Egypt’s Islamists led by the once-banned Muslim Brotherhood clinched nearly half of seats in parliament in historic polls after the ouster of strongman Hosni Mubarak, official results showed on Saturday.It was only last April that the leading experts and polls were predicting a much different outcome:
The Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) won 235 seats in the new People’s Assembly, or 47.18 percent, electoral committee head Abdel Moez Ibrahim told a news conference, giving the final results from marathon polls.
The FJP secured 127 seats on party lists and its candidates won another 108 in first-past-the-post constituency votes.
The ultra-conservative Salafist Al-Nur party came second with 121 seats or 24.29 percent, and the liberal Wafd Party was third with nearly nine percent.
The liberal Egyptian Bloc -- which includes the Free Egyptians party of telecoms magnate Naguib Sawiris who is facing trial on allegations of insulting Islam -- came fourth with around seven percent.
The poll, conducted by the Pew Research Center and based on face-to-face interviews with 1,000 Egyptians, is the first credible survey since the revolution lifted many restrictions on free expression. It is also the first to directly address Western debate over whether the revolution might drift toward Islamic radicalism.And now the major liberal parties combined to receive only 16% of the seats in Parliament.
The poll found about 30 percent of Egyptians have a favorable view of Islamic fundamentalism and about the same number sympathize with its opponents. About a quarter have mixed views.
That range was exemplified by attitudes toward the Muslim Brotherhood, the previously outlawed Islamist group.
Many in the West have assumed that as the best-organized nongovernmental organization in Egyptian society, the Muslim Brotherhood might quickly dominate Egyptian politics — a view long espoused by the Mubarak government. The poll shows the Muslim Brotherhood is indeed regarded favorably by about three in four Egyptians, receiving very favorable ratings from 37 percent of respondents and somewhat favorable ratings from an additional 38 percent.
But that put the group roughly at a par with the April 6 Movement, a new and relatively secular and progressive youth group that played a leading role in organizing the revolution. Seven in 10 viewed that group favorably, with 38 percent viewing it very favorably and 32 percent viewing it somewhat favorably. The poll’s margin of samplinfg error is plus or minus four percentage points.
Only 17 percent of respondents said they would like to see the Muslim Brotherhood lead the next government. Al Ghad, a liberal party led by Ayman Nour, a formerly jailed presidential candidate, was favored to lead the new government by roughly the same number. And one in five supported the New Wafd Party, a secular liberal party that was recognized under Mr. Mubarak.
Nearly two-thirds of Egyptians said civil law should strictly follow the Koran, but then the existing Constitution of Egypt’s largely secular state said that it is already based on the Koran.
Sobhi Saleh, a prominent member of the Muslim Brotherhood and a former parliamentary candidate, dismissed the poll’s findings as wildly overstating the support for other parties. Only the Brotherhood has a broad organization and a well-known platform, he argued, predicting success at the polls. “These findings are wrong, and it’s only a matter of two months until you see that,” he said.
The discrepancy is probably due both to bad polling methods (did Pew ask the right questions to Egypt's rural voters?) and to the importance of organization in winning elections. Initial enthusiasm is no substitute for grassroots organization and hard work to get out the vote.
But then again, I already said that - last February, in response to an overly enthusiastic column by Nicholas Kristof:
Kristof is making a major mistake. He is confusing bravery for political maturity.How many times will NYT columnists keep making the same mistakes over and over again?
No one doubts the protesters' bravery. No one doubts their integrity, or their desire for change, or even their desire for democracy.
But there are serious doubts at their ability to translate the raw desire for freedom into a functional, liberal, democratic government.
It is hard work to create the institutions necessary. More importantly, it takes time - and time is not on the side of the protesters.
It is now fashionable to pooh-pooh the dangers of the Muslim Brotherhood in Kristof's liberal circles, but no one can doubt that the Islamists are better organized and much more politically mature than the Facebookers of Tahrir Square. It takes time to set up an organization, to define a clear agenda, to build a fundraising mechanism, to attract volunteers, to build a means to communicate with all the people - including in rural areas, and to do all the myriad details from physical buildings to a phone system to a mailing list.
True freedom cannot flourish until Egyptians have been exposed to a wide range of ideas on a level playing field. The existing Islamist groups are running circles around the "Egyptian youth" we hear so much about. Kristof is so caught up in the emotions of the moment that he cannot think outside Tahrir Square, to the 99% of the country that is not as emotionally invested in who their leaders would be. To them, the nice people with beards who build a free Islamic school for their kids are the only game in town.
Enthusiasm does not ensure effective state building and true freedoms. Kristof, instead of spouting straw-man arguments, should be advocating ways for his jeans-wearing heroes to channel their sparks of enthusiasm and bravery into the hard, thankless and often boring work necessary to build a new Egypt from scratch.
For as long as their adoring readers choose to forget those mistakes.