Jun 27, 2012
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

Egyptian Uncertainty Breeds Opportunity

The litany of commentary and analysis surrounding the recent, and remarkable, events in Egypt has produced a consensus of sorts, if one might call it that. Though hardly a revolutionary conclusion, many believe the election of Muslim Brotherhood candidate¬†Mohamed Morsi carries with it a mixed bag of consequences for the region, and the West. That Egypt’s Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) allowed Mr. Morsi to win despite his deep Islamist roots is certainly a positive sign for electoral integrity and the ability to translate popular will into political reality. Alternatively, the Brotherhood now controls the highest elected office in the country, and it remains to be seen whether the Islamist group will seek to use this platform to compensate — in the form of state policy, diplomatic relations, or constitutional reform — for decades of political marginalization amid the rather secular and repressive tenure of President Hosni Mubarak.

For its part, the White House appears to be cautiously optimistic following the results of the first free and fair presidential election in Egyptian history — relieved that the SCAF did not attempt naked electoral theft, but still quite wary of ongoing challenges and concerns. This seems a reasonable stance considering the list of unanswered questions. Will the SCAF reinstate the popularly elected parliament that it suddenly dissolved earlier this month? If not, when will new elections be held, and will all parties, including those of Islamist persuasions, once again be allowed to freely contest the poll? Now that a president has been elected, will he have commander-in-chief authority over the armed forces? If not, how much latitude will Mr. Morsi be granted by the military to enact his, and the Brotherhood’s, political agenda?

These will not be answered to anyone’s satisfaction for quite some time, I imagine. But as in any transition, Egypt’s uncertainty has created new and exciting windows of opportunity. Just today, Mr. Morsi announced his intention to use the vacant vice president positions to appoint two members of marginalized communities: a woman and a Coptic Christian. This will likely be interpreted as an olive branch to the nearly 50 percent of Egyptian voters that did not want a Muslim Brotherhood presidency, many of whom were heavily involved in the initial demonstrations that sought to topple Mubarak in favor of a more open, just, and progressive form of government. Symbolically, and assuming Mr. Morsi follows through on his promise, this was a necessary demonstration of inclusivity and Egyptian unity. But perhaps more significantly, it signals to the SCAF that Mr. Morsi is not the hard-line Islamist some have made him out to be, and in fact is willing to assemble a balanced government that receives input from a variety of groups. The hope is clearly to mollify fears among the military brass that Mr. Morsi’s election was a harbinger of the inevitable and destructive clash between an ideologically driven Islamist government and the old guard that wants to maintain stability, as well as the corresponding power that comes with it.

For years, many have wondered how the Brotherhood would actually behave should it find itself with political influence, much less outright power. While some fear for the freedom and civil liberties within Egyptian society, I’m inclined to believe that governing and its responsibilities will be a moderating force on the Brotherhood, compelling it to chart a more pragmatic course in order to negotiate constructive agreements with the many powerful, non-Islamist actors that have a stake in Egypt’s future. After all, Egyptian voters will be carefully observing the conduct and success of this new government in addressing Egypt’s most pressing challenges. A stalemated government, ineffectual leadership, and divisive agendas during a time of crisis will all be judged harshly at the ballot box — perhaps incentivizing productive, expedited action at the expense of pure ideology. On the international front, the annual U.S. military and economic aid package to Egypt remains one of the largest such bilateral agreements in the world. The Brotherhood would risk this relationship at its own peril, since the Egyptian military relies upon this aid for a considerable chunk of its own budget and operations.

With all that in mind, Mr. Morsi’s intention to appoint a woman and a Christian vice president is a positive, if incomplete, sign that perhaps he understands the factors above and will govern with sober moderation. Whether or not the SCAF believes this, or is willing to loosen its tight hold on power, of course remains to be seen. As does the Islamists’ actual legislative agenda should it once again find itself with a majority in parliament, if and when it’s reconvened.


1 Comment

  • […] and within each of these camps as well.” Such unity requires compromise, and as I wrote yesterday, it remains to be seen whether Mr. Morsi possesses the strength, ability, or will to do so. Will he […]

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