Egypt’s sham election

According to Egypt's elections committee, the Muslim Brotherhood won 37 percent of the vote in the first round of voting in Egypt; and the Salafis, who promote a yet more extreme Islamist program, won 24%, giving them together a jaw-dropping 61% of the vote.

This stunning result prompts two questions: Is this a legitimate or rigged outcome? Are Islamists about to dominate Egypt?

Legitimate or rigged? No one took Soviet elections, with their inevitable 99% returns for the Communists, seriously; and while the process and outcome of the Egyptian elections are less blatant, they deserve similar skepticism. The game is more subtle, but it is still a game, and here is how it is played:

The Muslim Brotherhood (founded in 1928) and the military dictatorship (ruling Egypt since 1952) have a parallel ideology and a long history that simultaneously makes them rivals and allies. Over the decades, they have cooperated on-and-off in an autocratic system bound by Islamic law (Shariah) and in oppressing liberal, secular elements.

In this spirit, Anwar Sadat, Hosni Mubarak, and now Mohamed Tantawi tactically empowered Islamists as a foil to gain Western support, arms, and money. For example, when George W. Bush pressured Mubarak to permit more political participation, the latter responded by having 88 Muslim Brotherhood members elected to parliament, thereby warning Washington that democracy equals an Islamist takeover. The apparent weakness of non-Islamists scared the West from further insisting on a transition to political participation. But a close look at the 2005 elections finds that the regime helped the Islamists gain 20% of the seats.

Today, Tantawi and his Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) still play this tired old game....

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