Saturday, July 7, 2012

Is Egypt Destined for a Clash between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Old Guard

Last week, Egypt witnessed the inauguration of Mohammed Morsi, the leader of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood and the first freely elected President in the nation's history and the first President since Hosni Mubarak. The inauguration comes at a time when many are uneasy about an Islamist Party leading one of the most consequential Arab States. In addition, given the ever tightening grip of the country's Military, the Supreme Council of Armed Forces, has led some to wonder if Egypt's uprising has gone sour.

In his inaugural address, Morsi tried to assuage the concerns of the populace, remarking that the military was "the shield and sword of the nation." Despite attempts to assuage fears, the military has continued to be seen as encroaching on the populace that had so welcomed its protection. In fact, it was revealed upon Morsi's election that Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, Chairman of SCAF, will stay on in the new government as the country's Defense Minister. In addition, Egypt's court system ruled that the Military would oversee the writing of the nation's new Constitution.

Since supplanting Hosni Mubarak back in February of 2011, SCAF has ruled the nation almost autocratically, subjecting women protesters to virginity tests, instated a curfew around its defense ministry, and continuously quashed protests. While this may alarm some people as having the makings of a full blown military coup, it would only be half correct; while the military did in fact force Mubarak out of the presidency, it was for the preservation of regime, not for its destruction. It is important to realize that Egypt has been under the rule of a military officer since the 1952 Free Officers' Movement, when Muhammad Naguib and Gamal Abdel Nasser, both military officers, overthrew the monarchy of King Farouk. Both of their successors, Anwar Sadat and Mubarak, were high-ranking military officials. Similarly, SCAF has been suspected of having control of almost thirty percent of the economy.

The continuation of the regime has been seen when the country's Presidential Electoral Commission disqualified ten of its presidential candidates, and its courts ruled the nation's freely elected, Parliament unconstitutional. This is a mere continuation of power and an effort to maintain the stability of Egypt, in the eyes of the Military. To SCAF, the prospect of democracy is dangerous because of the possibility that having a civilian government could limit its power [more of that on yesterday's blog post]

What is interesting about all of these efforts to quell real democracy is that in each instance, the elected officials vying for power have included members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist party that was outlawed during the Mubarak rule. While the Muslim Brotherhood was officially decriminalized in the wake of the ouster, there appears to still be great effort on behalf of the regime in order to prevent their rising influence. Many of the candidates barred from running for president were members of the Brotherhood or from Salafist breakaway factions-though to be fair the military did bar Mubarak's former intelligence officer from running. Similarly, the Egyptian parliament had a strong Islamist tilt after the first round of free elections.

The Brotherhood similarly, has had a sordid history. Initially starting as a social organization, equivalent to the YMCA or the Boy Scouts of America, the Brotherhood turned itself into mobile political force that pushed for more religious-based government. While initially supporting the Free Officers, over time they attempted to assassinate members of the regime and Sadat became a source of contempt after the Camp David Accords with Israel. Initially not an active part of the January 25th movement, they emerged as an active and viable political party, and after initially stating they would not put up a Presidential candidate, did just that, only to be met with constant electoral roadblocks.

In turn, it is possible that the Military and the Brotherhood can come to lock horns, and nowhere will this be more apparent than in the coming writing of the Constitution. The military will certainly attempt to curb the religious nature of the ruling party in the draft, but they will balk if the Brotherhood attempts to put them under civilian control because it will mean they are only "the sword and shield" and not the actual governing apparatus of Egypt. Similarly, the Brotherhood's will inevitably face continuous roadblocks by the judicial system and it is very possible the courts could nullify their Constitution, in which case, they will mobilize their devout following against SCAF. In turn, there could be a political implosion or an all out civil war, in which case, it is very possible that a number of offshoot political ideologies will be spawned and set off a new strain of revolutionary thought.

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