Quick Thoughts on Morsi’s Win

Jun 18

Morsi’s win came to me as a pleasant surprise, as I had been quite pessimistic going into  the runoff that he could muster enough support outside the base of the Muslim Brotherhood to prevail.  At the end of the day, however, all his victory means is that the people of Egypt did not decide to sign its own death warrant; however, it is still unclear whether Egyptians can achieve a stable political equilibrium grounded in some kind of pluralistic, democratic state.  To do so will require a coalition, first, between moderate Islamists and non-Islamists, both of which were active participants in the Jan. 25 Tahrir Coalition, but parted thereafter, the fact that encouraged the forces of the old regime to attempt a comeback. 

But, such a coalition will not be sufficient.  A successful democratic coalition also needs to come to terms with the fact that they cannot wipe out the ancient regime, that is, if they wish to  avoid civil war or an outright military coup. A successful coalition needs to offer some credible plan for incorporating second- and third-tier ancient regime elements into the new political configuration, particularly from the police, military, and business.  We now await to see whether Ahmed Shafik will bow out gracefully, or continue his attacks on the revolution with the backing of state media and privately-owned media channels which have been spewing anti-revolution propaganda, against  both “secular” ( although I prefer the term, non-Islamist) and “Islamist” groups, in an attempt to discredit the revolutionaries’ reputations, as well as blame  them for the deteriorating economic conditions.  There is also the risk, now marginally reduced, that SCAF will attempt to ban outright the Muslim Brotherhood, especially in the wake of its controversial decisions to dissolve parliament and issue a midnight constitutional declaration giving it virtually dictatorial powers.

The failure of Shafik in the runoff, however, bodes relatively well for the possibility of such a coalition forming.  First, I think it crushes the hopes of the ancient regime that it could engineer a restoration through a quasi-democratic process.  The SCAF created the ideal conditions for providing a democratic cover to a crackdown on the revolution, and it failed: the ancient regime rallied around its most credible figure, Ahmed Shafik, and Egyptians in favor of change were forced to support the weakest representative of the most polarizing element of the Tahrir coalition who was widely derided in Egypt as the “spare tire,” in light of the fact that he was the Muslim Brotherhood’s second choice.  Second, I think it forces non-Islamist elements in the Tahrir coalition to realize, like the April 6 movement eventually did with its late endorsement of Mursi, that there cannot be a successful transition to democracy without the active participation of the Muslim Brotherhood, and that as a result, the non-Islamist elements of the Tahrir coalition will accept that they must moderate the demands they have heretofore made upon the Muslim Brotherhood as a condition for supporting the Brotherhood.  Finally, the Muslim Brotherhood will understand that, even if it is the most important player in the Tahrir Coalition, it cannot succeed without the support of the other elements of the Tahrir coalition, and this too will discipline any agenda it pursues, if and when a  transition to civilian rule takes place.  While the four rounds of elections since Mubarak stepped-down (the March referendum, the parliamentary elections, and the two rounds of the presidential elections) have sharply polarized Egyptian society, it also served the useful function of revealing the relative strength of all parties.  This information could very well lead to more successful bargaining among the various parties, something that could improve the chances of a successful transition to civilian rule.

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