Mona El-Ghobashy

Jihane al-Halafawi’s small apartment above a barbershop in Alexandria is exceedingly

orderly, a cool oasis on a sweltering summer afternoon. Plant leaves brush up against
curtains undulating with the breeze from the nearby Mediterranean. As she walks into
the living room with a tray full of cakes and tea, al-Halafawi is the picture of a kindly
Egyptian mother, a genuine smile gracing her youthful face. But when this fifty-yearold
mother of six and grandmother announced her candidacy for Egypt’s parliamentary
elections in fall 2000, the state geared up amassive security force outside polling stations;
leftists shrugged her off as a “front” for her husband; and state feminists dedicated to the
electoral empowerment of women were silent.When Halafawi outperformed her rulingparty
rival in the first round, despite rigging, the Interior Ministry promptly stepped in
and canceled the results on the pretext of respecting an earlier court ruling postponing
the elections.
Alexandria’s al-Raml district went without parliamentary representation for two years

s al-Halafawi and her legal team battled the state in the courts. Konačno, in June 2002,
a Supreme Administrative Court ruling compelled the Interior Ministry to hold the
by-elections.On election day, security forces blockaded roads leading to polling stations,
arrested al-Halafawi’s legal team and 101 of her supporters, roughed up journalists, i
stepped aside as public-sector workers bused in from outside the district voted for her

rival. Unusually, the six o’clock news was interrupted that evening to announce the
sweeping victory of the two ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) candidates in the
Raml by-elections.1
Al-Halafawi’s experience is one dramatic piece of a larger story, the story of the

group of which she is a part: the Society of Muslim Brothers (Jamaat al-Ikhwan al-
Muslimun).2 Over the past quarter-century, the Society of Muslim Brothers (Ikhwan)
has morphed from a highly secretive, hierarchical, antidemocratic organization led by
anointed elders into a modern, multivocal political association steered by educated,

savvy professionals not unlike activists of the same age in rival Egyptian political
parties. Seventy-seven years ago, the Muslim Brothers were founded in the provincial
city of Ismailiyya by the charismatic disciplinarian and shrewd organizer Hasan al-
Banna (1906–49).

Filed Under: EgyptFeaturedMuslim BrotherhoodStudies & Researches


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