No democracy in Egypt

In recent days and weeks, the military or the judiciary in Egypt have: 1. Acquitted security officials charged with supervising murder of peaceful protesters. 2. Disbanded the newly elected parliament. 2. Disqualified a number of key presidential candidates. 4. Disbanded one constitutional assembly, issued interim constitution that gives all power to the military and moved toward handpicking members of assembly that will design permanent constitution. 5. Reinstated martial law. 

Given this background, the presidential victory of Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi signals only a new phase in a high stakes struggle for power in Egypt. Morsi will have the legitimacy that comes from the ballot box. But the military have the guns, the judges and bureaucrats and a stranglehold over key sectors of the economy. The Brotherhood can mobilize its own supporters in the streets, but will the liberals, secularists and leftists who took part in the January, 2011 protests turn out again to bolster the position of an Islamist party? Especially when there is no singular target – like Mubarak – against which to mobilize? And when progressive forces are both exhausted and demoralized by the failure of their own preferred candidates to perform well in either the parliamentary or presidential votes? 

The Brotherhood is disciplined and will try to avoid violent confrontations with the military because the party wants to avoid being tarred as extremist or dangerous (and also because if it comes to a clash of arms, those with the guns win). But once the army and the protesters confront one another in the streets – as seems inevitable at this point – the military and police will have the opportunity to provoke confrontations and to spin interpretations of any violence through state-controlled media.

One possible alternative to all-out confrontation would be negotiations between the Brotherhood and the military leading to a resolution in which the Brotherhood essentially cedes dominance to the military for now, hoping to gradually expand the scope for civilian power over time. The Brotherhood has in the past shown great patience and forbearance in their role as Mubarak’s chief opposition. 

In any case, Egypt has not yet achieved democracy and the path ahead will be rocky.


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