Egypt in crisis: the rocky road ahead

02/09/2013, Roma

Without belittling the shades and tensions within the various groups, the Egyptian political scene can be characterized by two groups with “winner takes it all” approaches – the military and the Islamists – and a third – liberal – group that is in principle committed to pluralism but that, in view of its minority predicament, has pursued its agenda in alliance with one or the other majority group, both of which have espoused undemocratic practices. Be it out of ideology or sheer interest, neither the Muslim Brotherhood nor the military have demonstrated a commitment to the democratic process and are engaged in a deep power struggle. The MB’s year in power may be insufficient for anyone to safely conclude that their rule would have led Egypt down the Iranian route. But that year in power, and particularly the November 2012 – July 2013 period, suggest that the MB had espoused a majoritarian understanding of the democratic process, assuming that electoral victory legitimized their attempt to monopolize the state and determine unilaterally its constitution and policies, without meaningfully engaging with political minority(ies). The military never rescinded its grip on state (and economic) power, which had been largely safeguarded by the MB in what had been a tacit alliance between the two up until the summer. It currently feels legitimized to pursue its own “winner takes it all” strategy by attempting a political wipeout of the MB developing once more the long-standing narrative that connects the Muslim Brotherhood as an organization to international terrorism and portrays it as a national security threat. While committed to return to the barracks in 6-9 months, it views itself as the guardian of the state, with an ability to step in and out of politics as need may be and steer the transition process behind the scenes. Liberals, still depressingly disorganized, have necessarily played the minority game (despite what may be widespread public support), switching alliances between the MB and the military as and when they concluded that the Brotherhood was bent on controlling the state. What also gives the liberals leverage is “public opinion” and their capacity to mobilize people to go on the streets – they are a veto player. The conviction of the (few) liberals who still support the coup is that whereas they can steer the military-led process towards a democratic outcome, had the MB been allowed to rule, the outcome would have been undemocratic in both form and substance. Whether revolutionaries – inside and outside the regime – will successfully steer an undemocratic process into a democratic outcome is anyone’s guess. Signals – namely the new draft constitution – are not encouraging.

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