Focus on Electoral Process & Elections Part 3

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.

Our first post began with a discussion of Egypt and the Muslim Brotherhood by Nadia Hannout.  She described the grassroots, civic participation in organizing the Muslim Brotherhood in part one of her essay.  Last week, we reviewed how a political campaign in the US shares similar moments and obstacles during candidate elections in countries, like Tunisia.  This week, we will continue with part two of Hannout’s discussion. 



By: Nadia Hannout


As previously mentioned, members of the Muslim Brotherhood made up the majority of the five most politically active associations, and Islamist members accounted for more than fifty percent of the total. (Fahmy, p. 553.) Although Islamist activists did not hold political power, they had other appealing traits that attracted supporters.  The Brotherhood was competent, efficient, and turned its ideas into realities, all appealing characteristics. The positions obtained by what is referred to as the Islamic Trend allowed it to forge a relationship between those on the fringe, and the Brothers in these new positions. (Carrie Rosefsky Wickham, Mobilizing Islam: Religion, Activism, and Political Change in Egypt, (New York: Columbia University Press, 2002), 190.)
The “Islamic Trend” made sure to remain active by going out into the fields of its associations and addressing the concerns of the people.  Prior to the Islamic Trend’s presence, “ the association leaders sat in their offices and expected the doctors to come to them.  This was a mistake.  We [the Islamic Trend] go to the doctors, go down to the work place, the hospitals, and clinics, to ask doctors about their problems and complaints.” (Wickham, p. 190.) By increasing their outreach, the Muslim Brothers were aware of the immediate concerns of the masses.  The professional associations were also important because of the youth it attracted.  During this time, there was a dramatic increase in membership due to the increase of university graduates, and “the most important outlet for postgraduate activism was the professional associations.” (Wickham, p. 190.) These associations became important sites where the Brotherhood could attract young professionals who related to its visions.

At the same time, the Islamic leadership  surfaced in these associations.  The leadership implemented reforms that led to an increase in their efficiency by emphasizing equality amongst its members and instituting new projects aimed at aiding the recent graduates that comprised much of the new membership. (Wickham, p. 191) By putting its ideas into practice in the professional associations as it did with its social welfare activities, the Brotherhood increased its appeal as an efficient organization working towards the improvement of Egyptian society.

Meanwhile, the Brotherhood was always restricted from the political sphere, however throughout the years, its members were successful in attaining positions within the Egyptian parliament through different methods.  In 1977, General Guide, Al-Tilmissany decided to enter the Brotherhood into parliamentary elections in alliance with the Wafd opposition party. ( Mona El-Ghobasy, “The Metamorphosis of the Egyptian Muslim Brothers,” Cambridge University Press, 37, no. 3 (2005): 378,  The alliance was created in order to over come a number of newly implemented laws intended to hinder the possibility of opposition parties gaining a significant amount of representation.  This partnership won the Wafd-Ikhwan’s fifty-eight of the 448 seats, eight going to the Muslim Brothers. (El-Ghobashy, p. 378.)  During the 1987 elections, the Muslim Brotherhood changed its tactics and aligned themselves with a weaker partner, the Labor Party, and despite government attempts to further restrict the Society’s progression, it was able to attain thirty-six seats, which when combined with those earned by the Labor Party totaled fifty-six seats for the “Islamist Alliance.” (El-Ghobashy, 379.)  The growing oppositional presence in parliament led to greater means of oppression from the government, and the 1987 parliament was dissolved, causing the Brother’s to boycott the 1990 elections, albeit a continuing domination of the professional associations. (El-Ghobashy, p. 381.)  However, the most visible interference in internal union affairs since Sadat’s dissolution of the bar association’s board in 1981 was the creation of the Law for the Guarantees of Democracy in Professional Associations. (El-Ghobashy, p. 384.)  It required a fifty percent quorum for union elections, and was a direct result of the Brotherhood’s domination in parliament and the organization’s ability to prove its competency above the government by providing relief and financial aid to the victims of the devastating earthquake that hit Cairo in 1992. (El-Ghobashy, p. 382.)

The obstacles to the Brotherhood’s political participation continued to increase, and it was the most evident during Mubarak’s rule.  “In January 1995, at the very beginning of the parliamentary election year, eighty-two of the Ikhwan’s leading middle-aged activists convening the Muslim Brothers’ Shura Council were rounded up and detained in the first round of a sweeping crack-down unseen since the 1950s.” (El-Ghobashy, p. 384.)  A series of setbacks and successes such as these continued.   In 2011, the State intervened to such an extent that the Muslim Brotherhood failed to attain any seats in the first round of the November 28, 2010 parliamentary elections, clearly due to physical government intervention at the poll sites and fraud.  Yet the results of the 2011 parliamentary elections, the previous election of Brotherhood members and the subsequent government reactions reflect the organization’s achievements in the professional syndicates, and its exceptional mobilizing abilities.  Furthermore, it is interesting to note that despite the regime’s intent to suppress the Brotherhood’s political activity, it allowed them to represent the opposition in the professional associations as an alternative to allowing them access to the political sphere where they would be directly vying for the regime’s power.
This all changed following Mubarak’s resignation.  For the first time since its establishment, the Muslim Brotherhood was free to enter the political arena without state intervention.  It formed a political party and won about forty-seven percent of the seats in the first Parliament elected since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak. This would not have been so if it were not for the historical role the Brotherhood played in Egypt’s civil society.  In an interview with Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha Center, he pointed out the fact that the [Muslim Brotherhood] “really is a grassroots organization, and the Brotherhood at its peak in the 1940s had—some estimates say—around 1 million people, and the Egyptian population at that point was about 20 million.  So we’re talking about a group that really had a big part of Egyptian society on its side, being part of what they were trying to do, so that’s incredible when you think about it.”   Click here for full interview.  The Brotherhood’s mobilization on the grassroots level is the reason for its extensive support network, and once it was free to form a political party, its support was evidenced by its landslide victory.  Those who saw the organization’s efforts and accomplishments throughout the years clearly believed that given the opportunity, the Brotherhood would be able to positively influence the post-revolution society by being a part of the future government.


Islamist movements are not new phenomena, and the organizations appeal to its followers for a variety of reasons.  The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt was aware of the issues that a majority of the population felt needed to be addressed, and actively sought to bring about those changes.  Although the movement is driven by its desire to bring about an Islamic society in Egypt, its popularity and support was not solely achieved because of its ideology.  Rather, it was its ability to make changes on the ground, where the people saw how the Brotherhood turned its ideology into realities that immediately affected their lives.  This was witnessed by the Brotherhood’s civil society activity, specifically through its social welfare work and its presence in the professional syndicates.  Its welfare programs aided many who were disillusioned by, and not able to rely on the State, and the Brotherhood’s ability to deliver on its promises created a relationship with its supporters that transferred into political support when the organization launched its political party.
Prior to the Brotherhoods direct involvement in Egyptian politics, its presence in the professional associations prepped the organization because of the indirect relationship between the associations and the State.  In this area, the Brotherhood was again successful in demonstrating its intent to bring about positive reforms for society by its increased outreach, and programs aimed at increasing the syndicates’ efficacy.  In a country where an authoritarian regime was unconcerned by the problems its people faced, the Muslim Brotherhood stepped in and focused its efforts on providing the people with what the State could not.  By doing so for decades, it established itself as an organization that many viewed as an alternative to the fallible state institutions, and it is because of the Brotherhood’s historical involvement in civil society that it is now such a popular political entity in Egypt’s post-revolutionary society.

Note:  Nadia Hannout is a graduate of George Washington University!  Nadia coordinates PITAPOLICY’s social media platforms: Tumblr, Facebook, and Twitter. She also engages 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


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