Another excellent post by Dr. Juan Cole.
Posted on 06/24/2012 by Juan
Muslim Brotherhood leader Muhammad Mursi has been officially declared the president of Egypt. But under the terms of the military constitutional guidelines issued last Sunday night, he comes into office in the framework of a military government headed by Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi.
That is, all the doomsaying about Egypt turning into Iran is to say the least premature, since Mursi at the moment is more Tantawi’s vice president than anything else.
Moreover, despite the Orientalist impulse in Western writing to see everything in the Middle East as black and white, as fundamentalist or libertine, Egypt’s political geography has been revealed by this year’s elections to be diverse. It isn’t just puritans versus belly dancers.
Here are the major factions according to the outcome of the first round of presidential elections, in which there were numerous candidates with strong ideological commitments. I was in Egypt for that election and did a lot of interviewing with Egyptians of all stripes, coming away impressed at how all over the place the electorate was. (Obviously I’m using the candidates below as a sort of political shorthand, and there is more overlap than the categories suggest, but this is ballpark):
1. The Labor Left, led by Hamdeen Sabahi (20.17%)
2. Classic liberals, led by Amr Moussa (11.13%)
3. Authoritarian secularists,led by Ahmad Shafiq (23.66%)
4. Muslim liberals, led by Abdul Moneim Abou’l-Futouh (17.47%)
5. Muslim fundamentalist, led by Muhammad Mursi (24.78%)
Mursi won by retaining the fundamentalists and picking up the Muslim liberals and at least some of the Labor Left, and even a few classic liberals such as novelist Alaa al-Aswani. His victory is not solely a victory for the hard line fundamentalists, who probably only accounted for about half of his voters. He owes the Labor Left and those classic liberals who preferred him to the authoritarian Shafiq.
Mursi will now appoint a prime minister and a cabinet (the Egyptian system is a bit like that of France), and he may well reward his non-fundamentalist allies with key cabinet posts. (That pluralism is exactly what did not happen in Iran after the fall of the Mehdi Bazargan government with the Hostage Crisis of 1979).
Moreover, if in fact Egypt now moves to a new constitution and new parliamentary elections by the end of this year, the more diverse political landscape revealed by the first round of the presidential elections may get reflected in parliament in a way that did not happen in the first election after the revolution. I argue that the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafi hardline fundamentalists did so well last year because the electorate was still afraid of the Mubaraks returning, and they wanted to put the opposition strongly in power. Now, they’ve soured to some extent on the Brotherhood, and want some law and order and economic initiatives, and may well vote in a significantly different way.
Hamdeen Sabahi is forming a labor left party, and labor flexed its muscles in the first presidential round, given him the major port city and Mediterranean province of Alexandria. Alexandria went to Mursi in this second round, but he can’t count on it in the new parliament.
The strong showing of the liberals and the authoritarian leftovers of the old regime, in provinces of the Delta and key districts of Cairo also suggests that some reformulated National Democratic Party (the old party of Hosni Mubarak) may do well in any new parliamentary elections. Could Ahmad Shafiq end up leader of a powerful bloc in the new parliament?
So not only is Mursi hemmed in by the military, he may well end up having to compromise with a more pluralist political landscape by the end of this year. Whereas he could have gotten legislation through the December, 2011 parliament easily, he may have a more uphill battle in any new parliament.
Admittedly, Mursi is now in the position, as an elected president with a clear popular mandate of about 52 percent of the vote, to maneuver against Tantawi’s constraints. But it remains to be seen whether he can succeed. Mursi on Friday gave a speech in which he rejected the Supreme Court’s dissolution of parliament, which had been dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party. The Brotherhood line is that the court had the right to find that a third of the seats, set aside for independents, had been improperly filled by party-backed candidates. But, they say, the executive decision of what exactly to do about that should have been left to the president (e.g. instead of dissolving the whole body of parliament you could have held a do-over for that one-third of seats). Mursi also rejected the military constitutional amendments designed to constrain the president until a new constitution is written.
Among the prerogatives the military claimed was to appoint a new constituent assembly to draft the constitution. But a court-ordered process had already established a constituent assembly, which met over the weekend and insisted they are still in business. Mursi may well back them, setting the stage for one of the first and most important struggles between himself and Tantawi.
Can Mursi force the military to back down on any of these three urgent institutional issues? He certainly can put millions of protesters in the streets if it came to that. But the Brotherhood has a long game, and may well adopt a more piecemeal and less confrontational approach.
One problem for Mursi is in mollifying the half of Egyptians who are absolutely terrified of him, fearing that he wants to turn their fun-loving, moderate country into a puritan, grim, Saudi Arabia. More activist women, Coptic Christians, and the secular-minded middle and upper classes are among these groups. Moreover, the hardline puritan stances he has taken would kill the Egyptian tourism industry (nobody is going on vacation to Sharm El Sheikh and Hurghada to wear their street clothes into the water and be deprived of so much as a beer). There are a lot of powerful economic interests in Egypt that depend on tourism, and on foreign investment. Mursi has to prove he can avoid scaring the horses, or he and his party will crash and burn even without military opposition.
It’s official. Mohamed Morsy is the president-elect of Egypt. Finally, the Brotherhood won it. This movement that was established in 1928 by Hassan Al-Bannah has finally achieved one of its objectives. This social, economic, and political movement has endured a tremendous systematic persecution over the years. It is a movement that has gone through phases of radicalization, negotiation, moderation, armed opposition, cooptation, cooperation and finally legalized and rightful opposition, which has ultimately led the Brotherhood to the highest office of the executive in Egypt.
The secret of this movement is no secret at all. It has lasted and overcome obstacles, torture, banishment and so on because it has always had a solid popular basis. It is a movement that is rooted in the hearts of a large number of Egyptians, and it is only fair that this large number of Egyptians got to elect their candidate to the highest office in the land.
You may ask, what now? Well, the hardest, the most taxing and the most ungrateful endeavors await the Brotherhood. They have a long list of serious economic grievances to deal with. From now on, they are going to be judged on their results, not on the perseverance of their resistance and struggle. They either deliver, or they will be voted out. As they say, the hard work starts now Mr. Morsy.
This is the small clip of president Morsy acceptance speech
Joy and Jubilation in Tahrir Square, Cairo
Courtesy of Dr. Juan Cole
Posted on 06/17/2012 by Juan
The initial reaction of the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood and its Freedom and Justice Party to the high court decision dissolving parliament had been acquiescence. On Sunday, they got a bit more active, arguing that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) did not have the right to dissolve parliament despite the court ruling (i.e. that it wasn’t the body with legal standing to do so). They also argued that the dissolution must be put to a popular referendum, since it voided the vote of millions of Egyptians.
All of this raises the question of why the Mubarak-appointed judiciary backed by SCAF moved against the parliament, which was dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood. I don’t believe that the SCAF coup was based on a rational calculation. Rather, I think the generals see the world as a conspiracy against them, and that the basis for their action was likely irrational.
Gen. Omar Suleiman addressed a letter to the Egyptian people Saturday, urging them to vote in the elections but implicitly criticizing the Muslim Brotherhood as arrogant and overbearing, and suggesting that you might hear them now talking about cooperating with everyone, but alleging that such talk is merely manipulative. Suleiman is a former head of military intelligence and was vice president in the last Mubarak government. He had wanted to run for president but was disqualified by the courts on the grounds that he hadn’t gathered enough petition signatures.
When I was in Cairo in May, a reporter told me that Suleiman gave a talk at the al-Ahram Center in which he alleged that the Muslim Brotherhood was preparing to develop a violent paramilitary capability. Generals such as he view the Brotherhood as not very different from al-Qaeda and as potentially violent, even though the organization gave up violence in the 1970s and has been disciplined about only using civil means to gain power ever since.
It also seems clear that the generals have a conspiracy theory that the United States is somehow behind the Jan. 25, 2011 revolt against Hosni Mubarak, and that Washington is secretly funding the leftist youth groups that spearheaded the big demonstrations then and since. That is why they keep harassing foreigners and journalists who seem too interested in Egyptian politics, and why they aired commercials recently discouraging Egyptians from speaking to foreigners.
Only a conspiracy theorist could simultaneously hold that the Muslim Brotherhood is a theocratic cabal with paramilitary aspirations and that the US is supporting it and other revolutionary forces.
Another alleged foreign player in Egypt is Qatar, which Egyptians see as a supporter and funder of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Mufti or chief Muslim legal adviser of Egypt, Ali Gomaa, on Sunday riposted to an attack on him by the Muslim televangelist at al-Jazeerah Arabic, Yousuf al-Qaradawi. Qaradawi had blasted Gomaa for saying he was neutral in the presidential contest. Qaradawi insisted that all clerics had to come out for Muhammad Mursi, the Brotherhood candidate. (Actually using the pulpit to promote a partisan candidate is illegal in Egypt). Gomaa implied that Qaradawi is after personal glory and thinks he is a real Muslim while others are ersatz.
The subtext here is that many Egyptians see Qaradawi as a Muslim Brotherhood icon supported by the Qatari government. One Egyptian told me that when Qaradawi showed up in Tahrir Square in Feb. 2011 during the attempt overthrow Hosni Mubarak, it reminded him of Vladimir Lenin showing up in Russia after the initial revolution. Of course, Lenin later overthrew the parliamentary regime that briefly emerged, making Russia a communist dictatorship in the October Revolution of 1917. My friend was wondering if Qaradawi hoped to play Lenin in subverting a democratic revolution and putting in power an ideological one-party state.
A good analysis by Juan Cole of the results of the Egyptian presidential election and how the run-off round might look like. The run-off round will be a matter of electoral coalitions and who is going to put in place and federate a large enough group to bring about victory. I still think that Mursi has an edge, but let’s keep an eye on the strategies of both candidates in these 2 coming weeks.
Courtesy of Juan Cole
Posted on 05/26/2012 by Juan
It now seems clear that the run-off in the Egyptian presidential election will be between Muhammad Mursi of the Freedom and Justice Party (Muslim Brotherhood) and Gen. Ahmad Shafiq, former Aviation Minister in the Mubarak government and the deposed dictator’s last prime minister. This outcome is a polarizing one and promises a rocky road ahead for Egypt’s attempt to transition to democracy. Shafiq was at some points on Friday in the third place, but he pulled ahead later in the day as Cairo and some rural votes came in.
Although the official results won’t be announced until Monday, the results from the local polling stations are unlikely to change the outcome, since all the ballots by now have been counted and reported out.
The outcome shows a strong “law and order” desire on the part of the Egyptian electorate. In a poll that I discussed last Monday, respondents put security issues way ahead of economic ones. Shafiq is such a law and order candidate, and the Brotherhood’s Muhammad Mursi is promising more Islamic law, which Egyptians tend to interpret as a way to reign in hooliganism. The disruptions of the 2011 revolution, the subsequent poor morale among the police, the increase in firearms availability, and the release by the Mubarak government in its last days of thousands of criminals from prison, have all contributed to a mild uptick in crime. Egypt is still safer than most Western capitals, but people here had been living under a police state where there was very little crime and few public disturbances, and so it seems to them as though there is a crime wave. I live in the Detroit area, so I laugh at their supposed ‘crime wave,’ but to them it is a problem.
Ironically, the preference for a law and order candidate after a period of social upheaval in Egypt mirrors what happened in the United States in the 1960s and after. The anti-war protests of the counter-culture and the damage done Southern Democrats by the Civil Rights movement contributed to President Lyndon Johnson’s decision to step down (a la Mubarak). But this mainly youthful upheaval was followed by the victories of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan and the rise of the Religious Right thereafter in national politics. Just as American leftist radicals like David Horowitz gradually allied with the right wing of the Republican Party and with the Evangelicals, so novelist Alaa al-Aswany, a supporter of the 2011 revolution, has just come out for the Muslim Brotherhood in the runoff elections. Many on the revolutionary left will just be alienated, but some will decide that anything is better than a Mubarak clone.
Over a fifth of the votes went to a pro-labor, leftist candidate, Hamdeen Sabahi. Some of his constituency probably also voted for liberal Muslim candidate Abdel Moneim Abou’l-Futouh, and it is not impossible that in an American-style two-party primary contest, Sabahi would have been one of the two front-runners. But the Egyptian system is more like the French, with multiple candidates who span the political spectrum. In Egypt we have the opposite of what just happened in France, where the extreme right first stole votes away from the right wing Nicolas Sarkozy, and then largely declined to rally around him in the run-offs. In Egypt, the centrist Abou’l-Futouh probably stole votes from leftist Sabahi, allowing a secular right wing candidate and a religious right wing candidate into the run-offs.
Egyptians I’ve talked to are mostly philosophical about this outcome, which is probably the worst possible one for the stability of the country. They point out that the election appears to have been fair and transparent, and that the ballot box will give legitimacy to whoever wins. They also say that after all there will be another election in four years, and if whoever wins has done a poor job, the electorate will throw the rascals out. The hold of fear and dictatorship, they say, has been permanently broken. And if the government starts putting on airs and veering toward authoritarianism before the four years is up, they say, the people will just go en masse to Tahrir Square and cause another government to fall. I am struck by the self-confidence of the Egyptians and their general lack of fear of the future, their conviction that they can handle whatever situation arises.
The American political elite, very attentive to big money in politics and to the Israel lobbies, almost certainly is pulling for Shafiq to win. Mursi and the Brotherhood have a long history of hostility to Israel, and talk about revising the Camp David Peace Accord of 1979. (Camp David was supposed to lead to a resolution of the Palestinians’ problems but instead became a separate peace for Egypt and a means whereby the Israelis could further displace and expropriate the Palestinians, denying them any citizenship in a state and keeping them as riffraff who can be victimized at will. In this respect, a Brotherhood government in Egypt that stood up for the Palestinians would be a positive step).
The Americans will also be concerned about Iran and oil. As for oil, ten percent of the world supply goes through Egypt’s Suez Canal. Neither a Mursi nor a Shafiq government will likely affect the functioning of the Suez.
Egypt under either is likely to be less hawkish against Iran, but the way the Bahrain and Syria crises have unfolded makes it unlikely that the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood will want to get too cozy with the Shiite ayatollahs. (The Brotherhood supports the Syrian uprising, which Iran opposes. The Brotherhood is close to the Gulf oil monarchies that are helping crush the Shiite protesters in Bahrain, whom Iran favors). In fact, Sunni authorities have been cracking down on the handful of Egyptian Shiites who have recently dared try to open places of worship. Shafiq will presumably be on much the same page with the Pentagon on security issues.
The outcome of the election will mainly affect Egypt’s domestic situation. But it could work in unexpected ways. If the Brotherhood wins, they will become the Establishment, and the Egyptian youth may swing further to the secular left in reaction. (Some young women are already abandoning their headscarves to protest Brotherhood dominance of parliament).
The important questions for Egypt are probably not the ones the outside world is thinking about. Someone at the top needs to root out the culture of corruption in the government and business here, if they are ever to get any substantial foreign investment. The Muslim fundamentalists are known for being against corruption, but it isn’t clear that they can or will deliver on a national scale, as happened in Turkey.
And the Egyptians need to rework their industrial system so as to make things like light textiles at a quality and price that will allow them to increase sales. Heavier industry must also be further developed.
The Egyptian state needs to invest in infrastructure and education. You can’t have a prosperous modern country if your sidewalks are all broken and used mainly as parking lots or bathrooms, if you have few traffic signals or pedestrian crosswalks, and if you have 2000 students in a lecture course and the professor is paid $60 a month.
To that end, the state needs to tax the Egyptian wealthy and begin having money in its budget other than foreign aid or rents like the Suez Canal tolls and the gas and oil money (which isn’t that much).
Frankly, neither Mursi nor Shafiq strikes me as a Tayyip Erdogan (Turkey’s fabulously successful prime minister who has helped bring that country into the G-20). But someone should tell them that Egypt has a choice between becoming Bangladesh or becoming Turkey — and corruption, foreign investment, reformed industry and education have to be addressed if it wants to achieve its potential.
Also, pay attention to the sidewalks and traffic crosswalks. People shouldn’t have to risk their lives to get to the other side of the road, and preventing foot traffic down town didn’t work to save the state anyway.
UPDATE: 05/28/2012–Egypt’s electoral committee declared on Monday that a run-off for the presidency would pit Mohamed Mursi and Ahmed Shafig
Mohamed Mursi: 24.3%
Ahmed Shafiq: 23.3%
Hamdeen Sabahy: 20.4%
Abul Fotouh: 17.2%
Amr Moussa: 10.9%
Quick comment: Obviously the big surprise here is the leftist candidate Hamdeen Sabahy. He came first in a large number of big cities. From the data we have seen today, his voters tend to be young, educated and urban. His voters are also very anti-Mubarak regime, which way will Hamdeen’s voters swing will pretty much determine who is going to win the run-off.
The MB candidate in the pole position to win the run-off
From all the news sources that i consulted today, the results of the first round of the Egyptian presidential elections won’t be released until Monday. The race, as the electoral commission has stated in its last press release, is too close to call.
However, early indicators derived from television network exit poll data show that Mohamed Mursi, the MB candidate, is in the lead. When Mursi entered the race, quite late, the Egyptian newspapers and television mucked him and dubbed him the Muslim Brotherhood’s “uncharismatic” candidate. Some other newspaper called him the “spare tire” candidate because the MB’s first choice candidate was disqualified by the electoral commission.
Ahmed Shafiq vs. Mohamed Mursi
However, the 60-year-old engineer conducted a very energetic campaign despite his soft-spoken voice and stands on most controversial issues. Mursi, according to the partial projections, came first in this opening round. These partial projections are also backed up by the MB tally, which showed off a remarkable and unequaled level of organization during this campaign.
Ahmed Shafiq, a former Hosni Mubarak’s prime minister, came in second position, which sets the run-off round to be of high quality between two well-qualified candidates. Moreover, the run-off (scheduled to be held on June 16 and 17) gives Egyptians a stark choice between a military man representing the past in many ways (Ahmed Shafiq was Mubarak’s last prime minister) and an Islamist whose conservative message appeals to some and frightens others (and not only in Egypt).
According to Muslim Brotherhood sources with votes counted from about 12,800 of the roughly 13,100 polling precincts, Mursi has garnered 25%, Shafiq 23%, a rival Islamist Abdel-Moneim Aboul Fotouh 20%, and the leftist Hamdeen Sabahy 19%.
These early projections if confirmed give a strong electoral base and reservoir of voters to Mursi. There is no doubt that most of the About Fotouh’s voters will easily vote for Mursi in the run-off. However, Safiq will probably play the nationalist card and will call upon Egyptian’s high and keen sense of “the nation”. Safiq has already started casting and framing Mursi as a dangerous candidate for Egypt who will probably isolate the country with his stances and policies and will hurt Egypt with his amateurism and inexperience. But i doubt that this electoral strategy will work. Egyptians clearly want change, and want a clean break from the past. That’s what they have been expressing for the last year or so.
Having said that, Mursi, in the recent weeks, has given plenty of material to Shafiq to work with and use it to attack him as a novice politician. Mursi has called for a review of Cairo’s 1979 peace treaty with Israel, saying Egypt’s neighbor has not respected the agreement–a stance that mirrors the position of most of the other candidates in the race. Talking before a large crowd this Sunday, Muris declared “We will take a serious step towards a better future, God willing…If they [meaning the military and the pro-Mubarak regime crowd] take a step to take us backwards, to forge the will of the people and fiddle with security, we know who they are…we will throw them in the rubbish bin of history.”
Mursi is also one of the rare candidate who has an actual campaign program, which he promoted throughout Egypt these last two months. It is called “The Renaissance Project”, an 80-page manifesto based on what Mursi calls a “centrist understanding” of Islam.”The Renaissance Project” outlines Mursi’s and the MB’s vision on everything from fighting inflation to unemployment to forging ties with the U.S. on a more equal footing. It also envisions deeper diplomatic and economic ties with Turkey. In Mursi’s vision and speeches, an Egyptian-Turkish alliance is a goal that must be achieved. It is also the only alliance that would create a counter-power, and a strong check on the behavior of Israel, the U.S. and Iran in the region.
Calling the “The Renaissance Project” a centrist understanding of Islam is a clever way for Mursi to distance himself and his political stances from the extremist Salafists ones. In sum, this manifesto has been quite successful. Mursi turned out to be an excellent campaigner despite a very shaky start, a very shaky debate performance, and a very stern and austere speech delivery. However, the non-Islamists, not least Christians who make up about a 10% of the population, are still unconvinced by his promises that freedoms, civil liberties, as well as religious freedoms will be safe under his leadership.
“It was for the sake of the Islamic sharia that men were … thrown into prison. Their blood and existence rests on our shoulders now…we will work together to realize their dream of implementing sharia.” Campaign speeches like this one do very little to alleviate the fears and concerns of the non-Islamists and non-Muslim minority in Egypt. He has clearly some work to do and he cannot force his agenda through once he is elected.
And now, i leave you to read a very good analysis of our friend Juan Cole. As always Juan hits the nail on the head.
Posted on 05/25/2012 by Juan
The results of the Egyptian presidential election, held on Wednesday and Thursday, won’t be announced until Monday, say official sources in the government. In contrast, the High Electoral Commission is indicating that it will announce the results as soon as they are definitively known. Egypt is on a precipice between a relatively smooth transition and a lot of social turmoil, depending on who the front runners are.
Egyptian Voters at Polling Station (Muqattam), May 24, 2012
Abdel Moneim Abou’l-Futouh, the “Muslim liberal” candidate who had broken with the Muslim Brotherhood, can be counted out. He has conceded, and has thrown his support to the Muslim Brotherhood leader, Muhammad Mursi. He had been favored to win the election only two or three weeks ago, but his attempt to make everyone from liberals to hard line Salafi fundamentalists happy badly damaged him, since it raised the question as to what his real agenda was. I suspect that the support he garnered from some Salafi leaders, who urged their followers to vote for him instead of for Mursi, also scared away a lot of the leftists and liberals who had considered voting for him.
Abou’l-Futouh also had the effect of splitting the Muslim fundamentalist vote, depriving Mursi of a clear victory and damaging the Brotherhood’s image as a party machine juggernaut.
Early returns also suggest that another possible front-runner, Amr Moussa (former foreign minister and former head of the Arab League), has also faded and looks unlikely to be in the run-off. His constituency deserted him in favor of Ahmad Shafiq.
As I write it is mid-afternoon on Friday, and there is a reported surge for the leftist candidate, Hamdeen Sabahi. He is now said to be in second place, ahead of former Aviation Minister and Air Force General Ahmad Shafiq. Sabahi won big in Alexandria, which had been trending fundamentalist, but which is a modern Mediterranean port city with a big, organized working class, who appear to have swung to him (perhaps along with a lot of government workers and the secular middle class, along with committed revolutionaries). Al-Nil television’s correspondent is reporting as I speak that Sabahi also took Port Said, a smaller port city.
If Sabahi can maintain his narrow lead over Ahmad Shafiq, the resulting run-off will give Egyptians a choice between a leftist secularist and a Muslim fundamentalist, both of them from the opposition to Mubarak.
If Shafiq can pull back ahead of Sabahi, the resulting election would be a huge catastrophe for Egypt.
If Egyptians have to decide between Mursi and Shafiq, they’ll have a stark choice. They could give the Muslim Brotherhood two of the major branches of civilian government and risk a swift move to Islamic law and one-party dominance. They could split the ticket and support the secular Shafiq, who is very much a creature of the old regime and of the Egyptian military. In some ways he would resurrect Mubarak’s policies but will face new limitations in presidential rule by fiat. He speaks warmly of Mubarak, and would be a highly polarizing figure who would certainly provoke a whole new round of big demonstrations on the part of the New Left youth and perhaps also Muslim fundamentalists. He has ominously promised to crack down hard on “destructive demonstrations.” Although the Western politicians and business classes might favor Shafiq for surface reasons, in fact they’d be buying a whole lot of trouble if they backed him.
A Mursi-Shafiq contest would certainly result in riots and fistfights all over the country, and if Shafiq won it would likely throw the country into substantial instability (an ironic outcome since the people voting for Shafiq in the big cities and the countryside are looking for a law and order candidate who can fight a slight rise in crime). It seems to me that the resulting demonstrations and unrest would risk further damaging Egypt’s economy.
A Mursi-Sabahi contest, in contrast, will be much smoother, though still contentious. Sabahi is probably acceptable to most of the New Left revolutionaries, though they were ambivalent about him because of his Nasserist commitments (raising questions about his dedication to parliamentary democracy). Still, he was a steadfast foe of Mubarak, and was involved in the key Kifaya! (enough) movement of 2004 and after, which laid the foundations for the revolution. As a critic of imperialism and of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, he might have some support from some of the Muslim fundamentalists who focus on that issue. And his insistence on social justice obviously has wide appeal across ideological groups.
Egyptian voters in a Mursi-Sabahi match-up would have a real choice between a pluralistic system and a return to virtually one-party rule. They’d have a choice between Muslim Brotherhood emphasis on private property/Turkish-style Neoliberalism and a more socialist policy (a la Hollande in France, perhaps). And in any case, both candidates would have a claim on opposition to the old Mubarak regime, and so an extreme polarization and “a further revolution”, as promised by the New Left, could be avoided.
The final results will therefore be highly consequential for Egypt, and for US and Israeli foreign policy. Those rushing to declare the two run-off winners today, though, are probably jumping the gun, given the very small spread among the front-runners after Mursi.
A great post by our friend Juan Cole, and as always he nailed it.
Courtesy of Juan Cole
Posted on 05/23/2012 by Juan
Interpreting political behavior in a brand spanking new democracy such as Egypt is trying to become is littered with pitfalls, and these are multiplied when dealing with the Middle East.
The Muslim world, and especially the Arab world, has been depicted by some Western historians and social scientists as exceptionally impervious to democratic ideals and practices. Much of this Muslim or Arab exceptionalism derives from twentieth-century attempts to justify Western imperialism (rule over the Muslims for their own good by Europeans). Some of it is also rooted in apologetics for the Israel project, which is opposed by most Arabs and Muslims; if there is something wrong with the latter, then their complaints about the displacement and denationalization of the Palestinians can be dismissed. (Ironically, Israel under the Revisionist Likud Party is becoming less and less democratic itself, and many of the fundamentalist Jewish Haredim, now 8% of the population and growing, are no more democratic than the Saudi Wahhabis; so many of the arguments about “Islam” and Muslims and exceptionalism that had been made in the past increasingly could be applied to Israel itself).
The exceptionalism argument is ahistorical and peculiarly lacking in a comparative perspective. There is a major argument in modern German history about whether Germany was peculiar in lacking a national business class and in clinging to authoritarianism, save for the brief Weimar period, until the end of WW II. But then what of Spain? Italy? Austria? Hungary? (We are still not sure about Hungary, and Berlusconi’s Italy rather fell in the rankings). Which European countries were there, exactly, that did not have democracy imposed on them from the outside?
Then there are the other exceptionalisms. Most people who speak Chinese still live under relatively authoritarian governments, with Taiwan the major example of a Sinophone people’s transition toward parliamentary rule with regular contested elections. But just as being Muslim cannot possibly be related to people’s receptivity to democracy, neither can speaking Chinese.
There is something else going on. Most likely it has to do with the way the peasants of Egypt and Algeria made the transition to urban modernity, and likewise the Chinese. Some of the lack of democracy even derives from Western intervention against it (colonial regimes were poor teachers of democratic habits, and parliamentary regimes were overthrown by the West via coups from time to time, rather setting things back).
As for why Egyptians vote as they do, like any electorate they are complicated and even individual voters could go either way often. Egyptians did not give a majority to the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis because a majority of them is pious (and 24% of Egyptians are definitely not hard line fundamentalists of the Salafi sort!) My interviewing suggests that in the parliamentary elections they wanted parties that a) were not connected to the corrupt and hated Hosni Mubarak and b) would be honest and transparent and avoid stealing from them or dunning them constantly for bribes. The Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis fit those bills. In contrast, a lot of the left had its roots in Col. Gamal Abdel Nasser’s progressive thought, and they were initially tainted with the brush of the longstanding military regime (Nasser was a leader of the Young Officers who made the 1952 coup, to which the current military junta is the heir).
But the Muslim Brotherhood made several major errors. They promised not to put up a candidate for president, to reassure people they weren’t trying to recreate Mubarak’s National Democratic Party, i.e. a one-party state. But then they reneged and put up Khairat al-Shater, a businessman with corruption convictions. They also tried to stack the committee charged with writing the constitution with their own members, causing even other Muslim forces to withdraw in disgust. And, they haven’t been good about reestablishing security, providing services, or bringing back the tourist trade.
As for the Salafis, they unwisely began talking about banning beer, and if there is one thing the Egyptian electorate is sure about it is that they like beer.
Ironically, you meet lots of Egyptian men with beards and prayer beads who are leftists, and clean-shaven, dapper men who are supporting the Muslim Brotherhood. You suspect that they could fairly easily change their minds.
You have to think about what people are voting against, not just what they seem to be voting for. Last fall they were voting against the fulul, the remnants of Mubarak’s corrupt regime. This May, some large number of Egyptians are telling pollsters that they will be voting against a Muslim Brotherhood one-party state. They will be voting against Salafi puritanism. It is not that the Muslim fundamentalist candidate cannot win, but he now has high negatives to overcome.
Egyptian politics in this miraculous year is all about the rebound, not about the straight throw.