Adapted from the broadcast audio segment; use the audio player to listen to the story in its entirety.
Down a narrow alley way in a village in the Qalubiya Province north of Cairo is the apartment of Muhammad Sadd, a local Muslim Brotherhood member in this village of 35,000 people.
Twenty-nine year-old Sadd lives with his wife Sara and 11-month-old baby, Ahmed. He works as a security guard on the banks of the Nile. He doesn’t make a lot of money – only about $130 dollars a month. Yet every month he gives seven percent of his income to the Muslim Brotherhood. For Sadd, that comes to about 50 Egyptian pounds, less than $10 dollars.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party recently won 47 percent of the seats the parliament. Khairat el-Shatter, a multi-millionaire businessman and the deputy supreme guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, says the majority of campaign money came from fees from members like Sadd.
“For example,” he says, “if in Egypt there are 1 million members of the Muslim Brotherhood and if all of them gave a dollar a month, then we’d have a lot of money for the elections and everything else.”
In Alexandria, a city on the Mediterranean coast and about three hours away from Cairo, is the headquarters of the Salafi Al-Nour party. They won 25 percent of the seats in parliament.
Tarek Shaalan heads the party’s Economic Commission and he says, like the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, most Al-Nour election funds came from membership fees and the listed candidates themselves.
Shaalan says, “Like, my cousin—he was on the list. He paid. Everyone on the list paid. So, everyone pays about $10,000 dollars or maybe up to $20,000. It depends.”
But Emad Gad, deputy director of the Ahram Center and a newly elected member of parliament for the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, says, “Forget the story of ‘self-finance’.”
Gad doesn’t buy the story that the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi parties rely solely only on funds from inside Egypt. Instead, he says, “We know very well that the Salafi[s] are getting their finances from Saudi Arabia. The Muslim Brotherhood they are getting from Kuwait and Qatar.”
Gad says Gulf money to Egyptian religious organizations started coming in the 1970s, largely from Muslim Brotherhood members who fled to the Gulf after President Nasser banned the party in 1954. But he says the huge money started coming in last year, after the revolution.
“The minister of justice of Egypt said that one of the Salafi organizations got almost $200 million American dollars from Qatar.”
Tarek Shaalan of the Salafi el-Nour party says it’s all empty talk from the competition.
“It’s just a rumor. If you say anything, please prove it.”
Foreign financing in politics has become an especially taboo subject since Egypt’s revolution. It’s at the center of a high profile trial of American NGO workers this year.
Gad says his party tried to talk about budgets and campaign finance with the Muslim Brotherhood in parliament, but they wouldn’t discuss it.
Naguib Abadir is on the political committee of the Free Egyptians Party that won about 5 percent of seats. He says that it’s not just foreign donors to worry about. Another obstacle to transparency is the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood hasn’t been legal since Nasser banned them.
Abadir says, “So how come people are giving money to an unregistered organization? How can you donate money to an organization that is working outside the rules of the game?”
At the Muslim Brotherhood headquarters, el-Shater insists they are legal and that the real illegal decision was Nasser’s. Even so, he says, the Muslim Brotherhood will re-register as an organization soon.
“We are ready to make everything transparent,” he says, “and in a month or two there will be a new law from the parliament that will apply to all the organizations. It will address all questions and we won’t have any more problems with transparency or the regulations.”
Nevertheless Gad says there is one body in Egypt that could demand both transparency and accountability right now if it wanted to: Egypt’s current military rulers. He says the problem is that the army is colluding with the Islamic parties.
“If the Egyptian authorities want to clarify the situation and to know the real sum of money – who gave whom money – I think they can know. But in my opinion I think the transitional authority in Egypt doesn’t want to know.”
Ashraf el-Sherief, a lecturer of political science at the American University in Cairo, says that the Muslim Brotherhood has been in business from the beginning, when Hassan al Banna established the organization in 1928.
“That’s part of his ideology of the totality of Islam,” el-Sherief says, “or the comprehensiveness of Islam. So they should have Islamic economic activity as a power base of the movement.”
He says the Brotherhood also provides medical institutions, subsidized housing, schools, private lesson centers, and jobs – things that President Mubarak’s regime failed to provide to the poor.
All this, el-Sherief argues, played a huge part in the recent elections. While foreign capital was important, the local capital was critical. The Islamic parties have it precisely because they’ve situated themselves in mainstream Egyptian society.
“I think in the West they think of the Islamist movement as like a fascist-type organization which is working from scratch to build a totalitarian, ideological machine. That’s not really true. Actually, I think the society here is the strong one. I think the Islamists are successful because they are playing with the cultural idioms of the society: pre-existing economic networks, social networks, values.”
– Reported by Julia Simon for America Abroad