Following the rapid developments in Egypt’s political scene over recent weeks has been enough to give any interested observer an anxiety attack – or a splitting headache, at the least. At any given moment, it’s hard to know whether to be optimistic or pessimistic about the country’s future, or even what exactly is going on. And now, with Egypt’s ‘transition to democracy’ appearing to be in its denouement, things don’t seem likely to slow down anytime soon. Although the ruling junta is slated to transfer power to civilians at the end of the month, it remains to be seen how much control they will actually relinquish in practice.
After days of suspense and delay – and heightened contention between the ruling military and the Muslim Brotherhood – yesterday saw the official announcement of the results from the run-off portion of the country’s first post-uprising presidential election. Voting in this round took place just over a week ago, on June 16 and 17, and Egyptians were forced to wait to hear whether their next president would be Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsy, or Ahmed Shafiq, who is associated with the former regime.
After the declaration of Morsy’s victory yesterday, many Egyptians took to the street in what appeared to be a spontaneous eruption of happiness with the result. There seems to be good reason for this outpouring of joy. As a Sunday post by Issandr El Amrani at The Arabist argued:
The celebration in Tahrir and elsewhere shows many Egyptians are delighted at the news, or at least for some at Ahmed Shafiq’s defeat. They are right to be enthusiastic: a Shafiq victory would have been a disaster for most Egyptians, a signal for the resurrection of the police state, and considering that the victory would have been considered stolen by many, probably the cause of much bloodshed
But despite the completion of the presidential contest, and the clear significance of Morsy’s victory, a great deal of uncertainty remains – not only about the country’s path going forward, but also over what exactly transpired in recent days. El Amrani argues:
[W]hat of a Morsi victory? At the symbolic level, it is important: Morsi is the first democratically elected Islamist president of the Arab world, and also Egypt’s first civilian president. His victory signals the defeat, for now, of the felool [‘remnants’] and the patronage networks of the Mubarak regime. In more practical terms, things are more hazy… So many questions remain unanswered that what can best be said is that either SCAF and the Brotherhood have worked out a deal of some sort or the political jousting has only just begun.
As the post points out, numerous issues about the framework for going forward remain unresolved, including the scope of presidential power. Indeed, there still appears to be disagreement over a number of issues such as the now-dissolved parliament that was seated earlier this year, as well as the process for choosing an assembly to craft a new constitution.
The lack of clarity seems almost comic, and would be amusing if it weren’t so dangerous. Marc Lynch provides a very clever assessment of the current off-the-cuff nature of the transition in a June 18 post, “Calvinball in Cairo:”
The best guide to the chaos of Egyptian politics is Hobbes. No, not Thomas Hobbes — Calvin and Hobbes… [O]ver the last week it’s become clear that Egyptians are in fact caught up in one great game of Calvinball. For those who don’t remember Bill Watterson’s game theory masterpiece, Calvinball is a game defined by the absence of rules — or, rather, that the rules are made up as they go along.. As in Calvinball, the one constant in Cairo’s trainwreck of a transition seems to be the constantly changing rules and absolute institutional uncertainty.
Yet, as Lynch points out, this situation doesn’t mean inevitable triumph for the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, or SCAF, the military junta that currently controls the country:
But here’s the thing — Calvin doesn’t always win at Calvinball. Players succeed by responding quickly and creatively to the constantly changing conditions…Watterson’s game theoretic analysis suggests that Calvinball’s absence of rules does not automatically bestow victory on Calvin. The game is going to continue for a long time, at least until the players finally settle on some more stable rules which command general legitimacy. Perhaps the SCAF might not automatically dominate SCAFball?
How effectively Morsy can play a role in shaping the process is still an open question, as is whether the military will actively work to undercut him moving forward. One thing is definitely clear: his job will not be a simple one, as a Sunday New York Times article explained:
As the first freely elected president of Egypt, Mr. Morsi has a historic opportunity, but he faces a litany of challenges that could prevent him from becoming more than just a figurehead. He will have to spar with the generals, who, just after the election, stripped much of the power from the presidency, and he must overcome the doubts of those who chose his opponent — nearly half of the voters — and millions more who did not vote. Mr. Morsi will also have to convince Egyptians that he represents more than just the narrow interests of the Muslim Brotherhood and to soothe fears among many that his true goal is to bind the notion of citizenship itself more closely to Islam.. He resigned from the group on Sunday, but many people believe his years in the organization mean his ties to it will persist.
Under the assumption that the military and Brotherhood are still jockeying for position, not just playing out the string following some secret agreement, Morsy’s victory seems to be a clear gain for latter. As El Amrani pointed out, yesterday “marks the first time in the last few months that the Brothers have played chicken with SCAF and won.” Whether or not the military will yield in other areas, however, is unclear. The next stage of the struggle is shaping up already, and it appears that it will include a strong focus on the legislative branch, as the Times article on difficulties facing Morsy spells out:
Mr. Morsi’s first test will come immediately. Brotherhood leaders have said that thousands of their supporters will continue to occupy Tahrir Square until the Parliament, which the military council dissolved last week, is reinstated. The military rulers have said that elections will be held for a new Parliament, although those ousted were seated in January. On Sunday, Mr. Morsi threw down his first challenge to the military, saying he would be sworn in only in front of the Parliament whose members were just dismissed.
So the next round of SCAFball is on. With no firm rules governing play, people here in Egypt and around the world will have to wait to see not just how it turns out — but also how the game itself is played.