Egypt's ruling junta consolidates its position
With parliament dissolved, a retired air force general and long-time Mubarak crony in a runoff for the presidency, and democracy activists in disarray, Egypt's ruling junta is in the catbird seat.
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Do they still want democracy? Yes. In a Pew poll released in May, 67 percent of Egyptians said "democracy is preferable to any other kind of government." But their priorities indicate a mass return to the streets over the military's meddling in the political process is unlikely. An improved economy was ranked most important by Egyptians, followed in order by a "fair judiciary," "uncensored media," and "law and order." Free and fair elections came in sixth on that list, and the lowest priority to the Egyptians polled was civilian control of the military.Skip to next paragraph
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The country now turns toward a presidential election tomorrow in which the military's choice, Ahmed Shafiq, squares off against the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohamed Morsi. Mr. Shafiq, an air force officer who served in Mubarak's cabinet for years and was appointed his prime minister as part of his last ditch effort to cling to power, was one of the big winners on Thursday. The same court that dissolved parliament ruled THAT a law seeking to disqualify senior Mubarak officials like Shafiq from holding the presidency was unconstitutional. Shortly thereafter, Shafiq delivered what sounded like a victory speech to a cheering crowd shouting "President Shafiq" in Cairo. He barely mentioned the fact that parliament, the only body in Egypt with a shred of democratic legitimacy, had been removed from the scene.
The Brotherhood were the big winners in the parliamentary election, winning half of the seats. That record has now been wiped clean. Mr. Morsi, and his Islamist organization that has struggled against the military for decades, may still grab the brass ring tomorrow, but it's hard to see Egyptian army commander Mohamed Hussein Tantawi and his fellow officers bowing down to kiss it. Morsi was measured in his comments yesterday. While former Muslim Broterhood official Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh complained of a "coup," Morsi urged his followers to abide by the court's decision. At any rate, there can be no coup without a change of power. The military's control has only been reasserted, not lost.
But denying the fruits of the ballot box to popular forces in any society is a dangerous one, and the history of elections overturned against Islamists in the Arab world is grim. The Algerian military's nullification of elections in 1991, when Islamists looked set to win, touched off a decade of civil war that claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and spawned virulent jihadi terrorist groups.
While that particular outcome is vanishingly unlikely in Egypt at the moment, Islamist groups have been sent a message that the ballot box is not, in fact, their road to success. While the Brotherhood renounced violence in pursuit of its goals over 40 years ago, smaller militant Egyptian groups have also come in from the cold in recent years. The reactionary salafi sect came in second in the polls, and a young generation of Islamist activists with no memory of how militant groups were crushed in Egypt in the past have just been delivered a punch to the gut. A return to the terrorism that plagued Egypt in the '80s and '90s has just become more likely.