The Egyptian parliamentary elections took place last week. Though the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) retained its grip on power in parliament, the results have redrawn the political landscape in subtle ways and have set the tone for the presidential elections to come next year.
First, these elections are notable because the Muslim Brotherhood, said to be the most influential opposition group, boycotted them. Recognizing that the NDP wasn't going to give an inch this time around, the group withdrew its list of candidates and refused to take part in the elections. This is a striking contrast to what happened in 2005. Back then, the Muslim Brotherhood won 20% of the seats in parliament. Rumors have it that the regime gave the Brotherhood some extra breathing space in order to compete, if only to show secular elites "what they need to be afraid of.'
This time was different. The regime cracked down hard on media freedoms in the months leading up to the election, and didn't try nearly as hard to conceal the fact that these elections were certainly not fair and transparent. The Muslim Brotherhood read the writing on the wall, and made a strategic calculation not to participate. As a result, they went from controlling 20% of the seats in parliament to controlling none at all.
This represents a break in the dynamics of Egyptian politics. Though officially banned, the Muslim Brotherhood is 'tolerated' by the regime. Moreover, the group of secular opposition parties (Tagammu' on the left, Wafd on the right) have been not only tolerated, but cultivated by the regime in order to triangulate more effectively between the Muslim Brotherhood and the secular opposition. Yet with the Brotherhood's decision to boycott these elections, the future of this political dynamic is called into doubt. The secular opposition parties are also furious, as they have seen the balance of power tilt even more in favor of the NDP in the aftermath of these elections.
What will become of the Muslim Brotherhood in the future? Will the movement devote more of its time and resources towards non-political projects? Since its founding, though, the Muslim Brotherhood has been a political movement, concerned with state power. It's not a quietest religious movement simply focused on societal change (that would be the Da'wa movement, which is not concerned with state power).
I suppose the answer to this question depends on whether the regime is cracking down only in the short-term in order to ensure a smooth presidential election next year, or a smooth transition to Mubarak's successor. After all, even if Hosni Mubarak runs and wins again, the man is not getting any younger. The next few years will certainly be politically delicate in this regard. For this reason, I tend to think it's a bit short sighted to see the crackdown purely in the context of setting the tone for next year's presidential election. I would wager it is something more long-term, designed to make sure any future transition goes as smoothly as possible.