By Saad Hafiz:
By most accounts, the run-off elections in Egypt have resulted in a victory for the Islamist Mohamed Morsy over the military candidate Ahmed Shafik. The big question that has haunted Egypt since the advent of Arab Spring and the street battles that forced the overthrow of the twenty-nine year old Mubarak dictatorship is whether the all-powerful military establishment would allow a democratic transition to an elected civilian leadership which included the controversial Muslim Brotherhood.
To date, Egypt’s year-old transition from military to civilian rule has been anything but smooth. Popular protests, sectarian violence, and clashes between police and demonstrators have all at one time or another threatened to derail the process. Since Mubarak’ resignation last year, nearly 800 people have died as a result of constant political unrest. Many indicators suggest that Egypt is far worse off economically now than a year ago.
Egypt’s main backer, the United States has expressed concern that the Egyptian army was abusing hopes for democracy by ordering more military rule just as the Muslim Brotherhood was claiming victory in the country’s first free presidential election. The US spokesperson was probably referring to a decree issued by the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) that ensured that the new civilian president was shorn in advance of much of his power including control over the armed forces. This decree was issued just as polling stations closed and two days after the ruling by the Egyptian Supreme Court, stacked by Mubarak era judges dissolving a new, Islamist-led parliament. The apex court based its judgment on dissolving both houses of Parliament on evidence that there were ‘invalid’ seats in the house.
The court dissolved lower house of parliament known as the People’s Assembly had 498 elected seats with Islamists of varying sorts controlling nearly 70% of those seats, with the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP)-led Democratic Alliance controlling the most at 47%. The Islamist Alliance-list led by the Salafist Nour Party came second with 25%, followed by the Wafd at 8% and the liberal Egyptian bloc party list at 6.8%. Many experts expect the FJP to differentiate itself from the Salafist opposition by being more pragmatic, especially when it comes to the economy. The party may focus on promoting private investment, recovering lost revenue from land deals reached during the Mubarak era, creating jobs, boosting the agricultural sector, and reducing income inequality through redistributive tax policies. However, many Islamists from both the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafist Nour party share general goals of inserting certain Koranic prohibitions into civil law, such as bans on interest-based banking and consumption of alcohol. Though both sides may differ on the implementation, according to one expert, “no matter how generously one interprets the sharia, certain prohibitions are unavoidable — and the Brotherhood’s parliamentarians vow to push those prohibitions into law.”
The experience of the past year has left many Egyptians doubting that the military, and what they call the “deep state” stretching across big business, Mubarak-era judges, security officials and the army, will ever hand over control particularly to its old Islamist adversary. The army could well learn from Algeria’s botched experience of transferring power to the Algerian Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) who had handily won the first multi-party elections in that country in December 1991. That prompted the Algerian army to halt the electoral process in January of the following year and launch a crackdown. The FIS was disbanded, various Islamist groups emerged — Al Qaeda’s North African branch is the latest incarnation of one of them — and the ensuing civil war killed up to 200,000 people, bringing the country to its knees.
While the Egyptian military could well be playing games with the electorate to hang on to its unlimited power and influence, it is helped by the fact that many Egyptians particularly the Christian minority quite understandably do not want to see the despised Mubarak dictatorship replaced by a hard-line Islamic state ruled by the Muslim Brotherhood. Some also favour continued adherence to the 1979 Egypt-Israel peace treaty which has kept Egypt at peace for over thirty years, a position opposed by many Islamists. Many voters were dismayed by an unpalatable choice between Shafik, a man seen as an heir to Mubarak and Morsy, the nominee of a religious party committed to reversing liberal social traditions.
The battle lines are clearly being drawn with the liberal urban youth movements which were in the vanguard of protests against Mubarak about two years ago, as well as the Muslim Brotherhood and other supporters of the Mubarak uprising planning a major protest demonstration at Cairo’s historic Tahrir Square to force the military to honour the results of the run-off elections. The best that can be hoped for as the tensions run high is that the check-and balance act between the Islamists and the military does not change to revolution in the streets.