Nearly a year to the day since the start of the revolution in Egypt, the
situation is still chaotic and the end is far from being in sight. The army,
which played an important role in the toppling of Hosni Mubarak and was the only
uniting force during the dramatic events of January and February 2011, failed
dismally to launch the necessary dialogue with all political forces.
drawn-out electoral calendar scheduled by the ruling Supreme Council of the
Armed Forces gave the impression that it would like to stay in power for as long
as possible. As a result, the army is now under attack and is being called on by
a popular movement to return to the barracks and hand over power to a civilian
Elections for the lower chamber, the Majlis e-Sha’ab, proceeded
smoothly enough, though the result was not quite what was expected. The Islamist
parties won the election with a huge majority and the new parliament will be
painted the bright green of Islam, creating a most unpleasant surprise not only
for foreign observers but also for the Egyptian elite, the middle class and even
the young revolutionaries who started the process.
Yet the writing had
been on the wall. This is the result of Islamic education – or indoctrination –
from a tender age, recklessly encouraged by the Mubarak regime, as well as of
the charitable activities – and the preaching – of the Muslim Brotherhood and
the Salafists throughout the country.
Will Mubarak’s secular dictatorship
be superseded by an Islamic regime that is no less dictatorial, and perhaps even
more so? The new head of government is likely to be a member of the Brotherhood
who has the support of most of the parliament. Can we realistically expect him
to be respectful of human rights – freedom of speech, freedom of religion, equal
rights for women and minorities, including the nearly 10 million Egyptian Copts?
THE LAUNCH in November of the long-awaited electoral process did not put an end
to the demonstrations or to the repression that has left thousands wounded and
at least 60 dead, 26 of them Copts. Ongoing protests demand that the army
relinquish power forthwith and attack Field Marshal Mohamed Hussain Tantawi,
head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, who is accused of having had
close links with the former regime.
In some of the more violent protests,
foreigners and journalists have been targeted and public buildings have been set
ablaze. The venerable French Institute, founded by Napoleon in the 18th century,
was destroyed, and with it priceless documents. Many believe that this was the
Salafists at work; some members of the movement declare openly that they intend
to “cleanse” Egypt of all foreign influence and to obliterate all traces of the
Pharaohs’ era, of which the country is so proud.
They plan to destroy the
Cairo Museum and its historical treasures, to smash the gigantic statues at
Luxor and Abu Simbel and then to attack the splendid Library of Alexandria,
which was completed only a few years ago. Official representatives of the
Brotherhood and of the Salafists are making vague reassuring statements that
leave their true intentions clouded in doubt.
The Muslim Brothers, who
feel confident of their power with an estimated 40 percent of the seats in the
parliament, say they want to establish a civil state with Muslim characteristics
– an interesting concept that baffles everyone – and to draft a constitution in
this spirit. They also say they have no intention of fielding a candidate for
the presidential election – but then again they say that the new constitution
will severely curtail the prerogatives of the president, presumably reinforcing
those of the head of government.
A head of government who will, as we
have seen, come from the Muslim majority.
Three of the candidates for the
highest office belong to the Islamic stream: Abdel Moneim al-Futuh, who calls
himself an “independent,” is a former Brother who was expelled from the movement
when he declared his candidacy; Muhammad Salim Abu Alawa and Hazzem Abu Ismail
are close to the Salafists.
IN A renewed effort to appease, the head of
the Freedom and Justice Party, which was founded by the Brotherhood, declared
last week that in spite of their overwhelming majority, the Brothers would take
all opinions into consideration when drafting the constitution, draw on all
political currents and call on the most eminent jurists of the
This does not sit well with Muhammad Badie, the supreme guide of
the Brotherhood, who declared to raised eyebrows last week that the movement was
about to fulfill the lofty aspirations of its founder, Hassan al-Banna, to set
up a truly just regime in Egypt and to establish the caliphate throughout the
The Brotherhood’s position regarding foreign policy is no less
While some leaders are at pains to affirm that all foreign
agreements will be respected, the Brotherhood’s spokesman was quick to deny that
they would respect agreements with Israel when this was suggested by American
officials earlier this week.
The Brotherhood’s second-in-command, Rashed
el-Bayoumi, told a German news agency that since the Brothers had no part in the
peace treaty with Israel, they would submit it to the people by referendum – and
in any case they would never sit with Israelis or negotiate with them. However,
it has been suggested that a government led by the Muslim Brothers could appoint
someone from outside the movement as minister of foreign affairs to deal with
Israel until the the time comes to freeze the peace treaty.
of the al-Nour Salafist party, which holds more than 20% of the seats, is more
extreme but no clearer. Party chairman Emad Abdel Ghafour has said that he will
honor the Camp David agreement but will insist on a wholly Islamic
Sheikh Yasser Barhami, who heads the Salafist movement, makes it
clear that there can be no coalition with liberal parties that want to set up a
democratic government, as under Islam all laws come from Allah. The sheikh told
his faithful not to send good wishes to the Copts and not to participate in
their religious functions, because they belong to a corrupt religion. A
religious police or “modesty patrol,” like the one in Saudi Arabia, is already
at work and is frightening the very people who had given their vote to the
Another representative of al-Nour said that the party
would not cooperate with the Muslim Brotherhood in setting up a so-called civil
state, since it insists on a wholly Islamic regime.
He added that there
must be no possibility of the election of a Copt as president.
going to happen now? Secular parties, with their pitiful 15% of the seats, will
have little or no influence.
Should the Muslim Brothers ask them to form
a coalition against the Salafists – which is mathematically possible – would
they set aside their principles and agree? According to the latest news, the
Brothers may try to split the small liberal bloc and propose to be joined only
by the secular Wafd (Delegation) Party, which received about 9% of the seats.
This threat is real enough to spur al-Nour, in defiance of its own platform, to
approach the Wafd Party in order to prevent it from joining the Muslim
Another possibility is that Brothers and Salafists could unite
– though both sides say this will not happen.
These are the questions
being hotly debated in the Arab media today. It is feared that clashes between
the Islamic parties in the new parliament may delay the drafting of a
constitution, the formation of a government and the presidential election,
delaying the measures so urgently needed to redress the economic
As for the army, after having committed all possible errors,
at times yielding to the protests, at times fighting the protests, it is still a
formidable power because it commands the security forces as well as the police.
Will the generals surrender their power to the newly elected parliament? Will
they fight to retain some of their treasured prerogatives until the new
constitution is adopted and a president is elected? The army perceives it to be
vital that it preserve its power over the budget, its own military courts and
the economic empire created under the old regime. How far is it prepared to go
to preserve its special status? To prevent the looming crisis, some in the
Muslim Brotherhood are hinting that a compromise could be worked out “for the
good of the country” by preserving immunity for the army which would smooth its
way back to the barracks.The writer, a Fellow of The Jerusalem Center
for Public Affairs, is a former ambassador to Romania, Egypt and
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