Who will rule Egypt?
By Adel Al Toraifi
Late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat once said to Dr. Ali al-Samman: "Whoever rules Egypt, regardless of who he is, will be Egypt's pharaoh. The gulf between him and those that come after him, in terms of significance and responsibility, will be enormous. Thus there is no fear or danger in appointing large numbers of leaders and officials." (Awraq Umri, published by al-Maktab al-Misri al-Hadith, 2005). Sadat's quote was an honest evaluation of the state of rule in Egypt over the past decades. It was mainly characterized by the existence of powerful rulers - or pharaohs - with absolute powers to govern the country. However, during the 25 January revolution, this concept was challenged. Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was forced to step down under pressure from the military. Even though Mubarak had ruled Egypt as a - moderate - pharaoh for three decades, the way in which he was compelled to relinquish power raises important questions about the future of governance in one of the region's major countries, and one of its most significant states both strategically and demographically.
At the end of last week, the results of the first phase of the Egyptian parliamentary elections were announced. Islamist parties such as the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists won over 64 percent of the registered votes. A number of observers anticipate that the Islamist parties' proportion of the vote will continue to rise in the second and third rounds, thereby increasing their total score to over 70 percent of seats in Egypt's People's Assembly and Shura Council. In the face of this dramatic change, let us re-pose the question that a British magazine asked in the spring of 1906: Who rules Egypt? Or to be more precise: Who will rule Egypt after Mubarak?
So far, the Egyptian Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), represented by its leader Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, is responsible for governing the country. But according to SCAF's announced transitional timetable, Egypt's People's Assembly and Shura Council will be responsible for electing the (100-member) constitutional committee empowered to draft a new constitution for the country. As for the Egyptian presidential elections scheduled to be held in March - April 2012, this will represent the first time than an Egyptian president takes office via the ballot box.
In a public survey conducted across 26-governorates by Cairo's National Center for Social and Criminal Research on Egypt's presidential candidates, Egyptian public opinion ranked Arm Mousa as the most popular, with 23.2 percent of the vote. Former Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Mohammed ElBaradei finished second last, with only 4 percent. If such opinion polls prove accurate, we might be looking at a scenario where Amr Mousa is appointed the President of Egypt, whilst the Freedom and Justice Party - affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood – prevails with more than the required 40 percent of seats in the Egyptian parliament, thus granting it the right to form the first Egyptian coalition government since 1952. Under this scenario, Egypt would see a return to the 1940s, when political parties competed with one another to form the cabinet.
Until now, debate continues to rage amongst the Egyptian elite, as to whether Egypt should switch from the (French) republican model to the (British) parliamentary system, or rather adopt the expanded US presidential system. Under the third option, the office of prime minister would be abolished, the president would hold executive powers, the parliament would exercise legislation, and the Shura Council would have the right to veto or sanction any decision. This would guarantee that the majority (in the religious and regional sense) could not encroach upon the minority's rights and interests. If we assume that things go according to the announced schedule, the expected scenario is that Egypt will adopt a proven system but with certain ideological constitutional amendments. In other words, this means the Islamization of some aspects of rule, rather than drastic changes to the structure or system of governance, based on the probability that the Muslim Brotherhood will take over the administration of government. However, the presidency shall remain in the hands of a third party, likely to be more inclined to the wishes of SCAF. In other words, the presence of the military may not come to an end with the election of a new Egyptian president in 2012. In fact, the military may continue to have considerable influence over Egyptian politics, playing the role of kingmaker rather than direct rulers of the country.
In light of this estimation, Egypt will have passed beyond the 1952 – 2011 phase, when the military was the direct ruler of the country. Now the military shall have to settle for power-sharing in its capacity as the "guardian of the Constitution." A few members of SCAF have been quoted repeating this expression over the past few months. If the military plays the role of the "guardian of the Constitution", it will have the authority to intervene whenever it feels that one of the parties involved in the political process wants to eliminate it and monopolize power.
Many examples have followed this model: Turkey between 1982 and 2010, Pakistan between 1977 and 2009, and Algeria from 1965 to the present day. Of course there is another scenario whereby the military could permanently lose power. This is the scenario that most Tahrir Square revolutionaries would like to see happen, especially after the clashes which preceded the recent elections, and the direct attacks on SCAF leader Field Marshal Tantawi and other members.
Faced with this situation, the Islamist parties and currents - specifically the Muslim Brotherhood - find themselves facing a difficult challenge. They could accept the status quo and focus on weathering the current crisis by concentrating on reforming the Egyptian economy and restoring government services - like security - to their pre-25 January levels, not to mention re-attracting foreign, Gulf and European investments to rebuild confidence in the political and economic future of Egypt. This scenario would require the Freedom and Justice Party to follow in the footsteps of its Turkish counterpart, the Justice and Development Party. In this case, the Freedom and Justice Party should work diligently to offer a developmental model that can save Egypt from the state of free-fall its economy is facing, as its foreign currency reserves continue to evaporate. If the Muslim Brotherhood succeeds in running the government in a manner similar to the relative success of Dr. [Ahmed] Nazif's dismissed cabinet, they might manage, along with their Islamist allies, to change the Egyptian political system within a period of five to ten years.
However, there is also the worst-case scenario, whereby the Muslim Brotherhood could carry on with their slogan-heavy and populist discourse whilst neglecting the economic priorities. They would then focus on restoring a stance of opposition and resistance against Israel and the Western countries. This orientation could incorporate an alliance with Iran against the Gulf States, or hasty endeavours to remove the military and secular political blocs from their positions, in order to allow the Brotherhood to dominate the political arena. This would be like what happened in Iran shortly after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, when Imam Khomeini's supporters managed to eliminate their rivals from the liberal, communist and secular leftist blocs.
Undoubtedly, the Islamist currents have a historic opportunity to improve their image and a political history full of assassinations, justifications of violence, and the promotion of extremist utopian dreams about a righteously-guided caliphate under Islamic Sharia Law. This concept springs from their hard-line interpretations of religious texts. If the Muslim Brotherhood pass up this golden opportunity, Egypt's future will be no more than a repetition of the troubled Pakistani model.
In the wake of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, a crew from a French national television channel went to Mit Abu al-Kum, the hometown of late President Anwar Sadat, to shoot a documentary about his life. The preparation for the film and its development took many months. During the closing moments of the documentary, the French director filmed Anwar Sadat standing alone in silence for a few minutes whilst contemplating the Nile. The late Egyptian president eventually said: "Sometimes it can be frighteningly lonely at the top." Those who will rule Egypt in the future will ultimately feel this loneliness. But first, they will have to learn how to relinquish power when their presence at the top becomes protracted and intolerable.