The Muslim Brotherhood Takes Egypt


Hold your nose and cheer. Egypt’s revolution has prevailed — sort of.

After tense days of delay, the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate Mohamed Morsy, was announced as the official winner. Tahrir Square, already host to throngs of Muslim Brotherhood supporters, erupted with the news of the announcement. Fireworks were let off and chants of "God is Great" and "long live Egypt" resonated throughout the square and many of Cairo’s suburbs.

The party in Tahrir raged into the night, with some voices from within the Brotherhood threatening to keep up their mobilisation should the SCAF not backtrack on its pre-announcement power grab.

Morsy’s first speech as president, however, consisted mainly of boilerplate talk of building a brighter future together, Egypt being "one big family" and a series of reassurances. First he restated his admiration for the armed forces, aiming to cool fears of an Islamist-military confrontation, or even civil war, like that of Algeria or Sudan.

Next he restated his loyalty to the martyrs, and those injured in the revolution, promising to honour their memory by continuing the goals of the revolution. He promised to move towards a modern democratic state and be a president for "all Egyptians".

To allay fears about minority mistreatment at the hands of an Islamist government, Morsy stated all would be equal before the law. He stressed his peacefulness, and Egypt’s continuing commitment to all international agreements (a reassurance about peace with Israel).

Bearded and bespectacled, the middle aged Morsy presents more like a headmaster than a warrior chief. While Egypt is in desperate need of a President with solid administrative capacity, without there first being a major cleansing to root out widespread clientism and corruption administration may prove difficult. It is unclear whether the Brotherhood has either the inclination or capacity to do so.

Furthermore, if thwarted in their attempts to gain real power, will the Brotherhood revert to identity politics and moral crusades to avoid the appearance of impotence? Will they do so regardless?

These are key matters for speculation among the non-Islamists who held their noses and voted not for Morsy, but against Ahmed Shafik. The latter’s public admiration for Mubarak and promises to "restore security" raised fears of a comeback by the forces of political repression.

Another focal point of speculation is the talks that took place between SCAF and the Brotherhood during the delay in the presidential announcement. Both parties say these talks related to the dissolution of parliament and the constitutional amendments that followed it, and not the election results.

But some are suspicious that SCAF were privately threatening to announce Shafik (who, like Mubarak and Sadat before him came to prominence through the Airforce) as the victor, if the Brotherhood didn’t first concede a deal on these other fronts. Did the Brotherhood blink first, privately agreeing that Morsy would be sworn in, not before parliament but before the supreme court?

Was a deal made to ensure the Brotherhood would colour well within SCAF’s lines when governing? Or did they call the Military’s bluff, double-daring them to complete the coup?

Which way was Washington blowing on the issue? Did they back their public statements of concern for the democratic transition with private threats of action if SCAF stole the election? Were they doubtful of the SCAF’s capacity to pull off the theft cleanly, fearful of possible blowback, and the international embarrassment of backing yet another coup, but this time with the eyes of the world trained on them as never before?

Or has the game changed, with Washington now looking forward to an Islamist dominated Middle East? It seems possible, with US-Saudi ties remaining strong, the CIA reportedly helping arm the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood and the US-Turkey relationship seemingly surviving the rise of the AKP, which many from the Muslim Brotherhood have cited as a model.

Ideally, of course, these parties would be balanced by strong, secular, liberal-left forces that can offer real solutions to the very real problems faced by the average Arab citizen. The strength of the more revolutionary candidates Hamdeen Sabahi and Abdel Moniem Abol Fotouh in the first round of voting shows that in Egypt at least, this is far from impossibility.

The realities of power-sharing will ensure a delicate relationship between the military and the Brotherhood. State institutions are still dominated by figures from the former regime, who, robbed of Shafik as president, may cling even tighter to the military.

As I write this however, cars honk outside the window and children can be heard chanting the new President’s name. Occasionally a celebratory gunshot goes off. Egypt has had a real, if flawed election, and it has elected a president from outside the Military’s closed circle of power that has for so long called the shots.

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