For someone living miles away from Egypt (or even from the Middle East for that matter), this past week has been full of interesting observations, if nothing else. To begin with, Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood was elected as the new President of Egypt and took the oath of office this past Saturday (June 30th, 2012).
Morsi belongs to the Muslim Brotherhood — a group that served as the main (and perhaps only) noteworthy source of opposition to the Mubarak regime for decades. If, prior to last year’s Revolution, you were to ask one regarding MB’s chances of gaining power in Egypt, the answer would not have been very promising. Yet, here we are today, with Egypt having elected the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate as its new President. Secularists and liberals may rant all they want but the fact remains, Mohamed Morsi is the new President of Egypt.
Back in 1928, when Egypt was still under Western rule, the Muslim Brotherhood was founded by Hassan al-Banna. While the Brotherhood had Islamist lineages right from its inception, in the initial days, the main focus was to propagate an anti-Western ideology and eliminate imperialism and colonialism — much like a heightened version of ‘self rule.’ Ever since then, the organization has made numerous attempts to adopt multiple modes of operation, both violent and peaceful, and owing to the violent ones (which are, often, attributed more to breakaway factions from the Muslim Brotherhood than the MB itself), it has earned the distrust of pro-Western and secular powers all around the world. Yet, in spite of external distrust and internal strife, the Muslim Brotherhood has continued to survive.
As expected, Morsi’s victory is controversial. Several liberal and secular candidates were eliminated, even though they accounted for over forty percent of the vote in the first round. In the final round, Morsi was faced by Ahmad Shafiq (a towering name of the Mubarak era). Although Shafiq lost a good deal of credibility owing to his role during Mubarak’s rule, he came quite close to winning. However, the Muslim Brotherhood’s paramount influence ultimately allowed Morsi to garner 52% of the vote.
Talking about speculation, the formal announcement of Morsi’s victory itself was delayed. Why? No one knows. Perhaps the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces took its share of time in coming to terms with the reality. And by the time the announcement was made, the Military Council had already enriched itself with decisive powers in crucial areas such as defence, internal security and perhaps foreign policy. So, let me get the picture straight. Who is the elected President? Mohammed Morsi of Muslim Brotherhood. Who holds the real power? Behind the scenes (at least for now) the military. What has changed thus far? Nothing much.
Even after the current elections and a new President, Egypt’s political situation does not seem to be changing anytime soon. In the absence of a proper definition of the President’s powers, the judiciary’s role and the Parliament’s abilities, real power will continue to lie with the Military Council, and its chairman, Field Marshall Mohammad Hussein Tantawi. Tantawi will continue to be the apex authority figure.
It also needs to be mentioned that prior to the elections, the military played an active role to ensure that Mubarak did not transfer power to his son Gamal. Had the military not been pro-active back then (experts all around the internet call it a ‘soft coup’), Egypt might as well have become another Saudi Arabia or Jordan, where a family dynasty emerges as the axis of power. The fact that the military did not intervene explicitly in Morsi’s election highlights a brighter side of things — maybe, just maybe, things may change for the better.
All around the international community, questions about Egypt’s future abound. Again, as a spectator sitting miles away from Egypt, I can picture several multi-colored battles taking shape — Islamists vs. Secularists, Military vs. Polity, and so on. For now, all eyes are on Morsi and the events that will unfold during the next few months. Egypt has always had an important role to play in its region, and in order to fulfill that role, the country now needs to sort out the pandemonium and establish law and order. After all, whatever happens in Egypt, good or bad, will have an impact on the entire Middle Eastern world.