- Last Updated: 12:25 AM, June 18, 2012
- Posted: 10:34 PM, June 17, 2012
As voting was completed in Egypt’s first credible presidential election yesterday, more details were emerging about the broken power-sharing “grand bargain” between the military leadership and he Muslim Brotherhood.
The bargain would have established a new system of government, with executive power in the hands of the parliament and exercised by a prime minister — and the presidency limited to largely ceremonial functions.
Negotiated by worthies including retired generals and theologians from Al Azhar seminary, the bargain would’ve given the presidency to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the nation’s interim rulers. In exchange for promises that it would name the prime minister, the Brotherhood would not field a presidential candidate.
But he military and the Brotherhood have a long history of stormy relations. In the early 1950s they worked together to destroy Egypt’s parliamentary system. In the ’60s, they fell out, with the Brotherhood paying a high price as scores of its militants were rounded up and executed. A rapprochement in the ’70s allowed the Brotherhood to build a network of “charities” as its organizational cover.
Things changed again in the 1980s, after more militant elements of the Brotherhood assassinated President Anwar Sadat. The decade of repression that followed failed to destroy the Brotherhood’s network, but pushed some of its factions toward more violence and terrorism.
Under President Hosni Mubarak in the ’90s, the Brotherhood was allowed to enter the parliament, though under a different label, in exchange for cooperating with the security forces against rival armed groups.
The expected “grand bargain” seems to have failed because both sides tried to have it all. The Brotherhood fielded a presidential candidate after all — while the military, rather than letting the Brotherhood-dominated parliament hold power, obtained its dissolution by the Supreme Court.
Now the Tahrir Square revolutionaries, who’ve failed to get their act together, speak of a coup. Others prefer to call it a putsch.
Yet neither term is accurate. This is not a coup, because it has not removed a government. The parliament hadn’t created a government. With the old Constitution suspended and a new one yet un drafted, it was unclear what the recently elected parliament was supposed to do. The status of the president, elected this weekend, isn’t clear either.
Nor is it a putsch, for the Supreme Court’s decision to disband the National Assembly doesn’t bring to power of a different group from within the establishment. If ex-Gen. Ahmad Shafiq wins, he’ll presumably act as president under the old Constitution until a new one is drafted. If the Brotherhood’s Muhammad Mursi wins, he’ll presumably purge the old guard and bring in his own people. Neither result is a putsch.
The collapse of the “grand bargain” is good news for Egypt. In the short run, it may cause more disturbances, especially if Shafiq is the winner. But Egypt has escaped a devil’s bargain in which the forces of reaction on both sides were united to frustrate the nation’s democratic aspirations.
In the last two days, voting has been light; many here expected the turnout to fall below 50 percent. Thus, the winner’s core support will consist of just 13 percent or so of the electorate. Both the military and the Brotherhood must seek new allies from the democratic forces.
To be sure, things in Egypt are messy and likely to remain so for some time. The ruling elite are not prepared to abandon privileges easily. The reactionary forces coalesced around the Brotherhood are culturally unable to accept power-sharing with anyone.
But the message from Egypt must be one of optimism. The old order can’t be revived, and an Islamist dictatorship cannot be imposed against the express will of an overwhelming majority of Egyptians.
Whatever the outcome of this election (results are expected to be announced within the next 48 hours), we’ve witnessed nothing but another round in a struggle that is likely to run many more.
Dictatorship is neat; democracy is messy.Follow @NYPostOpinion