There’s no spinning this one: the parliamentary elections in Egypt are an unmitigated disaster. The right-wing, reactionary Muslim Brotherhood is on its way to claiming 40 percent of the vote, and the even more reactionary, violence-prone Koran-thumpers of the Salafist movement Nour are winning 25 percent.
Imagine if the Bible-thumping partisans of Rev. Pat Robertson ilk won the presidency for their deranged preacher-god, and you get the picture.
It’s a disaster not for the United States, which will probably end up doing business fine with the Brotherhood. Nor is it a real disaster for Israel, although the Israelis will use the Brotherhood victory as yet another excuse not to make a deal on Palestine. Who’ll suffer most from the vote now is the people of Egypt themselves, as a two-thirds majority in parliament steers the country toward separate-sex education, veil-wearing women, corrupt Islamic banking empires backed by Qatar and Saudi Arabia and various forms of ersatz-sharia laws that propel Egypt backwards.
The military, which still rules Egypt, will fuss and fight but eventually make an accommodation with the Muslim Brotherhood, though it’s possible that the struggle will turn violent at times. The ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, made up of a passel of American-backed septuagenarian generals left over past their expiration date from the Mubarak era, will try to hold onto power as long as it can, and they may get more than a little ambivalent support from the liberal and secular Egyptians who will reluctantly see the army as a bulwark against the reactionary tide of Islamism. But political power is political power, and it’s looking more and more like the opposition got so badly creamed in election that the military will look to a deal with the Brothers, not Tahrir Square.
And it’s likely to get worse, not better, since the election is held in stages and the more conservative—i.e., more religious—areas of Egypt haven’t voted yet. It’s as if an American election handed power to the Moral Majority and votes from the Bible Belt hadn’t been counted yet. Koran Belt precincts are yet to go to the polls.
To be sure, there are “moderate” elements in the Muslim Brotherhood, including some who pay lip service to democratic ideals and who’ve pledged to reach out to the Christian Copts and others. But they, too, are reactionaries, in the sense that their mission is restore religion to a central place in political life. Throughout its ninety-three-year history, the Muslim Brotherhood has operated as a cell-based secret society, and its leaders have learned never to say what they really mean. In its early history, of course, the Brotherhood was a blackly violent group, often backed by Great Britain (in the 1930s) and allied with the corrupt monarchy against Egyptian nationalists, like the old Wafd Party, and against leftists and communists. Its partisans murdered top Egyptian officials, and the MB formed a paramilitary militia that was widely feared. In the 1950s and ’60s, it twice tried to assassinate Gamal Abdel Nasser, the fierce nationalist who toppled the king. When Nasser died, in 1970, Anwar Sadat brought the Muslim Brotherhood back to the center of politics, aided by lots of help from Saudi Arabia and its intelligence service, then led by the evil genius Kamal Adham.
In 1981, an offshoot of the MB assassinated Sadat, too, and the heirs of that very group are making a comeback in the Salafist Nour party. With 40 percent of the seats in their hands, the Brotherhood is likely to turn to them, with another 25 percent, to achieve a two-thirds majority bloc that will roll over the opposition.