Friday, July 05, 2013

Egypt's Salient Event

Some historian or other once wrote that, "Revolutions are processes punctuated by salient events."  That is the sense in which I have been watching Egyptian politics since the fall of Husni Mubarak.  The January 2011 protests in Tahrir didn't just depose a dictator, they deposed a political culture.  That culture, however, has yet to be replaced by anything that can command the assent, willing or otherwise, of the former system.

Marc Lynch makes these comments:
Nobody should celebrate a military coup against Egypt's first freely elected president, no matter how badly he failed or how badly they hate the Muslim Brotherhood. Turfing out Morsy will not come close to addressing the underlying failures that have plagued Egypt's catastrophic transition over the last two and a half years. The military's intervention is an admission of the failure of Egypt's entire political class, and those now celebrating already probably know that they could soon rue the coup...
Egypt's transition has been profoundly handicapped by the absence of any settled, legitimate rules of the game or institutional channels to settle political arguments. The procedural and substantive legitimacy of every step in the transition has been deeply contested, from the initial March 2011 constitutional referendum through the constitutional assembly and elections. The Supreme Constitutional Court's dissolution of parliament on the eve of the presidential election left the new government with no legitimate legislative branch other than the weak Shura Council for which few had bothered to vote.
When the Muslim Brotherhood came to power, I wrote that their test would be to show an awareness that they had been chosen to manage a transition, not implement a full agenda.  They failed the test, and in the process revealed a hostility to the free civil society on which democracy ultimately depends.  I am not convinced any particular other faction would have done much differently, however, as there were plenty of people at Morsi's election a year ago who said they would have preferred a continuation of the Mubarak regime to that outcome.  It's also worth mentioning that the military's power represents something of a continuation of that regime, an element of the shadow state which more or less fragged Mubarak to preserve themselves and public order, and have now done the same with Morsi.

The fact the military deposed Morsi rather than seeing the end of his term through a legal mechanism is dangerous, and will Algeria and the Palestinian Territories as cases in which Islamists have come to power democratically but been pushed aside undemocratically.  As I said, of course, the MB itself did not behave democratically once in office, and so what we'll see is the strengthening of two conflicting narratives in the Arab world, one among secularists wherein Islamists are a threat to democracy and the other among the Islamists themselves in which they try democracy and are thwarted despite electoral victories.  The fact this is leading to a broader attack on the Muslim Brotherhood could lead us to a re-run of the Nasser era, when state repression led to the formation of violent cells within the MB which in turn served to legitimize the repression.

That said, the Muslim Brotherhood may be the flagship Islamist organization, but they aren't the only one, and any Egyptian elections will feature significant participation by Islamists of some stripe.  In order to build national consensus, it is critical that they have a role in the process of moving Egypt forward commensurate with their weight in Egyptian society.  To do otherwise simply repeats the mistakes of the Muslim Brotherhood from another political orientation, and cannot be the foundation for Egyptian democracy.



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