The moderate Islamist group, prevented from participating in the 7 September presidential election by tough terms on who can stand, says its priority is the legislative elections. Its members, elected as independents, already hold more seats than any other opposition group in parliament.
“We should be concerned with them (the parliamentary elections) ahead of the presidential elections. That is the correct situation. We put the horse ahead of the cart,” said deputy leader of the Brotherhood, Muhammad Habib.
The Brotherhood’s focus on winning more seats in parliament explains why this week it made an evasive statement on the presidential elections, angering some opposition politicians who accuse it of pandering to the government, analysts say.
The statement called on Brotherhood members to vote in the presidential elections, but did not say who they should vote for, or clearly tell them not to vote for President Hosni Mubarak.
“The Brotherhood is betting on increasing their seats in the coming parliament”
Abd al-Halim Qindil, Kefaya (opposition party)
Instead, it said they should not vote for a “tyrant”. Some opposition groups, such as the Kefaya (Enough) protest movement, suspect the Brotherhood has struck a deal with the government.
“The position of the Brotherhood can be described, unfortunately, as opportunistic,” said Abd al-Halim Qindil, spokesman for Kefaya, which wants an end to Mubarak’s rule, and has called for a boycott of the presidential elections.
“The Brotherhood is betting on increasing their seats in the coming parliament,” he said.
The group won nearly 20 seats in the last parliamentary elections in 2000, but complained that security forces outside polling stations prevented its supporters from voting.
Abu al-Ila Mady, who left the Brotherhood in 1996 to try to found his own political party, said the group appeared to believe that the authorities might be more tolerant of its members running in the legislative elections as independents.
The group had ignored the views of members who wanted a boycott of the presidential vote, he said.
Brotherhood leader Habib said
“If they had a position rejecting the authorities they would either support another candidate or boycott the elections,” said Mady, whose Wasat Party has yet to be legally recognised.
“They think they made gains with the authorities so they can get themselves ready for the parliamentary elections,” he said.
“I think it is an erroneous calculation … It will cause anger.”
But some observers say the Brotherhood, which has suffered periodic crackdowns since it was banned in 1954, made a sensible decision not to annoy Mubarak by naming him in their statement.
Hundreds of Brotherhood members were arrested during May protests against the government. Most have been released, but some leading figures are still in prison.
Rather than risk another confrontation with the authorities over an election Mubarak is widely expected to win, the Brotherhood will lie low until the parliamentary elections, when it could make gains.
The opposition Ghad Party is also
“They are playing their cards quite well, knowing they cannot run for the presidential elections. Short of running directly, they have scored a lot of points,” said sociologist and dissident Saad al-Din Ibrahim.
“Compared to last year, compared to five years ago, they are more prominent now than ever.”
The statement was a green light for Brotherhood members to vote for candidates such as Ayman Nur, head of the liberal Ghad (Tomorrow) Party which has pledged to legalise the Islamist group, he said.
Ghad Party official Wail Nawara said the Brotherhood had not pledged support to Nur, but expected some of its members to vote for him or Numan Gumaa, head of the Wafd Party.
“They will not support Mubarak so the only step is to support Ayman or Noman Gomaa,” he said.