A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Strange Bedfellows: The Brotherhood, the Wafd, and Other New Best Friends

As Egypt engages in a debate over whether to write a  new constitution before  holding elections, or to proceed as currently planned and hold elections in September and then  revise the constitution, the liberal political parties have generally favored the constitution first, while the Muslim Brotherhood prefers the \present schedule. Prime Minister Essam Sharaf was widely quoted as saying he favored the constitution first approach, but subsequently backpedaled and said he had been misunderstood and besides, it wasn't up to him, suggesting possibly that the Army Council had overruled him.

Further muddying the waters is a curious multi-party alliance recently forged, or perhaps not. A few days ago, the Muslim Brotherhood, the Wafd Party, and a group of other parties in Egypt (a total of 18) announced an alliance of sorts, though exactly what sort remains unclear. (They "discussed" running a unified list of candidates, but apparently didn't actually announce they would form one.) The Economist notes some of the ironies: though the Brotherhood and the Wafd forged an electoral alliance in 1984, at that time the Wafd was the senior partner and the Brotherhood technically illegal. The Wafd traces its origins to the 1919 Revolution, and the crescent-and-cross flag of that uprising (left) is echoed in the Wafd's more modern logo (right). The Brotherhood, far from proclaiming a secular and non-sectarian message, has as its motto, "Islam is the solution."

The alliance also includes other Islamist parties and even the leftwing Tagammu‘ party, not to mention several new parties of varying political coloration. It seems clearly to ber an electoral maneuver to capitalize on the fact that the Brotherhood does not plan to run candidates in every Parliamentary race. Issandr El Amrani used his weekly comment in Al-Masry al-Youm to analyze what he calls "a dalliance, not an alliance," and ashe notes, it's far from clear what the parties have agreed on. "Sandmonkey" (Mahmoud Salem) calls it an unholy alliance and offers some good observations, though he reads it as if the parties have agreed to run a unified list, whereas I read it only that they have agreed to "discuss" one.

This article in Arabic on the Muslim Brotherhood website lists all 18 parties to the agreement. If it is an agreement.

My own take at this point is that most of the party-alliance maneuvering right now will evaporate quickly if a constitution first approach is taken; a shift back to a proportional representation system from the current constituency system would transform everybody's calculus.

But Sharaf's seeming shift in his position suggests the ultimate decision, at least for now, may with the men behind the curtain, the Supreme Council for the Armed Forces. In public at least the Giza sphinx remains more talkative than they do, but all indicators are they support elections first, and no delay in the September schedule. The Brotherhood prefers early elections before the liberal and secular parties have time to fully organize, and that lack of organization seems evident in this electoral maneuvering.

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