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How Free Were Egypt’s Elections?

Headlines this week exuberantly noted that Mohammed Morsi is now Egypt’s first freely elected president. Well, as things turn out, that may be the only part of Egypt that is free, now that the country is being run by the victorious Muslim Brotherhood candidate.

What in fact do we know about Morsi and the fundamentalist party that backs him? For starters: you can’t trust what it says about itself. The Brotherhood almost instantly went back on its word, after initially promising it wouldn’t run a candidate for president in Egypt. In the end, it ran not one, but two candidates, and it was only when the first was disqualified that Morsi stepped in. He shares, as it turns out, certain important tenets with his backers: he believes that both women and the country’s Copts lack whatever it takes to become an Egyptian president, and he is very conservative.

The Brotherhood itself does not have an especially auspicious past: Back in the 1940s, its leadership, after forging a close alliance with the Nazis, achieved a certain kind of renown for passing out translated copies of Mein Kampf and The Protocols of the Elders of Zion to adherents. It was the Brotherhood’s stated aim to spread theocracies throughout the world, and to that end chapters were formed in Algeria, Sudan, throughout Europe, and, ultimately, even in the US. In the 1950s, members of the Brotherhood attempted the assassination of Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser.

Three decades later, a breakaway Brotherhood group murdered Anwar Sadat. That splinter group, as it happens, was Islamic Jihad, headed by Ayman al-Zawahiri, later to become Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda deputy.

But what of the Brotherhood today, the original core Brotherhood, now that it has achieved its seminal victory? I think it’s instructive that at the very time Egyptians were casting their ballots last week, southern Israel was attacked by rockets fired from the Sinai, Israeli authorities claimed, at the request of the Muslim Brotherhood. An Egyptian Brotherhood spokesman denied responsibility—but the odd synchronization, the eerie timing, “free” elections and lethal bombing side-by-side, struck observers as anything but coincidental.

And other important issues remain completely unanswered. Among them: what, now that the Muslim Brotherhood can effect its beliefs, even impose them on a nation, does it want to do? Possibly the frankest and most fully articulated answer was given not by Morsi, the new president of Egypt (who articulates only minimally with as little candor as he can manage, which is probably how he got elected), but by Essam el-Erian, a senior Brotherhood official:

“Our goal, most important mission is to have an Islamic revival in the society … a new era according to your Islamic beliefs,” Erian told the Global Post last year. “We are not only a political group, we are an Islamic organization. Islam deals with politics, with economics, with social affairs, with solidarity of people, with their education, with all aspects of life.”

This is not good news for all sorts of people who live in Egypt: women, Copts, the secularists who began the revolution, the non-fundamentalists who continued it.

In other words, expect another Exodus.

 

Photo Credit: Jonathan Rashad

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