MB vs SCAF
Round two is coming, writes Khalil El-Anani, and no one is sure of the rules
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Mursi and Tantawi during their first meeting after the presidential election results
Mohamed Mursi's landmark victory, which has placed a member of the Muslim Brotherhood in the highest political office, is an unprecedented turning point in the history of the organisation that was founded in 1928. It will be some time before we will see how this development will impact on the Muslim Brotherhood, but there is no doubt that we must begin to contemplate it in a new light and build assessments accordingly.
The Muslim Brotherhood is no longer in the opposition; it has become a major part of the new order. This was already apparent when its candidates won the largest share of the seats in the parliament that was elected after the revolution and that was recently dissolved. But Mursi's presidential victory, which carries both symbolic and political weight, crowned this reality.
Since the revolution, the Muslim Brotherhood has been pushing to secure one political foothold after another. It has been steadfast in this drive in the face of defamatory campaigns conducted by "remnants" of the former regime and SCAF's manoeuvring to check its advances. For some time the Muslim Brotherhood and SCAF have been engaged in a cat-and-mouse game in which each is trying to outflank the other. SCAF's most recent move was to issue an addendum to the Constitutional Declaration which saw it assume some prerogatives normally enjoyed by the president. Issued shortly before the run-offs in the presidential elections, the addendum followed on the heels of a Supreme Constitutional Court ruling that effectively dissolved parliament.
But the battle is far from over yet. In fact, it is entering a critical phase.
Will the military ultimately yield to the Muslim Brotherhood? It is difficult to predict at this point. However, if the Muslim Brothers group continues as it has there is good reason to expect that within a few years it will be the major power in Egypt. For the past three decades the Muslim Brotherhood has withstood the waves of repression and exclusion meted out by Mubarak's authoritarian regime. It succeeded in acclimatising, developing ways to recuperate, dodge and buffer itself from such blows. It did so successfully enough that the regime could no longer keep it in isolation.
As one looks back over the Muslim Brotherhood's performance since the early 1980s, one has to recognise that its coming to power was a matter of time. Although officially banned, the group resolved to participate in the political process and take advantage of every opening. By the end of the 1980s its members had infiltrated a broad range of social and professional sectors, positioning them to win a majority of seats in key syndicates. The Mubarak regime may have responded by arresting key Muslim Brotherhood members and dragging them before military trials, but that only strengthened the Muslim Brothers' resolve. They invented new tools and strategies, and the 2005 parliamentary elections marked an important turning point. Muslim Brotherhood candidates won close to 20 per cent of the seats in the People's Assembly and could well have won much more had it not been for the systematic rigging of the second and third stages of the polls. The Muslim Brotherhood had turned itself into the largest opposition parliamentary bloc of the Mubarak era. The game of cat-and-mouse resumed until the revolution erupted on 25 January 2011.
The revolution created an enormous political vacuum that the Muslim Brotherhood seemed best poised to fill. It was difficult to imagine any other political force capable of doing so in view of the absence of identifiable leadership to the Egyptian revolution. With no groups to play off against the Muslim Brothers, the new military rulers of the country had little choice but to deal with the Muslim Brotherhood as the only available partner in steering the transitional phase.
The two sides played it by ear as they took one step after the other. The military, long excluded from the political arena under Mubarak, did not have sufficient experience in dealing with the Muslim Brotherhood. Its initial tactic, therefore, was to attempt to contain the Muslim Brotherhood by giving it a greater role to play during the transitional period. The first post-revolutionary parliamentary elections, which were cleaner than any in the past, were evidence not so much of the army's commitment to democracy but of its inability to find an alternative to the Muslim Brotherhood. That the Brotherhood would win the largest number of seats was a foregone conclusion. Had the Muslim Brotherhood not exercised some restraint on its ambitions it could well have come away with an absolute parliamentary majority.
As the generals became more adept at the game they began to try to hem in the Muslim Brothers in an indirect way. They handed the Brothers a parliament that did not have full powers and influence. They rejected successive bids to dismiss the government and they attempted to intervene in the creation of the constitutional assembly.
By the time the presidential elections drew near, the confrontation had reached a tipping point. SCAF attempted to curtail the Muslim Brotherhood's ambitions, firstly, by disqualifying its first candidate and then by pushing old regime figures into the race. At one stage the prospect of a facedown between three heavyweights -- the Muslim Brotherhood's strongman Khairat El-Shater, former vice president and chief of General Intelligence Omar Suleiman, and Salafi preacher Hazem Abu Ismail -- looked like such a political powder keg that the army was forced to disqualify all three. The Muslim Brotherhood were astute enough to have a back-up candidate ready. In response, SCAF fielded former regime figure Ahmed Shafik, and the two sides resumed the game of cat-and-mouse.
The ruling military was quick to seize on divisions in the revolutionary camp, which fielded several candidates in the race and complicated the game. So much greater was the surprise, then, when Mursi and Shafik emerged from the first electoral round as run-off contenders. The conflict now entered a new phase, a facedown between two relatively weak candidates, one of whom had shed competition from former MB member Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh, the other who had left Amr Moussa behind. Perhaps, at this stage, SCAF felt a Shafik victory was at hand. The Muslim Brotherhood's popularity had plummeted, it was at loggerheads with revolutionary forces and was facing a mudslinging, scaremongering campaign in the media. However, the Muslim Brothers quickly rallied. They reordered their playing cards and heeded some of the lessons of the first round. They managed to get more than a million of their supporters to the polls hours before the ballot closed.
Realising a Mursi victory was inevitable SCAF engineered the dismissal of parliament and issued an addendum to the Constitutional Declaration in order to forestall the Muslim Brotherhood's march to power.
It would be wrong to assume the Muslim Brotherhood-SCAF confrontation ended with Mursi's presidential victory. SCAF may appear to have acquiesced for the moment, having bowed to international pressure not to meddle with the election results and in the face of the shaky consensus the Muslim Brotherhood has belatedly forged with some other political forces. But the generals still possess some trump cards. Not least, they remain in control of the institutions of what is now being referred to as the "deep state". They can also capitalise on existing suspicions towards the Muslim Brotherhood. It will not be long before a new round in the MB-SCAF game unfolds.