Are elections scheduled too early to be truly democratic?
CAIRO, Egypt -- When Egyptians took to the streets in January and February to force the ouster of strongman President Hosni Mubarak, the Muslim Brotherhood, the country's largest and most influential opposition force, played it cool. They didn't try to claim the reigns of the protest movement sweeping the country. They mostly waited for the smoke to clear.
That patience has paid off. In the nearly five months since Mubarak's departure, Brotherhood members have translated democratic theory into practice in impressive fashion, ushering them to new political prominence in Egypt.
The group pushed, successfully, for a "yes" vote in Egypt's mid-March national referendum, the first transparent poll in the Arab republic's history. The result, reached with an 80 percent voter turnout rate, overwhelmingly endorsed a plan that will require the military to hand power to a civilian government first, with the drafting of a new Egyptian constitution coming second. Parliamentary elections are scheduled for September. An alternative plan, supported by liberal and youth movements, called for delaying elections so that lesser known opposition groups could have more time to campaign and to discuss drafting the new constitution.
Even though a recent Gallup poll showed only 15 percent support for the Muslim Brotherhood -- compared to 10 percent for Mubarak's now-disgraced party -- no party is well known enough to be a viable competitor. Scheduling the vote so soon could deny those parties enough time to truly organize, making the September elections less than fully representative. The Brotherhood could be poised for significant electoral success, a victory that will put them in position to lead the drafting of Egypt's constitution, a document that could persist for generations.
"That's what the people wanted. The people were given different options and they agreed to the elections first during the referendum," said Brotherhood stalwart Mohamed El Beltagy, also a leading member of the group's Freedom and Justice Party. "The majority shaped the steps of the process during the transitional period."