Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces have been in negotiations for several days, senior Islamist officials conceded today, as analysts speculated over the future shape and tenor of a likely pact between the country’s leading illiberal blocs.
The ruling military “is ready to accommodate an Islamist president, but they have taken precautions,” said Mustafa Kamel al-Sayyed, a political scientist at Cairo University. As well as legislative powers, “all the issues relating to national security remain in the hands of the army. In this area, the president cannot do much.”
Egypt’s pro-democracy activists have responded to the election of Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi as the nation’s first Islamist president by expressing concern for minority rights and renewing their commitment to defend individual liberties and democratic institutions. Veteran democracy activist Saad Eddin Ibrahim (above) complained that Islamist groups forcibly prevented entire villages of Coptic Christians in Upper Egypt from voting in the second round of the presidential elections.
“As [the Muslim Brotherhood] is taking over Egypt, the struggle for human rights, women equality and individual freedoms will remain my top priority,” said human rights advocate Dalia Ziada, director of Ibn Khaldun Center for Democratic Studies.
Former liberal MP and political analyst Amr Hamzawy said that he would “be in the democratic opposition, ensuring that Morsi helps to hand power over to civilians, and defend democracy and civil law.”
Other activists expressed the widely-held view that the Islamists and military have revived their modus vivendi, the implicit pact designed to marginalize democratic forces that saw the Brotherhood back the regime’s crackdown on pro-democracy NGOs.
“Congratulations, the deal is accomplished, Morsy president of Egypt,” wrote activist Mohamed Effat:
Many activists accuse the Brotherhood of being slow to join the anti-Mubarak protest and were angered when the 84-year-old group first secured more parliamentary seats than it said it wanted and then reneged on a promise not to run for president. Some were swift to switch allegiances after a tactical vote to help Morsy beat his rival.
“We voted for Morsy reluctantly to prevent Shafik from coming in,” said youth activist Mohamed Abdel Latif. “Starting today we will oppose Morsy, and the Brotherhood must remember that they won because of us and they shouldn’t repeat the mistakes of the past.” Contrary to media reports that the organization was repressed under the former regime, the Brotherhood has long enjoyed a working relationship with successive governments, says a former leader.
“The regime’s strategy was to put the issue of the Ikhwan (Brotherhood) in the hands of state security agencies,” said Mohammed Habib, a senior deputy to the group’s Supreme Guide from 2004-09:
Habib spent more than six years in prison while the organization was banned under former president Hosni Mubarak. Yet, in a strange paradox, the Brotherhood had constant contacts with the Egyptian military and intelligence agencies.
The regime would alternately arrest members, then let them run for parliament while squashing secular opposition groups. That fed Mubarak’s narrative that democracy would lead to theocracy. Regime strategy ensured a Brotherhood leadership that was secretive and authoritarian, subservient to a supreme guide, Mohammed Badie. …..Brotherhood leaders continued to make secret deals with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and to betray revolutionary activists.
The Obama administration welcomed the election as a “milestone” in Egypt’s transition to democracy and called on the new president to form a government of national unity that would respect civil and minority rights, including those of women and the 10-percent Christian minority.
“It is important for President-elect Morsy to take steps at this historic time to advance national unity by reaching out to all parties and constituencies in consultations about the formation of a new government,” a White House statement said.
Senior Brotherhood officials admit that they have been negotiating with the military over the past week, reports suggest:
Though both sides deny that any deal was struck over the result of the presidential vote itself, Morsy’s election now sets a key reference point around which a power-sharing compromise can be built while the process of constructing a constitutional democracy goes on. ….He has promised a moderate “Islamic renaissance” for an Egypt mired in economic crisis. Supporters cite the example of Turkey, where the party now led by Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan slowly eroded the army’s resistance to pious politicians and the Muslim country has emerged as a political and economic force.
But Morsy, and the party grandees behind him, are aware that without cooperation from both the army, and the wider “deep state” of business and institutional vested interests built up under military rule, the Brotherhood risks accepting a poisoned chalice, enjoying the outward trappings of power but taking all the blame when life does not improve as fast as people hope.
In the short term, the election result is unlikely to curb the military’s authority, but it will boost the Islamists’ credibility, said Eric Trager.
“While it is true that power remains with the SCAF, no one should underestimate the importance of the presidency as a bully pulpit for the Muslim Brotherhood,” said Trager, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “This will remain a fight between the Brotherhood and the military.”
For Gilles Kepel, a specialist in political Islam at the Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences-Po), “the army has taken measures to trap the presidency in a sort of institutional net.”
But the balance of power will not prevent a “logic of cohabitation” between the powerful Muslim Brotherhood and the army,” he added. The Islamists — notably through their influential local charity networks and their presence in the trade unions — and political-military system “are two entities that have in practice co-ruled in Egypt since the time of president (Anwar) Sadat.”
Egyptian democrats are not “naïve enough to believe that the revolution’s objective has been realized,” said Heba Morayef, a Cairo-based researcher with Human Rights Watch.
“We are likely to see a tug of war,” she continued, “between the military and the Brotherhood over the next week or two since Morsi has now been confirmed as the president with the legitimacy of democratic elections behind him. He will be stronger in negotiations to discuss what power the new president should have.” By controlling the state budget, the military “will be able to put a stop to any institutional reform plans that the Muslim Brotherhood has.”
The Islamists’ success is a reflection of the pathologies at the heart of the Arab world ‘s democratic deficit rather than a solution to them, says military historian James Corum.
The Brotherhood “embodies the conspiratorial worldview and authoritarian culture that are the true cause of the crisis now faced by Middle Eastern nations,” he writes.
The Ibn Khaldoun center is supported by the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.