The example of parliament is instructive. Some observers
said from the beginning that a parliament under SCAF would have no real power.
But that didn't turn out to be the problem with the Islamist-controlled
parliament. It had symbolic power, and it could pass laws even if the SCAF then
vetoed them. What made the parliament a failure was its actual record. It
didn't pass any inspiring or imaginative laws, it repeatedly squashed
pluralism within its ranks, and it regularly did SCAF's bidding. That's what
discredited the Brotherhood and its Salafi allies and led to their dramatic,
nearly 20 percent drop in popularity between the parliamentary elections and
the first round of presidential balloting five months later.
It would be greatly satisfying if the corrupt, arrogant, and
authoritarian machine of the old ruling party were turned back, despite what appears to have been hints of an old-fashioned vote-buying campaign and a slick
fear-mongering media push, backed by state newspapers and television. On
election day, landowners in Sharqiya province told me the Shafiq campaign was
offering 50 Egyptian pounds, or about $8.60, per vote.
But it would be greatly unsatisfying for that victory to
come in the form of a stiff and reactionary Muslim Brotherhood leader who
appears constitutionally averse to coalition-building and whose political
instincts seem narrowly partisan, at a time when Egypt's political
class is locked in death-match with the nation's military dictators.
Egypt's second transition could last, based on the current political calendar, anywhere from six
months to four years. A new constitution will have to be written and approved, likely
with heavy meddling from the military and with profound differences of
philosophy separating the Islamist and secular political forces charged with drafting it. A new parliament will have to be
elected. And then, possibly, the military (or secular liberals) could force
another presidential election to give the transitional government a more permanent footing.
Meanwhile, during this turbulent period, Egypt will have to
contend with the forces unleashed during the recent, bruising electoral fights.
Shafiq's campaign brought into the open the sizable
constituency of old regime supporters (maybe a fifth of the electorate, based on how they did in recent votes) and
Christians terrified that their second-class status will be grossly eroded
under Islamist rule.
Liberals will have to explain and atone for their stands on
the election. Many of them said they would prefer the "clarity" of a Shafiq victory
to a triumphalist Islamic regime under Morsi, and cheered when parliament was
dissolved -- appearing hypocritical, expedient, and excessively tolerant of military
The Brotherhood still hasn't made a genuine-seeming effort to placate
and include other revolutionaries, spurning entreaties to form a more inclusive
coalition. It attempted, twice, to force through a
constitution-writing assembly under its absolute control. Yet, once more, the
Brotherhood has a chance to save itself. So far, at each such juncture it has
chosen to pursue narrow organizational goals rather than a national agenda. It would be great for Egypt if the
Brotherhood now learned from its mistakes, but precedent doesn't suggest