(photo credit: Reuters)
Much has been written about a tacit agreement between the Supreme Council of the
Armed Forces (SCAF) led by Field Marshal Mohamed Tantawi and the Muslim
Brotherhood. But as events leading up to the presidential elections began to
unravel, it has become clear that no such arrangement was ever brokered between
the two sides – and if it were, it is today null and void.
months after the revolution it is an accepted fact that the Islamists have
hijacked the revolution and have become the leading force in Egypt.
current situation has been created by the inability of SCAF to rule Egypt since
the end of the Mubarak regime. Their zigzag policy, particularly towards the
Islamists, has created a situation in which liberals and secular forces lost at
The Presidential Election Committee has barred three
leading candidates: former intelligence minister Omar Suleiman, Salafi candidate
Hazem Abu Ismail and leading Muslim Brotherhood candidate Khairat
(The Brotherhood was careful to nominate an additional
presidential candidate who qualified, Muhammad Morsi.) Egypt is entering a
period of political instability with dire consequences for its neighbors, first
and foremost for Israel. The Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty could become a
“scapegoat” to divert attention from unsolvable domestic economic problems,
seeking to blame outside factors for Egypt’s deteriorating
Much has been written about a tacit agreement between SCAF and
the Muslim Brothers.
SCAF’s legitimacy to rule Egypt since the fall of
Mubarak has been drawn from Egypt’s constitution. The so-called “deal” was
supposed to divide power between the two protagonists, whereby the Islamists
would retain power in the legislative bodies, and the military, through their
proxies, would keep control of the executive branch of government, first and
foremost the presidency. But as events leading up to the presidential elections
began to unravel, it has become clear that no such arrangement was ever brokered
between the two sides, and if it were, it is today null and void.
Islamists seem to have adopted a tactic whose purpose was to create the illusion
that they would share power at all costs with the non-Islamic forces – the
liberals and former military. The Islamists even declared they would not
participate in the presidential election and would suffice with representation
in the legislative bodies of Egypt. Operating under this cover, the Muslim
Brothers conquered bastion after bastion of the Egyptian nation-state and
succeeded in becoming the dominant force in the People’s Assembly and the Shura
Council where, together with Salafists, they hold almost 70 percent of all
seats, thus representing a formidable democratic force able to decide and
promulgate laws as it pleases.
The sudden decision of the Islamists to
take part in the presidential elections is indeed a wake-up call for the
military, the liberals and the secular forces in Egypt. The grim possibility of
a state in which the Muslim Brothers and their Islamic allies would rule Egypt
has become very likely and could be the worst nightmare for all democratic
forces in Egypt, particularly the military, the liberals and the 10% Coptic
minority. Such an event would mean the rapid establishment of an “Islamocracy”
and the beginning of the end of Egypt as a military society – a possibility that
could affect not only the economic advantages of that class but mainly the
personal freedoms guaranteed today by a pseudo-liberal constitution.
military could not ignore the statement of Muslim Brotherhood candidate Khairat
el-Shater, who said that if he reached the presidency he would seek to reform
government institutions and society on the basis of Islamic teachings. Shater
added that Egypt’s new government would exercise civilian oversight over the
armed forces’ budget and their business interests. “It is not just taxing the
military that is an issue. There is a problem of conscripts who are forced to
work in army economic projects without payment.
What about the land that
the army controls for free? All these issues should be addressed by the new
The military’s zigzag policy, particularly toward the
Islamists, has created a situation in which liberals and secular forces lost
While allowing Egyptians to demonstrate and unprecedented freedom of
speech, more than 12,000 people were jailed after summary trials before a
military tribunal. The military encouraged the political participation and
emancipation of women but instituted a very bizarre practice called “virginity
tests” for all females arrested in demonstrations, which was ended only recently
after the intervention of an Egyptian court. The military lost almost all
control of the Sinai Peninsula to al-Qaida and its Beduin
ECONOMICALLY, EGYPT is drifting toward disaster. The
Egyptian economy is in shambles.
Although the livelihood of one out of
seven Egyptians is dependent on the tourism sector, tourism in the country is
Foreign currency reserves are depleted and are enough
for less than three months of imports. Egypt desperately needs a loan from the
IMF, but the Islamists argue that SCAF has no authority to agree to such a loan
and that only a new government independent of SCAF control can negotiate such a
deal. Finally, the issue of the presidential election illustrates more than any
other example the short-sightedness and clumsiness of SCAF in governing
It is quite obvious that SCAF was taken by surprise by the
decision of the Muslim Brothers and the Salafists to participate in the
elections by presenting candidates for the presidency.
But before doing
so, the Muslim Brotherhood was dealt a blow when the Cairo Administrative Court
ordered the suspension of an Assembly-appointed constitution drafting panel. At
the same time, SCAF chose its alternative candidate – Omar Suleiman, 75, the
former intelligence minister and Mubarak’s vice president during his last days.
In the reality of Egypt of 2012, it was the wrong choice: Presenting a figure
who was part of the defunct and hated regime whose military was involved in the
repression of Islamists, who was a prominent advocate of the peace treaty with
Israel and was known for his close relations with the American administration,
represented a red rag to a bull. Suleiman seemed to still be accepted by the
liberals and the secular, thus becoming a formidable opponent in the race for
It took less than 48 hours for the People’s Assembly to
adopt a law forbidding Suleiman from participating in the presidential
The law could not be implemented without the approval of SCAF.
However, the Islamists’ goal to bar Suleiman from running was attained by the
very Presidential Election Committee set up by SCAF to filter candidates for the
presidency. Suleiman was barred on a technicality: the 30,000 signatures needed
to allow him to run were not collected from each of Egypt’s 15 directorates. It
seems he was short by 1,000 signatures in one directorate.
Out of 23
other candidates, the committee barred 10, leaving 13 in the race, including
former air force commander and Mubarak’s last prime minister Ahmad Shafik, and
the head of the Muslim Brothers’ party, Muhammad Morsi. The 10 barred candidates
may still appeal the ruling.
Whoever wins the elections on May 23-24 will
have to devote most of his time to domestic issues and to the consolidation of
power. This means that issues dealing with regional politics could be deferred
to second place. A pro-military win would probably spark dissent and repression
against the Islamists, whereas an Islamist as president would signify greater
imminent danger to Israel. The issue of the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty could
become a “scapegoat” to divert attention from unsolvable domestic economic
problems, seeking to blame outside factors for Egypt’s deteriorating situation.
On the other hand, the Muslim Brothers have a historical dispute to settle with
their former oppressors – the military.
The writer, a retired colonel, is
a special analyst for the Middle East at the Jerusalem Center for Public
Affairs’ Institute for Contemporary Affairs (www.jcpa.org), was foreign policy
advisor to former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and deputyhead for assessment of
Israeli Military Intelligence.
This is a condensed version of a report
that appeared in the Jerusalem Issue Brief, Vol. 12, No. 8, April 16.