Egyptians turned out to vote in large numbers on Monday in the first round of Parliamentary elections since the fall of President Honsi Mubarak. With major opposition parties initially boycotting the election to protest the early election date pushed by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), analysts have expected the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) to win a plurality in Egypt’s lower Parliament.
Regardless of the final election results, the Muslim Brotherhood will not "take over" Egypt, as many have feared. Between the competing political parties and growing animosity towards the organization, the Muslim Brotherhood will come out of the election with much less political power than anticipated.
Although the FJP is the most organized political party in Egypt, they are still competing with 49 other registered parties in a total pool of over 6,700 candidates for a 498 Parliament seats chosen through a complex, dual party list/majoritarian system.
Incumbent ex-members of Mubarak's dissolved National Democratic Party are expected to compete with the FJP for several seats. The Islamist vote will be split between the FJP, the Salafi fundamentalist al-Nour Party, Al-Gama'a al-Islamiya, and various smaller Islamist groups. Although many opposition groups joined the protests in Tahrir Square to condemning the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces holding an "illegitimate" early election, the square has mostly emptied out since Monday, and this may give an unexpected boost to secular liberals, independents, and other parties of all ideologies and sizes. The FJP gains will be sizable, but the resulting lower Parliament is likely to be fragmented and will force the party to focus on Egypt's vast economic problems instead of enforcing Islamic social codes.
The Brotherhood also faces a growing legitimacy problem. The groups' noticeable absence from the new round of Tahrir Square protests led many – including Muslim Brotherhood members and Islamists – to accuse the group of colluding with the SCAF and supporting early elections for its own benefit. Even FJP general secretary Mohamed Beltagy publically questioned whether they should have chosen participate in the elections, amid the previous week's violence in Tahrir Square.
Allegations that the FJP has repeatedly broken campaign laws have also eroded the Brotherhood's credibility. While al-Nour and the liberal Wafd party have also been handing out leaflets, transporting voters to polling stations, paying for votes, and using microphones to announce candidates' names, the FJP has repeatedly been accused of the most violations. If the FJP win, it will only fuel suspicions that the election was rigged in favor the Brotherhood, and that the organization won through cheating. Because the voting is staggered over six weeks, a growing negative reputation can only hurt the FJP's chances.
The Muslim Brotherhood is not the all-powerful, unified force in Egyptian society it's made out to be. A year ago, few outsider observers would have predicted the ousting of Mubarak from the presidency. Like Mubarak, many will be surprised to see that the Muslim Brotherhood is less powerful than previously imagined.