The Muslim Brotherhoodâ€™s President-elect Mohamed Mursi (C) meets with Egyptian political leaders and activists at the presidential palace in Cairo June 27, 2012.
SCAF (the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces), Egyptâ€™s de facto political potentates, officially acknowledged the Muslim Brotherhoodâ€™s Mohamed Morsi as the winner of Cairoâ€™s cliffhanger run-off Presidential election by 51.7% on June 24th, a week after the polling booths closed. As the New York Times points out, the Islamists have won both a symbolic triumph and potently a deterrent in their scuffle with their nationâ€™s most eminent field commanders.
On June 22nd, my Haitian colleague, the journalist Dr. Max Blanchet, who comes from a Francophone culture, recently related Egypt to the Algerian complex, which I mentioned at the end of last weekâ€™s column, which brought on one of the bloodiest civil wars of the second half of the Twentieth Century. All the elements that has carried the Islamists to power in Egypt had existed in Algeria during the prelude to their societal schism, but the secular Left-wing government, who came to hegemony within the Maghreb after the end of their Revolution against their French Colonial masters in 1954, refused to relinquish the fasces subsequent to an Islamist victory at the polls in 1991 leading to a most bloody civil war which only ended a mere seven years ago.
Parallel historical events are unfolding in Egypt today; so, in the ensuing months there is a grave danger of an Algiers-syndrome over the Nile. Morsiâ€™s electoral triumph does not mean a democracy has finally defeated the ghosts of the Pharaohs!
Dr. Morsi, 60, is the first Islamist elected as a head of an Arab state. (The Turks, also, within the greater Middle East have an Islamist government.) He is, also, Egyptâ€™s fifth President since the overthrow of the monarchy during the 1950s, and the first Chief Executive arising from outside the Armed Forces. This democratic victory, though, may be merely a mirage of change.
Issandr El Amrani in The Arabist Blog writes, â€œSo many questions remain unansweredâ€¦ what can best be said is that either SCAF or the (Muslim) Brotherhood has worked out a deal of some sort or the political jousting has only just begun. Both the Brothers and SCAF have positioned themselves in a manner in which backing down from their respective positions on the question of the Parliament and the Supplemental Constitutional Declaration would be a loss of face. The Brothers might be able to leverage the elation of their victory to make it easier to swallow a bitter pill, but at the same time, now that the results have been announced publicly, they donâ€™t have to. SCAF, on the other hand, has less room for maneuver without resorting to brute force and ultimatumsâ€¦â€
So, the conundra of the tussle is transparent, but it has the potential of becoming deadly and to revive past patterns of repression. As widely known, before the runoff election, the ruling military council dissolved the Parliament; assumed many legislative powers; established an interim constitution depriving the president-elect of much executive authority; and reinstated martial law.
In an article, â€œEgyptâ€™s Transitionâ€ by Marina Ottaway of the Carnegie Foundation for Peace, she states, â€œMorsiâ€™s victory does not mean that democracy has triumphed in Egyptâ€¦about 50 percent of [the] eligible voters failed to go to the pollsâ€¦[and] many other Egyptians are worried about the future. Among them are [the] Copts and many womenâ€¦ the old regime is still very much alive, and will fight new battles with the Muslim Brotherhood and other groups that want political change to continueâ€¦ it is likely that the SCAF will even appoint a new constituent assemblyâ€¦. The old regime still controls the institutions and it has shown recently that it is determined to use its control, particularly over the courts, to curb the Muslim Brotherhood.â€
Now, that the Brotherhood is in power, it is under the dictates of realpolitik, and, if they fail in their governance to all the peoples â€“ including the minorities — of this the most populated country in the Arab world, they will not be able to maintain their mandate.
The fact is, constitutionally, the President has to appoint at least one woman and one Coptic Christian to his Cabinet; so, there will be at least a minimal minority voice within the highest levels of authority.
To that end, fulfilling a campaign promise, Mr. Morsi resigned the day (June 24th) of the pronouncement of his campaign victory from the Brotherhood and its political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party. Mr. Morsi has always campaigned not as an individual with a vision of his own but rather as an executor of the Brotherhoodâ€™s platform. Therefore, to assume that his actions are anything more than symbolic to assuage the anxieties of the minorities and Army and to lessen the Islamist principles of his government is a misreading of his actions. It is true, though, that Mr. Morsiâ€™s designation as president-elect will hand the Brotherhood and its more secular and liberal allies an important megaphone in their struggle for ascendency over the military.
II. The Challenges
Listening to the BBC (the British Broadcasting Corporationâ€™s) World Service Monday the twenty-fifth of June, Morsi was reported to be in the process of forming his coalition government. Some of his regimeâ€™s most pressing domestic challenges will be the economic mess left over from the Revolution and the collapse of tourism, the mainstay of the Egyptian economy, along with the disintegration of their developing industrial base which has severely damaged their international trade, and has threatened a currency collapse over the primordial terrain.
The gravest danger to the Islamist State is external, though. The most potential antagonists are Washington and Tel Aviv. So, far President Obama personally called Mohamed Morsi to congratulate him on his attainment, and offer the United States of Americaâ€™s support for his government, and issued a written statement of policy as of June 24th:
â€œâ€¦we congratulate the Egyptian people for this milestone in their transition to democracy.
â€œWe look forward to working together with President-elect Morsi and the government he forms, on the basis of mutual respect, to advance the many shared interests between Egypt and the United States. We believe that it is important for President-elect Morsi to take steps at this historic time to advance national unity by reaching out to all parties and constituencies in consultations about the formation of a new government. We believe in the importance of the new Egyptian government upholding universal values, and respecting the rights of all Egyptian citizens â€“ including women and religious minorities such as Coptic Christians. Millions of Egyptians voted in the election, and President-elect Morsi and the new Egyptian government have both the legitimacy and responsibility of representing a diverse and courageous citizenry.
â€œThe United States intends to work with all parties within Egypt to sustain our long-standing partnership as it consolidates its democracy. We commend the Presidential Election Commission and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) for their role in supporting a free and fair election, and look forward to the completion of a transition to a democratically-elected government. We believe it is essential for the Egyptian government to continue to fulfill Egyptâ€™s role as a pillar of regional peace, security and stability. ..we will stand with the Egyptian people as they pursue their aspirations for democracy, dignity, and opportunity, and fulfill the promise of their Revolution.â€ As long as the Obama Administration rules the District of Columbia, the U.S. and the Arab Republic of Egypt, each should have a relationship with the other that any differences with the other can be worked out diplomatically. A more pro-Israeli administration, however, might be less amenable to relations with the Brotherhood.
Thus, as the New York Times reports, official reaction in Israel was muted; Israeli officials have watched events in Egypt with trepidation over the past year and a half, reflecting concern that a new government would reassess the peace treaty that Egyptâ€™s generals have long honored. The Jewish State has been rattling swords previously at even the prospect of an Islamist Egyptian republic. Following through with violent action on these words would only bring an unnecessary tragic war throughout the Middle East.
In summation, the Egyptian revolt is a work in progress. Whether it can succeed in the long or short term is in question. Whether it will lead to a form of Arab democracy is, also, decidedly in question at this murky moment in time. Even, if the New Order can maintain itself without slipping back to or being co-opted by the (truly) ancien regime along the Nile is debatable. The near future is a vital period for the contemporary fate of the primeval Theban Land of the Pyramids.