June 18, 2012 | National Review Online

A Little Egyptology

June 18, 2012 | National Review Online

A Little Egyptology

In Egypt over the weekend there was an election, more or less. And a coup — sort of.

At least that’s what I took away from a discussion we had here at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, this morning, led by Khairi Abaza, a scholar at FDD and a former senior member of the Egyptian Wafd Party; Steven Cook, Hasib J. Sabbagh Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations; and Oren Kessler, a Tel Aviv-based journalist. FDD senior fellow John Hannah, who served for almost two decades at the highest levels of U.S. foreign policy (most recently as a national-security adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney) moderated.

Here, in a nutshell, is the current state of play: The Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi appears to have won the presidential election by a slender margin. However, his opponent, Ahmed Shafik, a former air-force general and Mubarak’s last prime minister, has not conceded. Official results are not expected till Thursday.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) issued an “interim constitution” granting itself broad powers and pretty much eliminating the authority of whoever becomes president. The SCAF has appointed a new panel to begin drafting a permanent (or less interim) constitution. And the Egyptian Parliament, elected four months ago and dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood, has been dissolved.  

These developments have not yet provoked mass protests on Tahrir Square. It’s hot in Egypt these days, people are tired, and, I suspect, most people are no longer terribly enthusiastic about anything. 

The Muslim Brotherhood–dominated Parliament did not deliver or build solid coalitions. (Its alliance with the military was short-lived.) At this point, Cook said, military officers are saying they “will never salute a non-nationalist president.” Read “non-nationalist” to mean Islamist.

The Brothers, Abaza said, are smart enough not to risk a confrontation they might lose. The military is unloved but it’s also seen as stabilizing — at a time when the Egyptian economy is crumbling — and a serious obstacle to Brotherhood and/or Salafist domination, a possibility many Egyptians view with some trepidation.

Cook summed the situation up by saying the Brotherhood has a vision but no way to enforce it, while the military has the means to enforce its will — but no vision.

Kessler said we should clear about the MB’s vision: The Brotherhood is anti-Western, anti-Israeli, and anti-Semitic. Morsi, he added, “does not have a reformist bone in his body.”

Cook concurred: “I have colleagues who view the MB as a progressive force. I disagree.”

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