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November 28, 2010

Today's Elections in Egypt: What if, anything, did they mean?
Posted by Shadi Hamid

I’m in Cairo covering today’s elections (you can follow me on Twitter here for live updates). I spent the day going from one polling station to another talking mostly to Muslim Brotherhood (MB) supporters and campaign workers. I’m not sure what to say. I apologize if I gave some people the impression that these elections were elections, in any real sense of the word. They were not. And I think it’s worth underlining that point up front. As I wrote here yesterday, these elections are less important for what actually transpired, and more important for what they tell us about the critical players: the ruling National Democratic Party, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the United States.

Just two hours ago I talked to the MB representative responsible for a polling station in Medinat Nasr, where the country’s largest opposition group is running a female candidate. He ran me through all the violations, one by one. It’s the same story I heard over and over again all day today. In numerous districts, opposition representatives were not allowed in the voting room (only those with the NDP were). Which means that the ruling party could pretty much do as it willed. The world is watching, apparently, but not in the places that matter most. When the Ministry of Interior transports the ballot boxes in a couple hours, the world – let us be clear – will not be watching.

The Brotherhood, though, didn’t seem angry, even though hundreds of their members have been arrested the past couple months. Their representation in parliament will go down from a significant 20 percent to something considerably less. They were not angry; just resigned to the reality of rigged elections, something that they have to come to know rather intimately. At the same time, they came across as calm and composed. As Brotherhood leaders often say, “we are patient.” They lost this battle, and they will lose many, many more, but they seem to believe that history is on their side. So they’re okay with waiting. The real question, though, is whether Egypt can afford to wait, and wait. 

The Brotherhood is interested, more than anything else, in survival. Today, they survived. And so it goes. No one winning; but no one really losing either.

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