THE INITIAL EGYPTIAN ELECTIONS: A COMMENT
"In retrospect, it was all desperately naive.
Remember all that excitement about the Facebook revolution? The image of hip young Egyptians, organizing through social networking sites, to overthrow a military dictator was irresistible to many in the west. We were down with the kids in Tahrir. They were using our ideas and our gadgets to overthrow a crusty old dictator. Bliss was it on that dawn to be watching CNN.
Now the results of the first round of voting in the Egyptian elections are in – and we are discovering that things are a bit more complicated. Islamist parties have won around two-thirds of the vote: the Muslim Brotherhood seems to have got about 37 per cent; the Salafists, whose puritan version of Islam is much harder line even than the Brotherhood, have won about 25 per cent. Parties representing Egyptian liberals are trailing in third – despite the fact that the first round of voting took place in their strongest areas. When the rural south of Egypt votes in the next rounds, the Islamists are likely to do even better. Just after the revolution, Wael Ghonim, the young Google executive who organised the first Facebook protests against Hosni Mubarak, was put at the very top of Time magazine’s list of the 100 “most influential people in the world”. As a US official commented to me drily this week: “He may be the most influential man in the world, but unfortunately he doesn’t seem to have much influence in Egypt.”
It wasn’t just western observers who failed to understand the nature of Egyptian society. Many Egyptian liberals were also operating in the dark, after decades of authoritarian rule that had forced all sorts of social and political forces underground. Back in April in Cairo I met Mohammed ElBaradei, the man who many liberals still hope (forlornly) will emerge as president. With commendable honesty, he admitted that he had barely heard of the Salafists, until they had emerged after the revolution and begun to give interviews. He was clearly horrified. “Some of them, well there is no common ground,” lamented Mr ElBaradei, an urbane international civil servant. “They want a completely theocratic state.” Returning from Egypt, I wrote that Salafists might get up to 10 per cent of the vote – and was worried that this might be considered hysterical".
Gideon Rachman, "Western Dreams and Egypt's reality." The Financial Times. 5 December 2011, in www.ft.com.
"The first round of Egyptian parliamentary elections has taken place, and the winners were two Islamist parties. The Islamists themselves are split between more extreme and more moderate factions, but it is clear that the secularists who dominated the demonstrations and who were the focus of the Arab Spring narrative made a poor showing. Of the three broad power blocs in Egypt — the military, the Islamists and the secular democrats — the last proved the weakest.
It is far from clear what will happen in Egypt now. The military remains unified and powerful, and it is unclear how much actual power it is prepared to cede or whether it will be forced to cede it. What is clear is that the faction championed by Western governments and the media will now have to accept the Islamist agenda, back the military or fade into irrelevance. One of the points I made during the height of the Arab Spring was that the West should be careful of what it wishes for — it might get it. Democracy does not always bring secular democrats to power. To be more precise, democracy might yield a popular government, but the assumption that that government will support a liberal democratic constitution that conceives of human rights in the European or American sense is by no means certain. Unrest does not always lead to a revolution, a revolution does not always lead to a democracy, and a democracy does not always lead to a European- or American-style constitution.
In Egypt today, just as it is unclear whether the Egyptian military will cede power in any practical sense, it is also unclear whether the Islamists can form a coherent government or how extreme such a government might be."
George Friedman, "Egypt and the Idealist-Realist debate in U.S. Foreign Policy." Stratfor. 6 December 2011, in www.stratfor.com.
Notwithstanding the arriere-pensee comments by Gideon Rachmann, there were some commentators, such as Stratfor's George Friedman who were highly skeptical of what Rachmann now refers to as 'desperately naive' hopes that Egypt was securely headed on the road to democratization. I myself in my own initial comments on the upheaval in Egypt, stated that there was a possibility of genuine Democratization in Egypt. I also stated that there was equally a possibility of an 'Algerian Scenario' 1. What I did not discuss in depth, nor do I believe many others commentators did, was to examine the likelihood that 'free and fair elections', would result in a heavy majority by the Muslim Brotherhood and related parties. A state of affairs which has now come about. The 'problems' raised by the election returns in Egypt, which as Rachmann cogently points out, are likely to become worse rather than better, are as follows: i) how radicalized will any Muslim Brotherhood government become under pressure from the more radical Islamists elements who look to gain a substantial representation in parliament? ii) how will the self-same government deal with the 'deep' Egyptian military apparatus which has been in place since July 1952? And concomitantly how will the self-same 'deep' military apparatus deal with a Muslim Brotherhood government? Will they endeavor to peacefully co-exist with each other, or will it be an omnium bellum contra omnies? iii) how will said regime deal, given the pressures coming from its hardline domestic critics and its nominally pro-Western military, craft its relations with Israel and the USA? Will Egypt remain on the sidelines peacefully during the next Israeli-Palestinian imbroglio? Given its domestic pressures can it afford to do so?
The above are some of the issues raised by the prospect of a future Muslim Brotherhood government in power. Per se, the fact that the Brotherhood would form a government is not a reason for alarm. What is a reason for alarm is that the next Egyptian Parliament will have a substantial radical Islamic presence. And as the Revolution in Persia, in fact as almost any revolutionary situation tends to show, it is the radicals and not the moderates who come to the fore. And in Egypt at the moment, it is the Muslim Brotherhood who are the 'moderates'. That fact alone is more than sufficient to be alarming. Perhaps not alarming enough to hope for a military coup d'etat, but certainly at this point in time, any reason for optimism as it concerns the situation in Egypt is completely unwarranted.
1. "Egypt without Mubarak: Revolution or Regime musical chairs?"Diplomat of the Future . 15 February 2011, in www.diplomatofthefuture.blogspot.com.