Questioning the assumptions about how Egypt's big Islamist party will behave.
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Egypt continues to be extraordinarily interesting. As I write, we are expecting a cabinet reshuffle, there are rumors that Mohamed Morsi--the Muslim Brotherhood/Freedom and Justice Party candidate for president--will pull out of the race if the Brothers get a place in the new government, the Salafi al Nour party endorsed Abdel Monem Aboul Fotouh for president, and Mohamed ElBaradei has returned to the political arena with the formation of the Constitution Party. All this occurred in a single weekend, which really isn't the astonishing thing about these developments. Rather, it is astonishing that Egypt has had more than a few weekends like this since Hosni Mubarak's flight to Sharm El Sheikh in February 2011. The last four weeks or so, in particular, have been a real barnburner as Egyptians gear up for the presidential election slated for May 23. Throughout the ups and downs and twists and turns of Egyptian politics during the last 16 months observers--including myself--have held fast to a number of assumptions that form the basis of what's become a standard narrative about the future of Egypt. Yet, it is entirely unclear after all that has happened since the promising days and weeks after the uprising that these ideas reflect reality.
For example, consider the issue of a new constitution. In March 2011, 76 percent of Egyptians voted yes in a referendum that altered a number of articles of the constitution, deleted another, and set a timeline for elections as well as for drafting a new constitution. During the Mubarak era everyone in the opposition and foreign Egypt-watchers understood the need for a new constitution. The document, which was initially drafted and approved in 1971 with major amendments in 1980, 2005, and 2007, concentrates power in the executive at the expense of the legislature and the judiciary. As long as Mubarak dominated Egyptian politics and it seemed that there would be a smooth transition from him to another regime-related figure, the constitution was an excellent political issue that the opposition--across the political spectrum--could use against the country's authoritarian leadership. Consequently, it is reasonable to assume that Egypt's main political actors want a new constitution and that they will approach the matter in a way that corrects the central defect of the existing document.