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Specters of the Past

Following Morsi’s ouster, the struggle for power in Egypt is raging. But the repression of the Muslim Brotherhood is unlikely to bring about any democratic stability in the foreseeable future.

Even among some of those who supported the overthrow of the country’s democratically elected president, there is little doubt that today, the danger of Egypt’s old regime returning to power is higher than at any point since the fall of Hosni Mubarak in February 2011. What at first glance appeared to have been an increasingly intractable conflict between Mohamed Morsi and the supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood on the one hand, and the revolutionary forces coalescing behind the Tamorod (Rebellion) campaign on the other, has now become something else entirely.

Along with the grassroots movement protesting the lack of revolutionary progress in Morsi’s first year as president, some unseemly forces supported the June 30 mobilization. The military, which ultimately carried out the July 3 coup, reasserted itself at the fore of Egyptian politics and has led a campaign of violent repression against the Muslim Brotherhood; this time shrouding itself in popular legitimacy. The Mubarak era judiciary that consistently blocked all attempts at reform now stands to oversee the rewriting of the constitution. Throughout the post-Mubarak transition, the police force was responsible for numerous outbreaks of violence and the continued lack of security throughout the country. The oligarch class helped weaken an already devastated economy and created artificial shortages in fuel and electricity, while providing financial backing to the anti-Morsi opposition. The private media has led a relentless campaign by not only placing all the blame for Egypt’s woes at Morsi’s feet, but also vilifying the entire Muslim Brotherhood movement as an alien and dangerous force to Egyptian society.

New Flows, Old Flaws

Collectively, these forces are now poised to take the reins of Egypt’s transition, and they have neither the credibility nor the intentions to pursue the goals of the January 25 revolution. Rather, if left unchecked, they are certain to bring about a return to the old political and socioeconomic order, albeit with slight modifications such as a rotating presidency in lieu of an outright dictatorship.

Meanwhile, as it finds itself the subject of a targeted campaign to imprison its leaders, destroy its institutions, seize its assets, and attack and marginalize its members, the Muslim Brotherhood is in an all too familiar position. Historically, the organization thrived as the leading opposition to an authoritarian regime, and its leaders have now called on all members and supporters to protest the military coup until Morsi is restored as president. Their peaceful sit-ins have already been met with some of the most violent assaults by the military since 2011, with dozens killed and hundreds injured on July 8 alone. The forcible overthrow of an elected president has shifted the focus onto the question of democratic legitimacy for a party that has swept every election it has contested, and away from the party’s actual performance after winning those elections.

In the turbulent post-Mubarak transition, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party emerged as the most dominant political actor but failed to deliver a broad national consensus capable of carrying the country forward despite the resurgent forces of the old regime. Moreover, the constitution passed last December and approved by national referendum contained serious defects, especially in the areas of social justice and transparency of state institutions, chiefly the military. But instead of rebuking the Muslim Brotherhood in upcoming parliamentary elections and forcing it to account for its failures by placing it in the democratic minority, the opposition bestowed a renewed victimhood upon it.

Authoritarianism masquerading as Popular Will

However imperfect the post-Mubarak political transition—and it was about as poorly managed as a transition could be—the process contained within it the mechanisms for accountability and self-correction. The June 30 protest upended that process and charted a destructive path that threatens to disenfranchise a significant segment of the Egyptian population and empower the authoritarian forces of the past. Though the coup has its share of unscrupulous supporters, recent reports indicate that some of its initial cheerleaders have since conceded that it was shortsighted and portends great dangers for the revolution.

As it stands, the post-coup transition features a military-appointed government overseeing revisions to the constitution and promising elections next year. Without the inclusion of the Muslim Brotherhood, and with the increasing marginalization of the Salafis, it is possible that Egypt’s next parliament, if and when it is elected, could exclude parties that made up over 70 percent of the last parliament. Such a lopsided political shift is unlikely to bring about any stability for Egypt in the foreseeable future.

Though the Muslim Brotherhood’s protest continues to call for nothing less than the full reinstatement of Morsi as president, the military has indicated that it will not negotiate this claim. Nevertheless, the Muslim Brotherhood is unlikely to accept any resolution for the current crisis that does not involve some integration of the former process, including the restoration of the suspended constitution and at least a symbolic role for the deposed president. More importantly, if the spirit of the January 25 revolution is going to survive its toughest test to date, all Egyptians who came together to rid their nation of a six-decade dictatorship must once again unite and remain vigilant in the face of a resurgent authoritarianism masquerading as popular will.

Read more in this debate: Ragnar Weilandt, Joseph Hammond, Mai Shams El-Din.

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