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Muslim Brotherhood bends rules and expects to win big in Egypt

Stringer/Egypt / Reuters

Women holding umbrellas stand in line during rain under an election poster by Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood "The Freedom and Justice Party'" outside a polling station as they wait to cast their votes during parliamentary elections in Alexandria on Monday.

CAIRO – The Muslim Brotherhood has already started coloring outside the lines in order to win a majority in Egypt’s parliamentary elections. 

The organization, which gave its political branch the more ambiguous title, The Party of Freedom and Justice (FJP), is expected to win 40 percent of the seats in the lower house of parliament, according to analysts estimates.  Official results from the first round of voting will be announced Thursday.

Based on our own observations at polling stations across Cairo and anecdotal evidence, they seem to have won support at the polls by bending the rules in their favor.

Free food and cheap meat
In Cairo’s Saida Zeinab neighborhood, at one of the busiest polling centers in the city, we saw a party member and two other supporters of an independent candidate passing out leaflets to voters waiting in long lines to cast their ballots – in clear violation of election laws. Soldiers who were on site for crowd control, did nothing to stop them. At the same spot, a tech-savvy FJP member sat on a bench, laptop in hand, to conduct exit polls. At other polling stations, they provided polling information to baffled voters. 
In a more economically disadvantaged part of Cairo known as “The Slaughterhouse,” Hanan Nasr, a mother of three, watched FJP members pass out free packages of rice and oil to voters on their way to the polling station – again in contravention of campaign law. They also bused in party members from surrounding neighborhoods.

Voter confusion played into the hands of the FJP. Many voters simply did not know who the candidates were because of the sheer number of mostly unknown candidates (4,000), unknown parties (35 new ones since President Hosni Mubarak fell from power) and a complicated voting system requiring choices of farmer, labor and independent candidates. 

Mohamed Abd El Ghany / Reuters

A woman casts her vote at a polling station during the second day of parliamentary elections in Alexandria, Egypt on Tuesday. Click on the photo to see a complete slideshow of pictures from the Egyptian election.

For those who did not understand the voting system, the FJP had people on hand before the election to explain how to make their ballots count – for FJP candidates.

Although Nasr voted for a liberal party, her son, Ali, opted for the only party he was familiar with, the FJP.  Some FJP members had been signing up voters in Nasr’s neighborhood in the run up to the election and distributed free school supplies. And before the recent Eid al-Adha or Feast of the Sacrifice holiday, the one time of year when everybody in Egypt must have meat to celebrate the holiday, the FJP sold meat at half the market price to Cairo’s many disadvantaged.  
Clearly, the FJP struck a chord with voters.  Most of those we spoke to said they were voting FJP because they were well organized, helped the poor, and would uphold religious law. 

“They look to God,” said taxi driver Saad Abdul Aziz, who voted FJP.  “They must be just.”

Mahmud Hams / AFP - Getty Images

Muslim Brotherhood members distribute fliers to voters outside a polling station in the Manial neighbourhood of Cairo on Monday.

Shifting promises
In the wake of the revolution, the FJP initially promised to compete for only 30 percent of parliamentary seats, in order not to frighten civil society and the interim military government.  They gradually upped that figure to 100 percent. 

Likewise, a promise not to field presidential candidates was soon broken.  The FJP had joined a much larger political bloc of secular and religious parties running for president, but the alliance fell apart when the FJP tried to dominate party lists.
The official election results will be announced Thursday evening, but the FJP is expected to win big in Egypt’s two largest cities, Cairo and Alexandria. 

Since it’s a parliamentary system, their leaders have already demanded that if their party wins the largest proportion of seats as a party, they should be entitled to form the new government.

In view of the FJP’s track record of broken promises, many wonder what kind of government they would be and whether they will respect their promise to adhere to democratic process and take into account Egypt’s secularists and 10 percent Christian population.