Two of the Brotherhood's parliamentary candidates led the
way. They walked up to residents -- many of them storekeepers -- quickly
introduced themselves and shook hands. Behind them, the marchers were trailed
by a pickup truck with a loudspeaker. If you happened to be in the area it was
impossible to ignore. Everywhere, I noticed people coming out on their
balconies to see what was happening.
After the candidates would shake hands with some onlooker, a
volunteer would hand him a flyer and say a few quick words. Often, the
volunteer engaged residents in conversation and, judging by their interest,
wrote their names and phone numbers down on a piece of paper. As one volunteer
told me, interested individuals can either join the Brotherhood's political
party -- Freedom and Justice (FJP) -- or participate in other activities organized
by either the party or the Brotherhood itself.
The chants -- focusing on freedom and justice -- alternated
between the predictable and the vaguely intriguing. The marchers were at pains
to repeat at regular intervals that the party was founded by the Brotherhood (hizb assasuha al Ikhwan). There was no
effort to paint Freedom and Justice as a distinct entity (although party and
movement are technically administratively separate). One of the younger
volunteers explained to me, "Some people still don't know it's the
Brotherhood's party, so this is something we always try to make clear."
Ard al-Liwa is not an area known for its large Christian
population, yet the Brothers chanted "Copts are sons of the umma [Islamic nation]," an interesting
variation on the Brotherhood's usual efforts to dispel sectarian fears. Other
chants, meanwhile, were instructional, informing residents who was on the
Brotherhood's list and which candidates were running as individuals. (Egypt
features a convoluted two-thirds, one-third mixed system of proportional
representation and American-style single-member districts.) Each list or
candidate has a symbol to help illiterate voters select candidates at the
ballot box. This can also be confusing. Here, the list's symbol was the scale of
justice (mizan) while the two
candidates shaking hands profusely were represented by a blender (khalat) and a gas oven (butagaz), respectively. The Brothers
proved reliably creative in devising political rhymes for mizan and butagaz.
In the middle of the procession, organizers told the
marchers to stop, telling them through the loudspeaker, "It is well-known that
the Brotherhood is organized, so please go back to back to forming threes [in a
row]." And then they began again.
The anatomy of a Brotherhood election march is easy to
understand. Candidates meet residents and shake hundreds of hands. Volunteers
pass out flyers and sign up supporters. But to do this on a national level and
cover Egypt's more than 40 million eligible voters requires thousands of organizers,
tens of thousands of members and supporters, and considerable funding. Almost
no parties -- perhaps save the hardline Salafi ones -- have these kinds of
resources, and, for their part, many Salafis, after decades of shunning
democratic elections as un-Islamic, are still uncomfortable with election
marches. In Ard al-Liwa, the Brotherhood must have had around 30 designated
"coordinators" -- all volunteers -- each of whom had a laminated FJP card hanging
around their neck. So, when people ask why liberal and leftist parties don't do
something similar, it comes down, at least in part, numbers.