With the votes being tallied in Egypt's first free election in decades, the Muslim Brotherhood -- the controversial Islamist party once banned from politics -- has an early lead and could take around 40 percent of the seats in the new lower house of parliament.
The vote, which took place on Monday and Tuesday of this week, were the first of three rounds of parliamentary elections that will conclude in January. Egyptians will go to the polls again in March to vote on the composition of the upper house, and then again this summer to vote for a president.
The results of these first elections were supposed to be revealed on Thursday, but the ruling military council has postponed an announcement until Friday or Saturday at the earliest. Still, the Muslim Brotherhood -- now running as the Freedom and Justice Party -- is the clear frontrunner.
Muslim Brotherhood's real power comes from their experience. Not only are they the oldest and biggest party -- they have been banned from government for decades, yet have managed to establish a strong presence in the country dating back to the 1920s -- but most other parties have only come into being in the last few months. The Muslim Brotherhood has already been in domestic politics and, more importantly, has the name recognition that other parties don't.
The Brotherhood will be in a strong position, but not a strong majority, Carrie Wickham, associate professor of political science at Emory University and a Muslim Brotherhood scholar, told the International Business Times.
Don't expect the Freedom and Justice Party to be able to impose its agenda over its opponents. Muslim Brotherhood leadership is savvy enough to not try to dictate policies of parliament, she added.
The Brotherhood has shown a history of seeking out alliances with other groups.
As a precursor of what might come, the Brotherhood has already made a number of alliances with smaller, newer parties, such as the left-wing National Progressive Unionist Party and the youth-centric Freedom Egypt Party. However, reports that extreme right-wing Salafist party Al-Nour was in the so-called Democratic Alliance for Egypt worried many Egyptians and sent the Brotherhood clamoring to refute the claim.
The Freedom and Justice Party denied the alleged alliance with the Salafist al-Nour Party, and confirmed that the only electoral coalition now is with the Democratic Alliance which includes 11 parties, al-Nour not one of them, the FJP said in a statement.
Above all else, the Muslim Brotherhood seems prepared to lead. The group has reportedly started talks with foreign governments, such as Turkey and Qatar, in hopes of jump-starting Egypt's economy as soon as they enter office. Additionally, it is said to be talking with accounting companies and financial institutions in the West to better understand borrowing, economic policy, and poverty alleviation.
The Muslim Brotherhood [is the] only force out there with a manifesto and vision, and the mechanisms to do something. It has the money and professional willingness to create an Egypt free of corruption and nepotism, said Ed Husain, a Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, adding that many other politicians are more concerned with being part of history than of actually rebuilding the country.
The Muslim Brotherhood cannot be blamed for their superior electoral skills. Non-Islamist parties need to watch, learn, Husain said later in a separate tweet.
Egypt in Transition
How will the Muslim Brotherhood influence Egypt's future? With a projected majority in the new parliament, how might the democratic future of Egypt play out?
With Egypt's new democracy still in its embryonic stages, the simple answer is that we just don't know. The power of the new parliament is far from determined and there is simply no way of knowing what its future role will be.
The Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) -- the current, unelected ruling body in Egypt -- has been reluctant to give up any power. The Muslim Brotherhood, as well as all other members of parliament and political parties, will need to make sure that that the SCAF steps down as promised. While the military probably doesn't want permanent authority, it will want to make sure that it retains its sovereign authority.
The military has its own... interests to protect, Wickham said. They are not intent on ruling Egypt long term, but they have an agenda they want to protect; they don't want civilian input on their budget. Civilian oversight is at odds with their best interests.
Additionally, there are a number of other institutions that managed to maintain their authoritative structure after the end of the Mubarak government. These include most, if not all, government ministries. The task of parliament will be to make sure democracy triumphs over all aspects of Egyptian society.
Still, some Western observers are wary of the Brotherhood, especially if the party changes its mind and decides to run a candidate for president in June, which it has promised it won't do.
The group has a rocky past that is scattered with violence, harsh rhetoric about foreigners, and fundamentalist tendencies. One common insinuation regarding the party is that establishing Islamic Sharia law will be first on the agenda.
Sharia, even for the most conservative in the party, is not the main priority. The main objective is to build a new government, Wickham said.
The last thing it wants to do is take any bold measures that could generate a backlash and disrupt the democratic process itself, she added.
However, with a parliamentary majority, the Muslim Brotherhood will likely be able to promote a number of members to the commission for drafting a constitution. Again, everything depends on the SCAF stepping down, but the Brotherhood's early influence could have a significant effect on Egypt's future.
Still, Wickham believes that the Muslim Brotherhood won't push its own agenda and instead opt for cooperation in the name of the rebuilding process.
I don't think the Muslim Brotherhood would try to be the only voice in that commission. Again, the leaders are savvy enough to acknowledge that for the constitution to achieve legitimacy, it would need to represent all of Egyptian society, she said.
The Voice of Tahrir
More significant (and more controversial) than the results of the elections are the elections themselves.
Following a week of pre-election protests that resulted in more than 30 deaths, some Egyptians are still in Tahrir Square, the Cairo site that has become the symbol of both the country's resistance and its continued discontent, and have boycotted the elections all together. Some refuse to vote until the SCAF either resigns or is expelled.
But the elections are a positive step in the process of building a new government. Despite the SCAF's authoritative (and sometimes totalitarian and brutal) control, the protesters won an important victory in moving up the presidential elections by a whole year.
There is thought now that Tahrir could again come alive if the Muslim Brotherhood, or more fundamentalists like Al Nour or other Salafist groups, win a significant number of seats in the new government.
The whole thing is chaotic in Tahrir Square, Husain noted. There is no leadership, no coherent thought. There's beginning to be a real leftist, Communist, and anarchist presence in the square. It's a protest for sake of protesting.
However, others disagree. For Wickham, the presence of the protestors still in Tahrir is vital to the future of the country. With the military council still in control of the government, the protestors who have proved willing to sacrifice themselves for their country, have a better chance of forcing the SCAF to step down than even the new parliament or an elected president.
For now, the future of Egypt is still in the hands of the people -- the people who voted and will continue to vote for the country's new leaders, and the people in Tahrir Square, Alexandria and elsewhere around the country still discussing what the country they want to make should look like.
These are the first real elections that Egypt has witnessed, Gamal Eid, executive director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, told BusinessWeek. The most important thing is for this to be a free vote, regardless of who wins, as this will reflect the will of the people.