Egypt’s influential Muslim Brotherhood has distanced itself from protests in Tahrir Square demanding that the military rulers cede power, choosing instead to focus on an election in which it is poised to win the lions share of seats.
After decades of persecution under the regime of ousted president Hosni Mubarak, the Islamist group is considered the best-organized force in Egypt’s political arena, and is eyeing success in Monday’s parliamentary poll, the first in the post-Mubarak era.
“The brothers do not want any obstacle to the elections because they are trying to achieve power through the ballot,” said Mustafa Kamel al-Sayyed, professor of political sciences at the University of Cairo.
“They are opposed to the immediate departure of the military as that would create turmoil in Egypt and delay the elections,” he told AFP.
After Mubarak fell on February 11, the Islamists formed the Freedom and Justice Party to be able to openly contest elections, something they were barred from doing under the former regime, which forced their candidates to run as independents.
After the uprising, several Brotherhood leaders attempted to reassure Egyptians that they did not intend to take power.
But nor do they plan to let slip the opportunity to establish a significant parliamentary presence, the most important since the group was founded in 1928.
“Their objective is clear, it is the elections. This is crucial for them,” said Diaa Rashwan, an expert on Islamists at the Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies.
According to Sayyed, there has been an “overlap of interests” between the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which has ruled Egypt since Mubarak’s ouster in February, and the Brotherhood.
“They are maintaining friendly ties with the military. It is a strategic choice because of the elections,” he argued, even if the Islamists have staged demonstrations, as they did last Friday, to criticize a plan to grant a degree of parliamentary immunity to the army.
The Islamists have already managed to preserve article 2 of the constitution, which makes Islam the religion of the state, and the principles of Islamic law the “primary source” of inspiration for Egyptian law.
The country’s community of Coptic Christians, who make up roughly 10 percent of the population, as well as Egypt’s secularists, have strongly criticized this provision of the constitution.
But with the aid of their influential charity groups “the Brothers want (to create) an Islamic society in Egypt,” Sayyed said, adding that this was particularly the case in the area of social action “where they excel,” and through proselytism.
“The fears of some, about an Islamic state, are legitimate and not based on nothing,” said Rashwan.
Even if they come across as modern, speaking the language of foreigners, and with most of their leaders holding doctorates, the Brothers have already stated their view − for example that Copts and women should not be allowed to run for president.
Polls suggest that they will win at least one third of the votes, but experts advise waiting for the results to emerge before drawing conclusions prematurely.
“Their candidates failed recently in the elections held by the press and lawyers’ unions, while some of their core supporters went with the Salafists or formed their own parties,” Rashwan said.
“The Brothers before the revolution are not the same as after the revolution,” he added.