Rubin Reports: Egypt’s (First-Round) Presidential Election is a Defeat (Perhaps Temporary) for the Islamists
Again, though, note that Shafiq could be a president with few powers facing a parliament that is handcrafting a constitution intended to bring Islamism. Moreover he has no political organization.
Or does he? Perhaps he has one that can be called the Egyptian army. A key point: If the Brotherhood doesn’t make the army very happy (financially), there might be some serious confrontations. In the longer run, there could even be a coup and that would return Egypt back to where it was politically before the whole “Arab Spring” business began!
The biggest shock of the election was the massive vote for the communist-Nasserist Sabbahi of the al-Karamah party. Does this show that there is a floating “radical vote” that cares less about ideology than about massive change? His voters mainly came from big cities.
Sabbahi is as dangerous as any Salafist—as anti-American and as eager to go to war against Israel—though he lacks a strong organization. Is this support for him, though, merely a more militant expression of nostalgia for the old regime likely to benefit the anti-Brotherhood side or a yearning for upheaval that might make people almost equally willing to vote for a Nasserist or an Islamist? We will find out.
Is Islamism continuing to march forward? Yes. Remember this principle: The Key to “Coopting” Islamists is for them to lose and accept defeat. But if they win, especially an overwhelming victory in practice, they become more aggressive.
The Brotherhood’s recent history (and also that of Hamas, Hizballah, and the Turkish regime) proves this point and that’s why Western policies of encouraging the Islamists as a way to moderate them are wrong.
At this point, the issue depends on how smart the Islamist leaders are going to be. In retrospect, they made a mistake in running a candidate for president. If they had thrown their backing behind a non-Islamist figurehead and then made him a ceremonial president, the Brotherhood would be more respected and better off today. Ultimately, it cannot control its naked lust for power. The presidential election will make it more eager to transform Egypt’s laws.
In addition, keep in mind the importance of violence. The Salafists are hopping mad, believing they’ve been cheated. It is likely they will attack secularists, women who evince “non-Muslim” behavior, and Christians. In some areas, they will raid police stations. The question is whether such violence will build a revolutionary base or drive frightened Egyptians into the arms of Shafiq and the army.
Finally, the liberals have been completely marginalized, partly due to the conditions in Egypt, partly due to their own ineptness. Ahmed Khairy, spokesman for the Free Egyptians Party, a secular grouping that’s closest to what Western democracy enthusiasts would like to see in Egypt, described the election as “the worst possible scenario.” He called Mursi an “Islamic fascist” and Shafiq a “military fascist.”
If that’s how a moderate sees the choices, though it’s not fair to Shafiq, it shows how bad things are in Egypt.Barry Rubin
About the Author: Professor Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. See the GLORIA/MERIA site at www.gloria-center.org.
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