June 06, 2012

Egypt's catastrophe is not near

Two weeks ago, when the results of the presidential elections were announced, practically everyone in Egypt was in shock. There was no winner but there were clear losers all across the political spectrum as no candidate managed to garner more than 25% of the votes. No matter who you sided for - be it Morsi (25%) or Shafiq (24%) or even Sabbahi (21%) - the bottom line of the result was clear: 75% and more of Egyptians had lost in the game. That is huge and not a thing to be happy about. Even worse, it is a result that put people in serious shock and scenarios of the catastrophe being near made the rounds everywhere. Should Shafiq win in the run-off elections on 16/17 June, the old regime would triumph back into place and the revolution would be over. All martyrs would have died in vain. Should Morsi win, the Muslim Brotherhood would take over the country in an islamist sweep, install sharia and head Egypt off to an Iranian future. Whether you belonged to the 25% of Morsi or the 24% of Shafiq voters (not to mention the 51% rest), so much was certain: Egypt was doomed. The run-off results would launch the catastrophe.


After the first waves of shock expression died down, people started to get into hefty fights not only over who would be the right candidate to elect in the run-off but also over whether to vote or to boycott was the right answer to the disturbing results of the first round. As always in Egypt, lots of emotions thundered down like a tidal wave across the political scene. People slandered each other as traitors to the revolution to an extent that did serious damage to social contacts with friends turning away, despising each other for their choice both in the first round or the upcoming second. It seemed, Egypt could no longer contain the stress it had endured in the last 15 months since the toppling of Mubarak and was spiraling down into chaos and hate. There was not much to be hopeful for regarding the future, especially as both candidates in the run-off elections were bound to incite even more emotions if they would be elected.

At this vulnerable point the two candidates - Ahmed Shafiq (former Prime Minister under Mubarak and a remnant of the toppled regime) and Dr. Mohamed Morsi (Chairman of the Freedom and Justice Party of the Muslim Brotherhood) - unwillingly did something to calm down the situation: they talked publicly in press conferences and on TV. And many now think that at least in their own interest they perhaps better shouldn't have. But for Egypt no doubt their attempts to publicly explain themselves came like a band-aid to an open-wound. It soothed the pain. For suddenly it became clear: the catastrophe was nowhere as near as feared. Not with these candidates anyhow. Both were talking such a lot of nonsense that the pictures of the demons on the wall began to dissolve and slide down to the floor into little heaps of miserable nothings no one could seriously be afraid of.

To put it mildly: both lost any credibility as to their capabilities of both ruining or running the country, both clearly showed they lived in dreamlands far away from the reality of Egypt's miseries and both demonstrated that they were anything but invincible to a strong, politically minded Egyptian movement - as the revolutionary movement with all its flaws undoubtedly is.

One might argue that a fool in the wrong place - especially if it is the highest one in the country - can cause a lot of damage. True. It must be argued too however that a fool is never as uncontrollable as a sound minded, cold calculating dictator - as Mubarak quite clearly was. He knew exactly both what he wanted and how he was going to get it and ruled Egypt as all know with the famous 'iron hand'. Envisage an iron hand and try pin it to either of the candidates of the run-off and the idea will only scare you if you never heard them open their mouth.

What I am saying is not that both in their function, intention and illogical thinking can not be of danger. But a catastrophe needs a bigger cause than this and these two - even with the backing they have - are simply not made of such caliber.

The Shafiq scenario

Let Shafiq win the game and become president of Egypt. Then the political scene will become very lively (and I mean 'very'). The Muslim Brotherhood, dominating the parliament, will give him hell at every street corner he turns up at and foil every attempt of his to get the rule back to the good old days. Never ever will the Muslim Brotherhood forget what they endured under decades of dictatorial rule in the prisons of Mubarak. Should Shafiq as much as try to fail on his promises to build the new Egypt he rants (to little credibility) about they will confront him and his government in the most serious ways. And although they then would have lost the presidential elections, it is to be taken they will still have managed to secure almost half of the votes of the electorate - plus having 47% that got them into parliament. Say what you want and fear what you think, but no Shafiq will overlook the power behind the Ikhwan and simply pretend they don't exist.

If Shafiq in any way is dreaming of installing the old regime - although of course for elections sake pretending the opposite currently - he will not succeed. The parliament is a much too strong force to reckon with, not because of its legislative powers but because of its possibilities to fight Shafiq and his cronies publicly in a never heard of way. Times have changed, media has changed, if State-TV shuts off, others will broadcast and never ever will this now empowered Muslim Brotherhood take it lying down should the old regime try to oppress them again. In addition, the Muslim Brotherhood has the connections on the ground which it build in decades of social work. Shafiq, belonging to the rich elite that never cared for the plight of Egyptians, lacks these contacts. The Muslim Brotherhood will clearly use this to its advantage.

Then of course - as if this was not enough trouble for Shafiq already - there are the revolutionary forces in Egypt that, although unfortunately still not politically organized in an efficient way, will fight Shafiq with all their might. Sometimes side by side with the despised Ikhwan, sometimes alone as last year, when the Muslim Brotherhood failed to support the revolution many times for egotistic reasons. The revolutionaries won't care. They'll fight anyhow and they will have much possibilities to make themselves heard. And this time the Muslim Brotherhood, seeing the fight is too in their own interest, will not find it as easy to look away. - In addition, the revolutionary forces have four long years to finally and properly organize themselves and build bonds that will survive onslaughts and even the next elections. If they play it right. And why not believe they finally could. There is a learning curve to everything, even to revolutions.

The Morsi scenario

But what if Morsi wins? What if the Muslim Brotherhood then holds both the presidency and power of parliament and position of its speaker? Will sharia not come over Egypt like a natural catastrophe that cannot be halted? Is there any way to stop them from building the next Iran? - Yes, there is.

Again there are the revolutionary forces and liberal political parties and movements that will fight any attempt to islamistically redecorate their living room. And the furor against turning Egypt into a deeply religious state is at least as intense as the one going against the attempts to reinstall the old regime. Besides - should the Muslim Brotherhood go ahead with implementing an intense form of sharia in Egypt it will face serious opposition even from within those groups that initially voted for them. Already now the miserable turnout of voters in the first round of presidential elections, slumping from once 54% in the parliamentary to now only 46% in the presidential, showed that the Muslim Brotherhood damaged seriously the trust the people put in them when voting them into parliament. Not few who went voting in the first round in addition voiced that they would not vote for the Muslim Brotherhood again given the poor if not even scandalous performance in the last four months in parliament. The fact that their candidate did not secure a solid lead in the first round but only came first with just one percent away from Shafiq showed to the Muslim Brotherhood too that their position can be vulnerable and ignoring the protests of the people of Egypt - both from the revolution and from within their own electorate - can cost them their political life.

Especially after decades of suppression, torture and incarceration, the Muslim Brotherhood will think in longer terms than just four years, not to endanger what so far they could achieve, and they will tread softly in implementing their true goals. The public declarations by Morsi to include opposition, copts and women in his government may sound incredulous. But once said and out there in the open will be hard to reverse. The powers Morsi says he wants to incorporate to bind them into his political ruling are clearly not only in existence but of big enough importance for him to take them seriously. They won't become smaller just because he breaks his promises and instead ignores them. They are strong forces the Muslim Brotherhood will have to reckon with in the next four years. And either Morsi sticks to his words and works with them - making another Iran impossible - or he will face stiff opposition that too in no way will allow him to implement an islamist rule as feared by many, should he be voted into office.

So given both scenarios, either Shafiq or Morsi coming out as winner of the run-off elections to presidency, the fear of immanent catastrophe looming over Egypt seems hardly realistic. Whoever wins will have to secure his political survival against strong oppositional forces. And the winner will in either case try hard to survive the next four years politically in the hope to come out better and more potent in the next elections. There is no room for catastrophes if they want to make it. And given the little intelligent determinational force that seeped through in their political explanations, seeing them running wild with iron hands is not a realistic expectation of the future.


The question then only remains if the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) will take either of the above solutions hands down. Many who might follow on the reasoning so far still need a catastrophic scenario to prove their fears right and what better could supply this than the idea of a military coup?

Should Shafiq win, there is little need for such a violent act. Shafiq, an ex-military man, has made no secret of his love to the army and his respect to SCAF. Many - probably rightly so - suspect him anyhow to be the candidate of SCAF, who is said to be securing his position and backing up his candidacy. In all secrecy of course. Officially both have denied this. But should Shafiq become the next president of Egypt, SCAF will have no problems with him. Should the oppositional forces, foremost the Muslim Brotherhood, indeed confront the Shafiq government with serious opposition or even protests on the street, SCAF will be hesitant to be incited into taking over the ship. They will do anything to silently or intimidatingly support 'their' president and his government, but the need for a coup will not be there as long as Shafiq and his ministers hold the ruling powers in their hands.

Such a government would not endanger the interests of SCAF and neither would the protests of the opposition. SCAF will see no necessity to put itself into the huge trouble of becoming publicly the destructional forces of the democratic transition in Egypt. It would turn them into a pariah all over the world and confront them with serious and violent reactions within the country, both of which would tamper with their sole interest of securing their economical and financial advantages. A military coup with Shafiq in power is not feasible.

Should Morsi win, the enemy of SCAF will have made it to the throne, for in all the decades of presidency suppressing the Muslim Brotherhood the army was always the force behind it. No Mubarak, Sadat or Nasser decided on them alone, they were all military men. Nevertheless the SCAF will again be hesitant. Staging a coup just because a candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood made it to the presidency would ruin all credibility of the army being the guardian of the transition. If that was truly their idea, the huge win of the Muslim Brotherhood in the parliamentary election would already have been reason enough to act. Yet SCAF did not, and for good reasons too. With 47% of the electorate against you, you face an unbearably opposition staging a coup that can only be contained with serious use of lethal force. It would have - and will - destroy all hopes of SCAF to keep the billions in military aid from abroad and secure their posh life in secluded urbanizations with villas and pools and supermarkets carrying everything the ordinary Egyptian never gets to see. There is much at stake, and ruining it for the 47% power loss in parliament simply was not worth it.

With this however the SCAF also ruined its chances to stage a coup once a president was elected - democratically elected for all the world to see - who too would come from the Muslim Brotherhood. If anything, SCAF waited to long for such a risky maneuver and will now not be able to explain this to anyone nor be successful at suppressing the forces it itself allowed to slip out of the bottle. You don't get genies of freedom and democracy back in, once they are out. And out they are. And no one in the world or in the country would take their oppression hands down.

With Morsi in power, SCAF will watch things unfold, as oppositional forces fight any attempt to islamistically refurbish the country. There will be a lot to watch no doubt and as long as the Muslim Brotherhood faces such stiff opposition in its own backyard, why should the army risk their riches? They might very well be trying behind the scene to broker (another?) deal with the Muslim Brotherhood, to not be held accountable for the crimes of the past and to be able to keep their accumulated wealth in return for not taking over by a military coup. The Muslim Brotherhood, hesitant (perhaps?) at first will probably and secretly agree to this deal, because they are - again - interested in a much more long-term goal, reaching the next elections without losses and securing their position in Egypt with even more voters backing them up. Think of them calculating easily in terms of 10 to 15 years when it comes to implementing their final ideas how it should be and you will clearly understand that they will not endanger their long-term success for a showdown with SCAF that they cannot possibly win.

A military coup?

So in both cases a coup seems very unlikely. SCAF simply has neither the power nor the interest to face the consequences of such a takeover. Besides, their aim has always been to be behind the scene, quietly taking over 20 - 40% of Egypt's economy and raking in the chips. You can easily get used to this and it is hard to kick a habit. Under Morsi the army officers retiring will most surely not see high positions in governorates fall to them automatically as in the past. But there will always be well-paid positions in the enterprises the army runs. And SCAF will have every interest to keep these profitable. Which can only be if the country comes to stability and stays quiet. Not little of the army's profits are made from tourist resorts that have taken a heavy beating due to numbers of visitors going down during the revolution. It is also in SCAF's utmost own interest that these profits return and they know this will only be possible if to the outside world at least the image of the new democracy of Egypt is not tampered with.

A coup would ruin everything and above that make the country uncontrollable. Not being able to contain the protests in Tahrir, Maspero and Mohamed Mahmoud street last year taught SCAF a lesson. Egypt has changed. You don't get the lid back on the pot anymore, not by violence, intimidation or blood-shedding. The pressure is on. And it stays on - as could be seen - no matter how hard you hit.

The beginning not the end

Sticking to this reasoning one can see that whatever outcome of the run-off presidential election will have to be endured, Egypt is not heading for a catastrophe but into a four year period of undoubtedly lively and interesting developments. If on the revolutionary side this period is used to organize, get over differences, form trustable coalitions and not simply continue to train the skills of rock throwing, the tables can easily be turned when the next elections come around. The candidate the revolutionaries wanted and were willing to accept was only four percent points away from making it to the top. Bundling all positive forces in the revolution can secure the win of him or a similar candidate in the coming years. Until then neither Shafiq nor Morsi will be able to push through with much of their agenda on their own in the face of the opposition and SCAF has no interest to take over, rather trying to secure their financial profits now and for the future.

There is a lot to be expected when on June 17 late at night the first freely elected president of Egypt will become known to the people. This time around the result can not be a shock to anyone because both options are well discussed and won't come as a surprise. For whatever it means, when either Shafiq or Morsi becomes President of Egypt so much is certain: it will be the beginning not the end. And Egypt's catastrophe will have to wait this time. It is nowhere near and fortunately not to be seen.


  1. very nice analysis Jon, if the elections do indeed take place!

    1. You know Murphy's law: If anything can go wrong it will. I'm confident. ;)

  2. Very well written! Should put a lid on the pessimism that prevails among Egyptians if they take the time to read your post.