SCAF and the Muslim Brotherhood have agreed to coexist – for the time being.
Cohabitation, Egyptian-style Photo: MOHAMED ABD EL-GHANY / REUTERS
It is now official: the new president of Egypt is Mohammed Morsi, the Muslim
Brotherhood candidate who squeaked into office with 51.73 percent of t he vote.
President Morsi won 13.2 million votes out of a total of just over 26 million
in the June 16-17 runoff against Hosni Mubarak’s last prime minister and former
air force commander, Ahmed Shafiq. It was the first democratic election in
With the result, the specter of a stolen election,
which the Islamists would have surely decried had Shafiq been declared the
winner, receded, and with it the possibility that the Algerian scenario of 1991-
92 would repeat itself, plunging Egypt into chaos and violence.
achieved his victory just a few weeks earlier, it would have marked a triumphant
culmination of the Brotherhood’s year-long drive for hegemony over post-Mubarak
Sustained pressure would have been applied on the Supreme Council of the
Armed Forces (SCAF ) to fulfill its pledge to hand power over to civilian rule
and return to the barracks after 60 years of military-led rule. Instead, and on
the very eve of the election, the SCAF intervened forcefully to reassert its
authority and clip the wings of the Brotherhood.
Throughout much of the
post-Mubarak era, the Brotherhood and SCAF, its two leading actors, had engaged
in a delicate dance, as each sought to shape Egypt’s political evolution
according to its preferences while avoiding all-out confrontation.
Brotherhood appeared at times to be overly acquiescent to the SCAF, opening
itself up to charges from the newly emboldened extremist Salafi movement and
liberals alike that the Brotherhood has abandoned its commitment to civilian
rule in return for a share in the perks of power. But on the whole, it was the
SCAF which was on the defensive and in retreat, as it struggled to maintain its
control over the levers of political and economic power in a highly fluid and
increasingly contested public space.
All this changed radically on the
eve of the presidential run-off. Parliament was dissolved on June 14 on
technical grounds, in line with a judgment of the Mubarak-era High
Constitutional Court. The decision called into question the ability, and even
legitimacy, of the parliament-appointed constitutional commission charged with
drafting a new constitution.
Three days later, the SCAF amended the post-Mubarak
interim constitution to appropriate full legislative and most executive power
until such time as a new parliament could be elected and a constitution
Had Shafiq been declared the winner of the election, the SCAF’s
counter-revolution would have been complete, although the resulting liabilities
might have outweighed the benefits. Instead, the SCAF and the Brotherhood
apparently agreed on a modus vivendi, enabling Morsi to be declared the winner
and avoiding a descent into confrontation.
Both sides have, in essence,
lived to fight another day. The Brotherhood’s actions confirm the observation by
Eric Traeger, a prescient Egypt-watcher, that the Brotherhood is “only willing
to embrace political gradualism when pressured by stronger authorities.”
same time, given its electoral successes over the past year, and the
legitimizing effect that these successes have had on Western, and particularly
US Administration attitudes towards it, Egyptian Islamists have reason to
believe that the wind is still at their backs.
As for the SCAF , they can, at
least for now, deal with their opponents with enhanced tools of authority, and
avoid an irreversible devolution of power.
Meanwhile, the Egyptian pound
hit a seven-year low against the dollar this week and investors fear that Egypt
is heading towards a balance of payments crisis and a currency collapse.
Recognition of Egypt’s economic plight, along with the desire for the
restoration of some semblance of normalcy helps explain why Shafiq, the
candidate of the old order, nearly won the election. It also helps explain why
the SCAF and the Brotherhood have agreed to cohabit for the time
But Egypt remains deeply divided over the desired nature of the
state and the institutions that should underpin it, and is lacking viable
remedies for its economic plight.
The author is the Marcia Israel Principal
Research Fellow at the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African
Studies, Tel Aviv University Technion