Compared with 1984, the atmosphere of the 1987 Egyptian elections was decidedly less free. The outcry of the opposition in 1984 primarily concerned the forged results on election day itself. [1] In 1987, the pressure on the opposition during the campaign was much stronger. The Emergency Law, extended almost routinely every year since Husni Mubarak came to power, offers the regime an array of measures for interfering in the campaign. Administrative detention was used to intimidate opposition militants. A country-wide wave of arrests of Muslim Brothers, particularly prospective poll watchers, started a few days before the elections. According to the Amal Party newspaper, Al-Sha‘b, ten days later more than a thousand were still detained. [2] Throughout the campaign, police also arrested small numbers of leftist militants and sometimes candidates, but unlike the Islamist detainees, they were usually released after a few hours. Such actions were a constant reminder of the risk of campaigning.

The government virtually monopolized the media, and further hampered the ability of parties to address the public. Every electoral meeting entailed laborious negotiations with authorities. Even when the competent authority had agreed to the time and place, it was not uncommon for the State Security (amn al-dawla) to cancel a meeting at the last moment on “security grounds,” forcing a party to go through considerable expense and effort to reschedule the whole event again.

Police sometimes broke up duly registered meetings anyway; the threat was always there. At a meeting in Abu Atata, in Giza, for example, a nervous atmosphere reigned because candidate Kamal Abu Eita (a Nasserist on the Tagammu‘ ticket) and a number of his supporters had just been arrested for staging a street march to rally people to attend. The meeting did proceed, virtually under siege. Local police were joined by large numbers of secret police masquerading as bystanders in the conspicuously inconspicuous way that seems to be the hallmark of secret police everywhere. When they threatened to intervene (for reasons which in the turmoil I could not quite follow) the entire audience immediately rose to its feet and started singing the national anthem, Biladi, biladi. This, and hasty negotiations by the Nasserist chairperson, led the police to withdraw.

The meeting was allowed to proceed, but such circumstances clearly signal to ordinary citizens that they would do better to stay away so as not to get into trouble. The ubiquitous presence of the secret police was such a matter of course that many a speaker, at least on the left, explicitly addressed them with a revolutionary optimism that only seasoned leftists can muster, attempting to educate them about the pernicious policies they too were said to suffer from.

Simply distributing leaflets in the streets could (and for many did) lead to trouble. Every banner and leaflet had to be submitted to the authorities for approval. A law-abiding candidate could easily have consumed all his or her time in government and security offices. Many candidates simply decided to ignore certain prescriptions, which in turn exposed them to harassment. Demonstrations with posters and megaphones or cars with loudspeakers were officially forbidden, although NDP infractions were always overlooked and opposition demonstrations sometimes tolerated, mainly in the countryside. Political propaganda on factory premises or at factory gates was completely out of the question. So parties and candidates resorted to mini-marches from a candidate’s home or office to the place where a meeting was to be held, hoping that the police would look the other way or find it too cumbersome to intervene in a crowd.

The Sayyida Zainab branch of the Tagammu‘ resorted to a kind of hit-and-run tactic to overcome its imposed limitations. After one successful Tagammu‘ march in this neighborhood, the police were sufficiently alerted to prevent one planned for the next evening. Five army troop carriers deployed at the police station next to Tagammu‘’s local office just before the march was about to start. So the party called off the march. Instead, a small group of activists armed with leaflets and megaphone quickly packed into a few cars and set out for another neighborhood to outpace the authorities. Militants measured success in this kind of activity by the number of hours they managed to carry on undisturbed.

All the opposition parties have complained about falsification of the voting results by the NDP. This took three main forms: repressive measures against the opposition which made it impossible to wage a normal campaign on even remotely the same terms as the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP); interference in the voting procedure on election day; and falsification of results during the counting at the aggregate level. The government has tried to dismiss these charges as sour grapes rationalizations of defeat, and cites the case of Yusuf Badri, an independent Islamist candidate who defeated the minister for war production in Helwan. Even allowing for some exaggeration in the recriminations of the opposition, though, it is hard to escape the conclusion that the charge of fraud is justified.

Election Day

On election day I visited several polling stations in Daqhaliyya province, first with two Egyptian journalists and later on my own. We started in Mansurah early in the morning and by evening I ended up in Kafr Shukr in Qalyubiyya province, Khalid Muhi al-Din’s home base.

Tagammu‘, Wafd and Ikhwan representatives complained that too many people wanting to vote for the opposition did not find their names in the official voting register. Having learned from their 1984 experience, the opposition had in many cases come prepared with copies of the official voters’ registers. We found in several villages a kind of parallel electoral administration: party members armed with those lists behind a table just outside the polling station, and people who had been turned down inside, lining up to have their names checked once again, only to find out that they were duly registered.

I also saw how the Tagammu’ Party, at least in some of their stronghold villages, tried to strengthen the hand of many of its illiterate supporters vis-à-vis the government employees who pretended they were at the wrong polling station. They had prepared a small form with the person’s name, the place where he or she was registered and the voter’s number, as well as the symbol of the Tagammu‘ party. Another such paper was printed with the symbol of the individual candidate supported by Tagammu‘. This was a sensible idea, because with the large number of independents in many districts, it was not easy for an illiterate person to figure out the symbol of his or her candidate in a long list of other symbols. (The important number one slot on this list invariably had been awarded to the NDP candidates; they were also the only ones to have the same nation-wide symbol — a camel.)

There were drawbacks to this system: any voters presenting such papers were clearly signaling their intention to vote for the opposition. Nowhere in the countryside did I see facilities for casting a secret ballot. It took considerable political consciousness and determination for opposition supporters to insist upon their right to vote when they were told their name was not on the list and they were surrounded by a group of intimidating NDP people. I saw several incidents in which such “troublemakers” were expelled without much ado.

There were also the usual complaints about the sudden reincarnation of dead voters and the large number of absentee voters, all of whom favored the NDP. The extent to which such fraud happened was clearly a function of the strength the opposition could mobilize locally. While this did not prevent administrative manipulation, it helped to prevent NDP supporters from expelling opposition poll watchers (mandubin) from the voting stations or from pressuring them into looking the other way while they stuffed ballot boxes with extra NDP votes.

Police at the Polls

The local strength of the opposition could be gauged primarily by the absence or presence of the Central Security Forces (amn markazi) in a village. Wherever one saw opposition militants gathered around the polling stations (mainly the Muslim Brothers, to a lesser extent Wafd and Tagammu‘ people), one saw the deployment of amn markazi troops to keep a close watch on the watchers. This was most striking in Kafr Shukr, where Khalid Muhi al-Din enjoys a virtual power monopoly locally. The amn markazi was out in full force when I arrived there at the end of the day. Their lineup in front of the polling stations — helmeted, with visors down, shields and guns at the ready — conveyed a grim atmosphere. Voters had to run a virtual gauntlet to cast their vote.

I witnessed the aftermath of intervention by the security forces in the large village of Mit Silsil, near Manzala. We arrived there around noon to find a large police force in the street facing what turned out to be a furious group of Tagammu‘ supporters. As soon as we identified ourselves as “press,” the Tagammu‘ group started a demonstration, blocking all traffic and shouting: “as-sahafaa feen, at-tazwir ahol” (Where is the press? Here is the fraud!). We were almost physically assaulted by the crowd, eager to vent their fury and frustration. According to the local Tagammu‘ candidate, Muhammad al-Duhairy, and several of his mandubin, the voting had gone on without incident during the first hour. Then at 9 o'clock a large group of NDP people broke into the school serving as a polling station, threw out the Tagammu‘ mandubin and began filling in ballots in favor of NDP candidates.

The expelled poll watchers sounded the alarm among Tagammu‘ supporters in the village, who were quite numerous and militant. (They had staged a successful rally there three days earlier which some 1500 attended.) These supporters stormed the school to stop the operation. During the fight that ensued, the ballot boxes were destroyed and emptied. Tagammu‘ militants seized an impressive number of pro-NDP ballots — far in excess of any conceivable turn-out after only one hour of voting — as proof of the fraud. They showed us their booty and invited us to verify that a whole stack of ballots had obviously been filled in with the same handwriting.

The police were called in. The Tagammu‘ people alleged they had been expelled (leaving the NDP in control of the polling station) and then beaten up and teargassed in the street. We went to the polling station to check the story. The NDP leader there first denied that there had been any problems. But when we established that the voting had effectively come to a halt and that the ballot boxes had indeed disappeared, he suddenly became very nervous and angry and told us unceremoniously to leave immediately. When we did not follow his injunction quickly enough, he and his helpers started pushing us to our car, and then pounded on it with wooden sticks. We drove away quickly to avoid the stones being thrown at us. A Tagammu‘ youngster who had apologized for the unfriendly reception was beaten up by the NDP helpers. This set off a fresh raid by the security forces against the rest of the Tagammu‘ crowd. These were the last things we saw in our rear-view mirror as we drove out of town. When we slowed down a bit outside the village, we were overtaken by a car whose two occupants asked us to stop. We did so, thinking they were the police. Instead, they turned out to be Wafdist mandubin, who didn’t want the “foreign press” to leave without registering their complaints as well; these confirmed the Tagammu‘ story.

Regular Irregularities

It may be that this confrontation was just one of those isolated and scattered incidents which the minister of interior acknowledged did occur without affecting the overall honesty of the elections. But when I went later in the afternoon to the provincial headquarters of Tagammu‘ in Mansurah, I found another mandub who had been thrown out of a polling station and whose clothes had been completely torn apart. Still another mandub arrived somewhat later, a simple fellah whose feet were swollen as a result of being rudely kicked out as well. Reports of the expulsion of mandubin from other polling places kept coming in over the telephone at the headquarters. Detailed reports of incidents and irregularities such as those which I witnessed have come from all opposition parties and with such consistency that they have to be taken seriously.

A second level of falsification took place at the counting office at the provincial center where the results of the subdistricts were aggregated. Many mandubin complained that they were allowed to view only part of the counting process or were excluded altogether.

In the cases of Tagammu‘ leader Khalid Muhi al-Din and of his fellow former Free Officer, Lutfi Waked, both candidates for the single seat in their district, such rigging clearly played a major role in their defeat. On the basis of the results from the many villages where Muhi al-Din was able to mobilize enough poll watchers to prevent tampering, he was credited with such a comfortable lead that his victory seemed imminent. But the results of such important subdistricts as Tukh and Shebin al-Qanatir suddenly reversed the trend. Many of his watchers were expelled in these districts; his count watchers (mandubin al-farz) were not allowed to attend the counting operation nor even to know the final results. A week after the elections these were still unobtainable. All the opposition parties have lodged complaints against the official process in these two subdistricts. [3]

The same thing happened to Lutfi Waked in Sharqiyya Province, in whose district Tagammu‘ scored some of its best results in 1984. He too saw a winning trend reversed in the two subdisticts where his representatives (and those of the other candidates) were prevented from attending the counting operation. The sudden victory of his opponent was all the more surprising because the NDP candidate faced not only a number of influential opposition figures but, due to internal conflicts in the provincial NDP branch, a second official NDP rival as well. Waked’s substantiated and detailed account of the strange things which happened in his constituency leave little doubt as to the nature of his opponent’s victory. [4]

Thus the 1987 elections had a strange air of déjà vu about them. The failure of the left to secure one or more seats in parliament also assumes familiar dimensions. On the other hand, the entrance en bloc of the Muslim Brothers into parliament imparts a sense of change. The innovation lies not so much in the entrance of the Muslim Brothers in parliament (after all, they had eight seats on the Wafd ticket in the outgoing parliament), nor in their changing horses to get there, but in the different weight of their representation.

“Islam is the Solution”

In 1984, the ban on religious parties left the Muslim Brothers no choice but to align with an existing legal party. Only the Wafd seemed to offer the possibility of getting beyond the 8 percent minimum hurdle. But the sheer weight of the Wafd prevented the Muslim Brothers from influencing its political orientation, especially in the sensitive domain of the application of the Islamic shari‘a. The Wafd, historically the party of national unity, was not ready to sacrifice its considerable Coptic constituency, already alarmed by this pre-election deal. After the elections, the alliance quickly fell apart.

This time, the Muslim Brothers turned to Ibrahim Shukri’s ‘Amal Party, whose origins date back to the Misr al-Fatat (Young Egypt), a nationalist party founded in the 1930s. Young Egypt tried to compete with the Muslim Brotherhood but never managed to attract the same mass following. With the general upsurge of socialist sentiment in Egypt after World War II, it called itself the Socialist Party.

In its cultural-ideological outlook, Young Egypt has always been very close to the Muslim Brotherhood, although its Islamist nationalism was more progressive in social content. In this respect, the party was much closer to the Free Officers. After the dissolution of all political parties, it was practically coopted into the Nasser regime, some of its leaders becoming cabinet ministers. It made a comeback under the name of ‘Amal (Labor) in 1978, when Sadat chose Shukri to lead a loyal opposition; the party obtained 29 seats in the notoriously rigged 1979 elections. After Camp David, ‘Amal rejoined the “disloyal” Islamist, liberal and leftist opposition.

Clearly, for the Muslim Brothers ‘Amal is an ally with which they are in tune. Unlike the Wafd, they can dominate it more easily. The three parties agreed upon a 40(‘Amal)-40(Muslim Brothers)-20(Ahrar) division of seats on the Tahaluf (Alliance) list. The Muslim Brothers set the tone of the Tahaluf election campaign.

It seems that the Brothers are poised for a “long march through the institutions.” In the past they had always refused to take part in elections, not considering themselves an ordinary political party and in fact denouncing “partyism” (hizbiyya). [5] But now that they have decided to avail themselves of the electoral opportunities, they have taken the job firmly in hand. Of the 15-odd official electoral meetings (apart from smaller informal meetings and canvassing marches) I attended both in Cairo and in the countryside, theirs were by far the most impressive. They were well-attended (always a few thousand) and well organized. There was always an impressive service d'ordre; from community singing and mass prayers to the timing and shouting of slogans, little was left to improvisation.

A small example from Mansurah may help to illustrate the Brothers’ mobilizational capacity. Because the government usually relegated public opposition rallies to an inauspicious area or back street, the Brothers organized a whole chain of human signposts to direct people to their meeting in Gedeila (adjoining the city of Mansura). Upon arriving in Mansurah, I found every few hundred meters along the main road somebody with a poster with arrows indicating the direction to the meeting. In this respect, only the NDP was able to compete with the Brothers.

The Islamist camp also exhibited considerable unity between the different fundamentalist currents and an ability to make room for the new generation. The highly symbolic names from the traditional Muslim Brothers organization are still there, such as the son of Hasan al-Banna, the founder of the Brothers, and the son of Hudaibi, the deputy leader who succeeded al-Banna. But new faces have come up, such as ‘Isam al-‘Aryan (who was elected to parliament) and Hilmi Gazzar. Both are former leaders of the gama‘at islamiyya, a generic term for a wide array of Islamist groups in the universities. Both are now also elected members of the Doctors’ Syndicate, an institution in which the fundamentalists have mounted a concerted and successful campaign for influence. The gama‘at islamiyya have in the past often criticized the Muslim Brothers for having become too tired and moderate. The new cooperation between the old guard and these leaders in their 30s has undoubtedly invigorated the “legal” fundamentalist movement.

The election campaign provided ample evidence of the fundamentalists’ new dynamism, and their success will strongly increase the pressure for change in the realm of Islamic legislation. It is less clear what the Islamists’ success is going to mean in other areas. Their slogan, “al-islam, huwa al-hal” (Islam is the solution) and their call for a new moral order has not been given much specific content. Of their 10-point election program, only points seven and eight deal with socioeconomic issues, and then only in rather general terms: In Tahaluf rallies, the speaker dealing most extensively with socioeconomic issues would almost invariably come from the ‘Amal ranks.

No Irresistible Rise

One of the few advantages that people otherwise opposed to the Islamist advance see in this is that now the Islamists will have to take a stand in parliament on concrete issues. Once on record, the Islamist prescription could prove to be a distinction without a difference. After all, the so-called “Islamic” companies such as al-Rayan and Sharif Plastic Company, and the powerful Islamic private investment companies which control an estimated $8 billion in assets [6] and which are generally believed to be the financiers of the Islamist campaign, are thriving on the same infitah policies as those pursued by the government.

Although the emergence of a strong Islamist opposition was no doubt the most important feature of these elections, still one should beware of overestimating the irresistible rise of the Islamist trend. It is doubtful whether all those who expressed their opposition to the government by voting Tahaluf are also committed to radical Islamist solutions. In the big urban rallies one sensed a strong ideological commitment among the enthusiastic crowds, who seemed to be overwhelmingly students and petty bourgeois elements. But with the fellahin in the countryside, I sometimes felt that in repeating the slogans shouted from the rostrum they were participating in a compulsory ritual, readily but without the ardor of the urban audiences.

Patterns of family and clan loyalties (‘asabiyya) and patronage apply to the Islamist camp just as to government and secular opposition candidates. A Tahaluf meeting in Awsim, in Giza governorate, the home base of Shaikh Salah Abu Isma‘il, one of the foremost Islamic leaders in the outgoing parliament, was as much a meeting of support for the shaikh as for the cause. The organizers seemed slightly ill at ease at the outpouring of peasant enthusiasm centered on the shaikhly medium rather than on the message. Enthusiastic supporters of the shaikh who marched into the meeting shouting slogans extolling the virtues of their patron were quickly hushed. Later on, the spontaneous deployment of banners for Shaikh Salah was allowed but hardly encouraged. Just as supporters of Khalid Muhi al-Din are not all dedicated leftists, Tahaluf voters are not all Islamist militants.

The emergence of voices opposing the Islamist tide was another interesting phenomenon of the 1987 elections. Dr. Farag Fuda, who resigned from the Wafd in 1984 in protest against its alliance with the Muslim Brothers and who has written a number of books advocating a secular state, ran in 1987 as an independent candidate in North Cairo. He waged a courageous campaign, facing many often vicious attacks. Anonymous pamphlets portrayed him through twisted quotations as a self-declared enemy of religion. He stood no chance of winning, but his candidacy may be an indication of a growing awareness in (elite) circles that they should raise their voices against efforts to claim Islam for partisan purposes. One such effort is the appeal of a Committee of National Brotherhood (Lagnat al-Ikha’ al-Qawmi) signed by 45 leading intellectuals, writers, journalists and (ex-)politicians such as Muhammad Haikal, Ahmad Baha ad-Din, Tawfiq al-Hakim, Khalid Muhammad Khalid, Laila Takla, Sadat’s former Minister of Foreign Affairs Muhammad Ibrahim Kamil, and many others.

Whereas in 1984 all parties, including Tagammu‘, bowed to the prevailing Islamist mood and demanded the adoption of shari‘a in one form or another, in 1987, Tagammu‘ quietly dropped that plank and the Wafd reintroduced an old slogan — “Religion for God and the homeland for all.”

One of the main beneficiaries of the upsurge of the Muslim Brothers might well be the Mubarak regime itself, which is why the whole process is viewed with such suspicion by the left. Many Egyptians who are opposed to fundamentalism and who fear Lebanese-style sectarian strife may well turn to the government to check such a threat. The Wafd and the other secular opposition parties are too weak to be a credible counterforce. Some Tagammu‘ leaders even maintain that the government deliberately facilitated the relative victory of the Muslim Brothers to frighten the secular opposition into cooperating with the government. This smacks too much of conspiracy theory, and does not explain the wave of arrests among Islamist militants and mandubin on the eve of election day. But there are reports that at least in certain areas some factions within the regime, who under Sadat favored the Islamist groups to contain the left, have concluded a “non-aggression pact” with the Islamist camp. This was allegedly the case in south Cairo district, where such an understanding between the NDP slate and the independent Islamist candidate Yusuf Badri led to the victory of the latter at the expense of the “independent” minister of war production. Yusuf Badri subsequently termed these elections “the most honest ever” and the government assiduously publicized the defeat of the minister to prove its neutrality in the election process. [7] But even if unplanned, the outcome of these elections objectively favors such a government strategy of forcing the secular opposition’s hand.

Consequences for the Left

For the left these elections have been a great disappointment. Not many in the Tagammu‘ seriously believed it would be allowed to obtain 8 percent. But they anticipated that at least the party would increase its votes in absolute numbers, if not in percentage. Neither prospect materialized.

Tagammu‘ has blamed the widespread electoral fraud as the primary reason for this setback. But other opposition parties also suffered from the electoral fraud and were still able to secure a number of seats. The ability to limit the extent of fraud is very much a function of a party‘s weight in the local power structure in the countryside. Given the very low turnout in the cities, where Tagammu‘ finds most of its political support, the rural dimension assumes greater weight. The Wafd and the Muslim Brothers, both old political forces, can draw upon much larger ‘asabiyya (family, clan and religious loyalties). They also have more supporters among the many government employees who run the elections (chairmen, assessors of polling stations, judges) able to resist gross intervention at the expense of their parties. The Muslim Brothers in particular can draw upon the network of thousands of private mosques as a political platform, the &lddquo;Quran-learning” clubs (gam‘iyat tahfiz al-qurari), and many charitable organizations.

All this amounts to saying that the results reflect, even if only to a limited and distorted degree, the extent to which the competing political forces have struck roots among the people. The question arises what the left has done since 1984, and why the decrease in absolute number of votes?

There were differences within the Tagammu‘ as to the wisdom of participating at all, as long as the electoral law had not been fundamentally altered and there were no reasonable guarantees against fraud. Tagammu‘ initially proposed a boycott to all the opposition parties and only decided to enter the battle when it became clear that the other parties would not follow suit. Many remained skeptical and the issue resurfaced during the campaign. It was one of the first things to come up during an emergency meeting of militants in North Cairo, just after an authorized electoral rally was cancelled at the last minute on “security grounds.” The call to withdraw from the elections was rejected, and in the end everyone abided by the official party decision, but for some it was without much enthusiasm. It came up again during the last week of the campaign, when the party’s weekly Al-Ahali carried a big headline about official negotiations between the opposition parties to withdraw in protest against mounting government interference. The negotiations did not produce a decision to withdraw, but the publicity about withdrawal was hardly conducive to mobilizing extra energies.

More important than these factors are those related to the nature of the party itself. Ten years of cooperation among Marxists, Nasserists and the enlightened religious trend, which make up the “formula of Tagammu‘,” have left many contradictions outstanding and given rise to new ones. Some complain that the concern with the internal balance of forces consumes much energy, and that the need for compromise leads to a lack of a clear-cut identity: is it Marxist, is it Nasserist, is it Social-Democratic, and what does any of this mean in an Egyptian context?

Certain Nasserists think that Tagammu‘ is marred by its image of Marxist domination, an image the government and the right do everything to exaggerate. They hold that the party should provide greater prominence to the allegedly much more popular Nasserist ideology. But they derive little comfort from the poor show of the independent Nasserist candidates, none of whom was elected.

Nor can those who think that Tagammu‘ is marred by too many “prominent intellectuals” and armchair leftists, and who advocate a clear-cut radical course, find much support for their thesis in the results of the four independent candidates who, by public knowledge, represented the underground Communist Party. The Communists presented three of their leaders in Cairo and Giza, and a fourth in Gharbiyya province. In South Cairo district, which includes the Helwan industrial area, Nabil al-Hilali, the renowned labor and human rights lawyer, stood. Shaikh Mubarak Abdu Fadl, a veteran of the Egyptian communist movement since the 1940s, was their candidate in North Cairo, and in Giza their candidate was Mahmud Amin al-‘Alam, a well known intellectual and one of the few Marxists in the leadership of the Arab Socialist Union after the Communists had decided to rally to the Nasserist regime. None of these three leaders got more than about 700 votes in their districts.

Analyses of identity and image-building tend to stress the importance of political discourse over the more crucial issue of political organization. Here these elections have uncovered some serious weaknesses. The campaign of 1984 showed that many, especially young people, were ready to move and become active on behalf of the left. But apparently Tagammu‘ has not been able to capture these energies by providing a meaningful framework for political participation. Time and again during the last years the problem of famal gamahiri (mass work) has returned as one of the main problems in building the party. Many “basic [party] units” reportedly have lapsed into inactivity. This is one important difference with the Islamist groups which, through their many clubs and multifarious activities, seem to provide a much stronger sense of political community for their members, while at the same time creating many links with the people through their multiple social services.

Identifying the problem is easier than finding a solution. For if the regime is quite willing to allow the left to express itself in its party press and to tolerate political meetings within party premises, it is allergic to any organizational drive in the streets and on the factory floors. Such activities quickly prompt arrest under the charge of “trying to create an illegal communist organization.”

Being very active during the very short period of an election campaign does not bring in many votes if you have not been active long before on an organizational level. That makes all the difference between “parachuted” newcomers like Communist candidate Mahmud Amin al-‘Alam in a Giza district and a man like Ahmad Taha in North Cairo. I ccompanied al-‘Alam on a tour of Bulaq al-Dakrur, a poor, overcrowded area in Giza. I was almost overcome by a kind of vicarious despair at the sheer magnitude of the candidate’s task of just making himself known beyond a small circle of intellectuals. Al-‘Alam sought out key community leaders, such as leaders of regional associations (rural migrants to the city who come from one area tend to flock together for mutual support), and a group of young lawyers working in the area on one day, and a group of young doctors working in a popular clinic another day. This was sensible but very time consuming and labor-intensive. There is a long way from a sometimes spirited dialogue — for instance about the candidates’ assessment of the Nasser regime in the meeting with the lawyers — to political support, let alone willingness to actively mobilize others in the area on behalf of a Communist candidate.

The importance of a long-term presence in the area is highlighted by the case of Ahmad Taha. He is an ex-Communist, elected to parliament as an independent in 1976 and reelected in 1984 and 1987 on the Wafd ticket. He has lived many years in Shubra and maintains an office where people come for help in their daily problems, especially when there are no elections. How this pays off became very clear at a Wafd meeting, where the large and enthusiastic crowd and the slogans they raised made abundantly clear that we were in Taha territory. Tagammu‘ and the Communists maintain that Taha is an exception, and that even he cannot make it on his own without financial help from the Wafd. They point to the fact that the left should not be drawn into becoming a charitable society, that the left will never be able to compete on that level with the Muslim Brothers, the Wafd or the government candidates.

Admittedly, clientism and patronage relations cannot be the answer for a movement advocating structural reform. It is also clear that any such movement opting for a legal framework, as Tagammu‘ does and which the Communists are seeking, will have to find ways to relate to the people in concrete terms which pay off electorally. [8] An organized political presence in the institutions of local government is very important. These institutions are essential instruments of distributing government services directly affecting people’s lives. These elections have shown again that control of local government and the distribution of threats and rewards was an important factor in the continued NDP-hegemony. Elections to these councils have taken place under a system of absolute lists (“winner takes all"), which assured a virtual NDP monopoly. But this system has also been declared “unconstitutional&rdsquo; and the upcoming local elections should offer a new chance for the opposition parties to gain access to those councils. [9]

These parliamentary elections have bought the regime some time. It has carefully avoided a constitutional crisis and in the process enlarged the institutional representation of the conservative opposition. While the entrance of the Muslim Brothers increases the Islamist pressure on the regime, it also offers an opportunity to tie part of the Islamist movement more firmly into the institutional framework and legitimate repression against the Islamist “extremists refusing the peaceful way.” The confrontation with the Muslim Brothers over the issue of Islamic legislation can probably be postponed by delaying tactics in the parliamentary labyrinth of subcommittees.

Opposition from the left has been weakened by the parliamentary battle and is up for some serious rethinking. The regime has thus retained the initiative but it is not sure that it knows what to do with it. There is a big gap between crisis management and offering a way out with new solutions for the country’s problems. At the end of his first term in office, Mubarak continues to give the impression that he is still groping for direction.



[1] See Bertus Hendriks, “Egypt’s Election, Mubarak’s Bind,” MERIP Reports #129 (January 1985).
[2] Al-Sha‘b, April 14,1987.
[3] See Al-Ahali, April 15,1987 for details.
[4] Al-Ahali, April 22,1987.
[5] See Richard Mitchell, The Society of the Muslim Brothers (London: Oxford University Press, 1969).
[6] Le Monde, May 14,1987.
[7] Al-Ahali, April 22, 1987.
[8] The strategy of the underground Egyptian Communist Party is to impose its legality through its organized presence in the social struggle and thereby force the regime to accept the communists as a political partner, just as the government has been forced to accept the representation of the Muslim Brothers. Given the difference in mass following, legalization of the ECP is not a probability for the near future.
[9] Al-Ahali May 20,1987.

How to cite this article:

Bertus Hendriks "Egypt’s New Political Map," Middle East Report 147 (July/August 1987).

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