 1928, the constitution of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood has stated its purpose as achieving social justice; providing social security to every citizen; contributing to popular service; resisting ignorance, disease, poverty, and vice; and encouraging charity work.”(Clark, p.15)

Moreover, the reason the Brotherhood achieved its credibility and popularity was because they transformed their rhetoric into practice.  “It established numerous private schools, medical services, and charity services- which provided money, food, and clothes for the poor, aged, orphaned and homeless, to name just a few; it also established a bureau of charity and social services that was responsible for these initiatives, and thousands of Egyptians were affected by its services.  One Brotherhood hospital alone treated 51,300 patients in 1947.(Clark, p.15)  The Muslim Brotherhood stepped in and was successful in providing a large number of Egyptians with basic services that were really the responsibility of the state, and by doing so, it succeeded in becoming an alternative to the inefficient state institutions.  Clark adds, “however, these socioeconomic programs were not ends in themselves; ideally they would lead to the creation of a harmonious Islamic society without exploitation or oppression.”(Clark, p.15)
In order to have a “harmonious Islamic society” however, the government would be necessary to enforce religious mores, and it can therefore be argued that the Muslim Brotherhood saw the possibility of political achievements through a bottom-up approach.  That is, by putting its ideology into practice, the Brotherhood hoped to draw its supporters towards the idea of the establishment of an Islamic society, and if the people called for such a transformation, it would also lead to changes within the political system.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s civil society activity was not limited to its social welfare programs, and a surge of its presence also occurred in the professional syndicates during the last couple decades of the 20th century, which demonstrates that the organization used these associations as method of indirectly engaging in the political sphere they were restricted from.

Part 2 of this post will be shared this Sunday, June 10th…



Filed under Analysis, Politics

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