Egypt will hold its presidential election May 23-24 with a possible run-off on June 16-17. It is impossible at this point to predict what’s going to happen but I can make a good guess. Eight weeks from now Egypt will be led by either a radical anti-American Islamist who wants to wipe Israel off the map or by a radical anti-American nationalist who just hates Israel passionately.
Let’s review the background and then analyze the likely events to come.
Since Egypt’s revolution began a year ago five propositions have monopolized the Western debate and coverage, all of which were wrong:
–That Egypt would become a real democratic state in which human rights and civil liberties would be respected.
–That this state would be dominated by moderate and modernist secular groups.
–That the Muslim Brotherhood is moderate and a bulwark against the really radical Islamists.
–That the army is simultaneously the main enemy of democracy in Egypt that should be opposed and yet also the force that would keep Egypt stable and pro-Western.
–That the new Egypt would remain an ally of the United States or at peace with Israel.
Only the second has been reluctantly dropped by governments and mass media. All the others are still in place today! Indeed, the Muslim Brotherhood has become the substitute moderate democratic hope. This blindness ignores all the daily evidence to the contrary.
The “moderate democratic” forces up until now have defined the military as their main enemy. Perhaps they still do so. But they also woke up to realize that a constitution written by a vast majority of Islamists wouldn’t be a great thing for them. So they followed the classical Arab mistake of boycotting the constitution-writing process, thus ensuring that the Islamists will have even more power.
Two Islamist candidates—the Brotherhood’s Khairat al-Shater and the Salafists’ Hazem Salah Abu Ismail—and one secularist—Omar Suleiman—have been disqualified. The Brotherhood simply substituted Muhammad Mursi, leader of its Freedom and Justice Party, for al-Shater, who returned to his job as deputy head of the Brotherhood. Mursi told a news conference, “We intend to make the Palestinian issue our main issue.”
The other main candidate is the radical nationalist Amr Moussa. His stances have varied depending on whether he thought he could hope for the Brotherhood’s backing. Since his main rival is the Brotherhood-backed Mursi, Amr Moussa is in a relatively anti-Islamist phase. And that’s not to say that Moussa, albeit the lesser of two evils, is any great prize – though he is certainly preferable.
There are now a total of 23 candidates, though it is possible there will be a few more before registration closes April 26. Aside from Mursi and Moussa, they include two other Islamists, three moderates, and a leftist.
In all of this, there is a hugely important point that’s been generally missed: Unlike the Brotherhood, the radical Salafists have not yet produced an alternative candidate. A lot of its members are endorsing Mursi. Now the Salafist al-Nour party has genuine differences with the Brotherhood, though more over timing and the desire for power than anything substantive. Still, al-Nour may be splitting over the party’s support for Mursi. But if the dissidents don’t have a candidate at all, who will the 25 percent of al-Nour’s supporters in the parliamentary ballot support?
In theory, then, Mursi can depend on 75 percent of the electorate — the Brotherhood and al-Nour voters — based on the parliamentary vote! He won’t get that many because a lot of those who voted for Islamists may want some balance in the government or just happen to like Moussa, whose anti-Western, anti-American, and anti-Israel credentials are strong.
Still, will enough voters switch to Moussa to tilt the balance? Moreover, in a run-off between Mursi and Moussa, the former should be able to depend on stronger support from any al-Nour supporters who are ambiguous about how they will vote in the first round.
So nobody can predict the victor. Still, overall, one might better assume that Egypt is going to have an Islamist president and parliament just eight weeks from now, to be followed by an Islamist constitution.
As far as I can tell — and amazing as this might seem — there has been no preparation in the West for such an outcome. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed we can read:
What is poorly understood in the West is how critical fundamentalists are to the moral and political rejuvenation of their countries. As counterintuitive as it seems, they are the key to more democratic, liberal politics in the region.
Of course, there is a grain of truth in what Reuel Gerecht said in his op-ed. If Islamists weren’t allowed to participate, there couldn’t be fair elections. And if they do participate and win, one can call the resulting system democracy.