Egypt and the Brotherhood: What now?

Egypt's fate now lies in the heart of a power struggle between the military, the brotherhood and other civil society players. At stake is the soul of the most populous Arab country in the world

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The world's eyes are now on Mursi
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Ghaffar Hussain
On 25 June 2012 16:55

In an outcome that came as no surprise to Egypt and Middle East watchers, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammad Mursi won the Egyptian presidential election with 51.7 percent of the vote. He narrowly beat his rival and former regime loyalist, Ahmed Shafiq, who managed to attract an impressive 48.2 percent of the vote.

Mursi is now Egypt’s first ever democratically elected president and the Muslim Brotherhood have gone from being an outlawed Islamist organisation to, ostensibly, taking the helm of the most populous and significant Arab country in the world. But how will they govern the new Egypt and how much power will they really have?

It is fair to say that the Brotherhood has come a long way since the 50s and 60s when it used to bomb Egyptian theatres and bars, assassinate leaders and openly speak of armed revolution. It is undoubtedly an organisation deeply rooted in Islamist philosophy but it is also one that has moved with the times somewhat and moderated its stance on certain issues whilst remaining regressive in other areas.

It can more accurately be described as a post-Islamist group, meaning that whilst it derives its ideas and inspiration from Islamism, exposure to realpolitik has caused it to appreciate the importance of pragmatism and inclusion. Like the AKP in Turkey and An-Nahda in Tunisia, it is part of a global trend of movements that are seeking to reconcile a conservative reading of Islam with the reality of governing modern and complex societies in the 21st century.

This isn’t to say that Mursi himself is a benign force. Indeed, he is considered to be one of the more conservative and regressive elements within the Brotherhood who was involved in the recent purge that expulsed many of the more moderate leaning members.

Brotherhood figures know that they are only capable of attracting and maintaining mass support if they tone down their Islamist agenda and seek to represent the interests of all Egyptians. Their recent success is rooted in the fact that they are well established, well organised and have the ability to connect with many ordinary Egyptians who are occupied with the difficult demands of daily life in Egypt rather than high political ideals, whether Islamist or not.

Watching Mursi reconcile his Brotherhood roots with the reality of governing, however, will be interesting. Domestically, he’ll be seeking to please liberals and religious conservatives simultaneously without isolating minorities, such as Coptic Christians, who some predict will suffer under his rule. On the international stage he must rebuilt Egypt’s reputation as a country that wants peace with its neighbours and harmony with the West whilst remaining cognisant of the deep-rooted anti-Israel and pro-Hamas sentiment that exists amongst his core supporters.

What he manages to achieve during his presidency, however, will to a large extent be decided by the real power in Egypt: the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF). A few days prior to the delayed announcement of the election result, the Egyptian supreme court, backed by SCAF, issued a decree dissolving parliament  and granting SCAF legislative powers to draft the new constitution. Field Marshall Tantawi also announced the re-establishment of a National Defence Council, which effectively puts the military in charge of national security.

In effect, Egypt therefore has gone from being a country with a military to a military with a country. It has become another Pakistan. Both countries have all-powerful militaries with huge economic interests and with no desire to relinquish power to elected civilian administrations. Hence why they can’t resist in interfering in politics since far too much depends on it.

Egypt’s fate, just like Pakistan’s, will ultimately be decided by the outcome of the power struggle that will now ensue between the military, the brotherhood and other civil society players. At stake is the soul of the most populous Arab country in the world. If past decades are anything to go by, don’t expect the ride to be smooth or without bloodshed. 

Ghaffar Hussain is a counter terrorism expert and Contributing Editor to The Commentator

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