Brothers vs. SCAF: The Vote in Egypt

Brothers vs. SCAF: The Vote in Egypt

The army and the Muslim Brotherhood are likely as not to strike a bargain, which does not bode well for Egypt.


One candidate wins the support of conservative rural voters, deeply religious voters, people in small towns, and free enterprise–minded shopkeepers. The other wins the big cities, women, minorities, and the moderately religious. Romney and Obama? No—it’s the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi and Ahmed Shafik, the military man and Mubarak-era holdover who was the last prime minister of the ancien regime.

That’s the rough, not-exact breakdown in Egypt and, unfortunately, in Egypt it’s reactionary against reactionary.

As Said Sadeq writes in the New York Times’s Room for Debate dialogue on the Muslim Brotherhood win:

If we examine the demographic voting results of the recent election, there was a clear division between those who supported Gen. Ahmed Shafik (mainly urban areas, lower Delta, women, Copts, moderate Muslims and middle and upper classes) and those who supported Morsi (mainly from rural upper Egypt, squatter settlements, slums and Muslim Brotherhood sympathizers).

Amidst the alarm about the Brothers’ win—and I’m no fan of that backward-looking, cultish secret society—it’s important to put it in perspective. Faced with a choice between two very unappetizing candidates, a slight majority of Egyptian voters chose the Muslim Brotherhood. Does that mean that Egyptians have shifted en masse to support religious fanatics? No—though many members and supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood are, indeed, fanatics. What it means instead is that a majority of voters, faced with electing a man who’d be the face of the military junta now controlling power in Cairo, chose instead to go with Morsi. It’s true that many of those who chose Morsi did so because, living ignorant rural lives in a bleak economic landscape, they went with the simple Koran-is-the-constitution palaver of the Muslim Brotherhood. (Just as many rural American voters in southern Illinois, West Virginia, Mississippi and Kansas vote Republican based on the family values/Bible ethic promoted by the GOP.)

As in Palestine, where the Muslim Brotherhood–linked Hamas won parliamentary elections by a few percentage points, the elections in Egypt aren’t a referendum on religion. In Palestine, many Palestinians voted for Hamas because they were tired of the PLO/Fatah corruption and self-dealing and because Fatah hadn’t been able to deliver the promise of a post-Oslo Palestinian state. In Egypt, at least some of the 51 percent who voted for the Muslim Brotherhood were voting for change, and against the old regime, rather than for Morsi.

Can Morsi succeed? Unlikely. The military holds all the reins of power, and they have the guns and the money (at least some of which is supplied by the United States). By disbanding the Muslim Brotherhood–controlled parliament and aggregating nearly all important powers to themselves, including some presidential authority, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has made a power play that will difficult for the Muslim Brotherhood and their civilian allies to counter. In addition, the bland, less-than-charismatic Morsi, an ultraconservative organization man to the core, isn’t one to rally secular voters and independents to his side.

Still, thing could blow up between Morsi and SCAF. More likely, however, the military and the Muslim Brotherhood will revive the tacit understanding that brought them together in the period after the 2011 revolt that toppled Mubarak. The military can allow the Brothers some leeway on social policy, religious affairs and using government funds to featherbed Islamist enterprises, such as Islamic banking. And the Brothers will allow the military to hold on to their own vast economic enterprises and not challenge their authority over security matters. Democracy, in Egypt, has a long way to go.

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