One Year On, Egypt Is Still Struggling

What's next for the country and its beleaguered revolution

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A demonstrator carries flags during a protest in Cairo / Reuters

The massive victory of the Islamist parties in the Egyptian general elections received its official imprimatur last weekend, and the country appeared headed for a major constitutional tussle between the ruling Supreme Military Council and the emergent parliament.

Egypt announced that, after three bouts at the polls and a number of individual run-off elections, the main 498-member lower house of parliament, the People's Assembly, which convened this week, will have 235 representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood and 121 from the Salafist al-Nour party and its affiliates. Together they will hold 71 percent of the seats--47.18 percent for the Brotherhood and 24.29 percent for al-Nour). The house will contain another ten "moderate" Islamists from the New Center Party. The centrist and traditional al-Wafd Party will have thirty-six members, and the liberal bloc will have thirty-three seats. The "Revolution Continues" party, representing the leaders of the Facebook and Tweeter generation that featured so prominently in the demonstrations that ultimately toppled the old regime, won only 2 percent of the vote.

Given the nature of the gradual democratic takeover of the state by the Muslim Brothers, many observers see the victory of Hamas‚ the Palestinian offshoot of the Brotherhood, in the 2006 Palestinian general elections as the true herald of the revolutionary change in the Egyptian polity (and perhaps of the so-called Arab Spring in general, given its evident Islamist trajectory).

Fresh mass demonstrations are scheduled this week in Cairo's Tahrir Square, marking the one-year anniversary of the demonstrations that overthrew the regime of Hosni Mubarak, who ruled Egypt since 1981. The demonstrators likely will press the army to relinquish its hold on power and subordinate itself to the popular will, meaning accept parliamentary oversight and control of its budget and operations. But many liberal Egyptians suspect that the Brotherhood and the army have already secretly struck a power-sharing deal that will sideline both the secularist liberals and the al-Nour Salafists. If so, the protests will be symbolic and pro forma and will pass quietly.

At the end of this week, Egypt will hold its first elections for parliament's upper house, the Shura Council. After these are completed, the two houses are scheduled to set up a committee to formulate the country's new constitution. The military, headed by General Tantawi, will likely seek to retain its independence from civilian control and possibly its actual control of the state. Elections for the presidency are scheduled for June. The Brotherhood months ago announced that it will not field a candidate from the party ranks--but, given its electoral success, there can be little doubt that it will either eventually put forward a candidate of its own or advance the cause of a straw man of its choosing.

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Benny Morris is a professor of history in the Middle East Studies Department of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. He is the author of 1948, A History of the First Arab-Israeli War (Yale University Press, 2008).

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