Compromise and the revolution
BY NOUR BAKR
At its height, the defining mantra of Egypt’s tumultuous uprising was the famous cry “the people want the fall of the regime.” That the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), along with many remnants of the Mubarak era remain key players in the country’s politics is widely held as proof that the revolution ultimately failed. Whilst partially true, the electoral successes of the Muslim Brotherhood do not, as many have argued, completely betray the ultimate aim of the uprising. Rather the successive victories of Mohamed Morsi and the FJP signify the triumph of a compromise on the means by which the fall of the regime is to be sought.
Questions still remain as to whether the Brotherhood colluded with the military council or not in the run up to the country’s historic parliamentary elections. The deal is alleged to have consisted of the Brotherhood subscribing to the council’s transitional roadmap and pledging not to field a presidential candidate in return for the guarantee of no interference if they win the parliamentary elections. At the very least this was a silent recognition of mutual interests; SCAF required the participation of Egypt’s largest political opposition to give the elections an air of credibility, whilst the Brotherhood’s superior organisation and funding would give them a serious chance of taking parliament.
At the heart of this marriage of convenience has been the conflicted position of the Muslim Brotherhood. Whilst their decision to sign up to SCAF’s roadmap has given them dominance over the parliament and presidency, both remain severely constricted by the continued presence of Mubarak era elements from the military to the judiciary. The Brotherhood’s compromise, supposedly between revolution and regime, has yet to see any true progress because it has been too much in favor of the latter. Important dates for transfers of power have been reneged upon and the politics of elected representatives remain defined by an unelected council of ageing military leaders. What began as a high-risk political compromise has quickly become perhaps Egypt’s most famous case of Stockholm syndrome.
The irony of the politically experienced Muslim Brotherhood’s decision is that in hindsight, it looks at best painfully naïve, in as much as it was dependant upon the trustworthiness of an unelected body responsible for a number of crimes against its own people. However, the Brotherhood were not alone in buying in to the game-changing possibilities of the historic parliamentary elections. Very few, save the most cynical, anticipated the bold stance of the military council in effectively denying the newly elected parliament any real power. For many Egyptians, the elections seemingly offered the opportunity to return to relative stability while not completely abandoning the core purpose of the uprising, although the fall of the regime would be more like a transfer of power and take slightly longer. The events leading up to the parliamentary elections heralded the first concrete signs of a compromise on the ideals of Egypt’s stagnating revolution.
Primarily, the threat of the Brotherhood’s political arm taking parliament unchallenged pressured many revolutionary political parties into a Catch-22 situation. By not participating in the elections they risked being sidelined from the political process altogether. However their participation would risk contributing further to the apparent credibility of SCAF’s transitional roadmap, with no true guarantee of a transfer of power at its end. Many also feared the real possibility of an Islamist dominated parliament with a stranglehold over the formation of a new constitution, a fear quickly justified by the appallingly imbalanced formation of the constituent assembly prior to its eventual dissolution. Nevertheless the participation of a wide spectrum of political groups, apparently open elections and a high turnout would prove to be an important victory for SCAF, the Brotherhood and Egypt’s political transition, in descending order.
The parliamentary elections both contributed to and coincided with the falling popularity of the revolution. Evident yearnings for stability amongst many Egyptians, in the absence of the Brotherhood, could potentially have led to an even greater swing of popularity in favour of the incumbent regime who shamelessly exploited fears over instability. Where would Egypt now be had the Muslim Brotherhood decided instead to boycott the proposed transitional roadmap? Whilst their decision, coupled with electoral success, helped their compromise agenda dominate the discourse, the willingness of many Egyptians to accept this compromise must at least be partly responsible for their electoral success.
There should be no doubt that alongside Egypt’s revolutionary hardcore, the Muslim Brotherhood would welcome the immediate and complete removal of a regime which has for so long hindered their political progression. However, what defines them is the swiftness with which they shed the possibility of the state remnants from the Mubarak era being overthrown in the short term. Whilst their stance has since garnered much criticism, it is precisely the level of cynicism to be expected from an organisation constricted to the doldrums of opposition under a dictatorship for over half a century. It is no surprise that their pragmatism, purely political, has fit awkwardly with the optimism and selfless nature of the early uprising.
The ultimate tragedy of the Brotherhood’s pragmatism is that it has led to the strengthening of the very regime they sincerely believe they will eventually topple. Their strategy has undoubtedly been one of long term transition, yet the time afforded to SCAF has allowed it to consolidate its power and cement its place in Egyptian politics. The Muslim Brotherhood’s lack of idealism has certainly bought them political successes on the surface, but they have come at the cost of any real possibility of the revolution’s core demands being fulfilled in the immediate future.
Nour Bakr is a British-Egyptian freelance writer on Middle East politics and currently serves as an Associate Editor with the digital newspaper Your Middle East. You can follow him on Twitter @nour_bakr.