Miles to Go in Egypt
The Morsi victory does not immediately conjure pictures of a democratic Egypt. The 80 year struggle of Muslim Brotherhood to revive an Islamist sentiment has finally borne fruit – but only partially. Only 52 percent of the electorate voted in the presidential elections which Morsi won by a 3 percent margin. At 51.7 percent votes, he represents the will of only 26 percent of Egyptians. To call this an Islamic victory would be oversimplification. While Morsi in his initial speech has promised to form a unity government the hurdles that lie ahead are enormous. In a pre-election statement, Khairat al-Shater, another Muslim Brotherhood presidential candidate who was disqualified before the election, had said, “The coming revolution may be less peaceful and more violent”.
The military shed its democratic pretensions by a series of actions before the presidential elections. With these the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) led by Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi confirmed it is in no mood to let go of the power to govern the country. Its annulment of the parliamentary elections, declaration of martial law like emergency powers on June 13 to arrest civilians in national interest, rights over framing the country’s constitution and holding of fresh parliamentary elections after framing the constitution are pointing towards this intent. The reestablishment of a national defense council, which puts the generals firmly in charge of Egypt’s national security policy on June 18 sealed the fate of Morsi’s powers over the military.
These are early days but Morsi’s powers are going to be severely restricted by the military on the one hand and the need to garner enough grass root level support to form a unity government on the other. Both these predicaments dictate that Egypt’s march to democracy would be slow and possibly violent in days ahead. Realists argue that Military is the only stable institution in Egypt capable of leading the transition to democracy. In our February 2011 article, Will the Military Save Egypt?, we had presented a case where the Military follows the Pakistan model of leading the democracy from behind. This seems to be the possible trajectory of Egypt as events unfold.
The options before Morsi are limited. To tow the military’s line and be a pliant president or go to the streets again. The second option, with just a 3 percent vote lead does not appear too inviting. The low voter turn out at the presidential elections as compared to the parliamentary elections reflect popular fatigue compared to the enthusiasm of the revolution to oust Mubarak. That military was the first to be thanked by Morsi in his post result speech points to his adopting a conciliatory approach.
America, Israel and the world at large have reacted by complimenting the “Islamist” Morsi probably because they understand that propping up a Pakistan style democracy in Egypt serves their interests well.
Notwithstanding, the long-term implications of the results, internally and externally, the elections are significant in strengthening the forces of Political Islam in the Muslim world.
As yet, there are miles to go before democracy returns to Egypt and changes the Arab World.
It would be once again poetic to invoke Shakespeare who penned the following words for Brutus but they also speak to the Egyptian people:
There is a tide in the affairs of men
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune…
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves, Or lose our ventures.