Egypt’s Inverted Pyramids
We will see what the future holds for Egypt, but I have trouble shaking the feeling that not much will change. The election of Mohammed Morsi has been hailed as the first democratically elected president of Egypt in its history, but after the dissolution of Parliament and the reemergence of the Egyptian military it remains unclear just how democratic Morsi’s election was. The political situation in Egypt remains precarious because of its assertive military, questionable legitimacy, political shenanigans, not to mention the “wait-and-see” attitude the world is taking with respect to the behavior of the Muslim Brotherhood. When the parliament was dissolved the votes of about 30 million people were simply ignored. This is no way to run a democracy.
Morsi’s election was mishandled and the results were reliant on military arrests, a special constitutional declaration that gives the military greater power and increases their potential influence on any new Constitution. Clearly most good liberal Democrats around the world shudder at this sort of military power, but of course in Egypt it is the military that will keep the Muslim Brotherhood in check and that is probably more important.
The divisions in the Egyptian society are really quite deep. The military (essentially SCAF the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces) spills over into executive power; there is no constitution so there is confusion about foundational principles; there is lack of clarity about the role of religion in government; and then there are the normal divisions of religious versus secular, modern and traditional, liberal versus conservative. The Egyptians must make progress toward consolidating their democracy and the transition to new leadership. Below are some issues relevant to this consolidation and directed towards stabilizing the Egyptian polity.
- Morsi is a well-known Muslim who clearly will not abandon his religious principles. This is why the selection of a Vice President who represents constituencies other than the Muslim Brotherhood would provide some welcome balance and an alternative voice. One of the lessons of democracy is that it relies on contestatory discourse not cohesion. The government of Egypt must continue to develop its skills, shall we say, with respect to incorporating and managing differences. It is also crucial that the work of writing a constitution be completed. The reorganization and redefinition of various governmental institutions can only take place within the context of constitutional political legitimacy.
- Along these lines, the Muslim brotherhood must support legal experts and those with contemporary interpretations of Islam with an eye toward greater inclusiveness and integration of contemporary issues into Islamic sensibilities. And Islamic political and religious organizations such as the brotherhood certainly have their own agenda which they seek to advance. But if the brotherhood is more interested in ideological purity than political pragmatism it will be a problem.
- The military has far too much power and this is always a dangerous situation, even though in the case of Egypt the military is holding Muslim Brotherhood in check as well as keeping the peace. The military is currently empowered to arrest and detain people without a warrant. This is not acceptable in a democracy. Moreover, the SCAF in particular must withdraw from public political activity. They currently justify their behavior because there is no constitution but this must change immediately upon completion of the constitution.
The Muslim Brotherhood and the military are the two most powerful Egyptian institutions and they must lead the way toward learning the habits of managing differences rather than imposing agendas. The international community will support Egyptian democratic transition in the form of foreign aid and support as long as Egypt can achieve the proper balance is between religion and democracy – difficult as that is. Egypt has a long and noble history that has prepared it more than others to accept the new democratic climate brought about by the Arab spring. They should be commended for the relatively peaceful protest and their engagement in the debates surrounding their own cultural change. At the moment the Egyptian pyramids have been turned on their pointed sides and are teetering: important changes are necessary so the strong and broad foundation that has sustained these pyramids for centuries can return to its rightful place.