Commentary: The bipolarity of politics
Although a MB-SCAF confrontation is possible, a compromise between the onetime partners is more likely, opines Ziad Akl
The Egyptian revolution in January 2011 was characterised by an absence of leadership. The millions who took to the streets had no organised leaders to speak in their name. The revolution youth coalition that was formed during the 18-day uprising represented different political forces with sometimes conflicting ideological backgrounds. As soon as the common goal -- the removal of Hosni Mubarak -- was achieved, a factionalised scene was inevitable.
The state, on the other hand, emerged from the revolution with a clear leadership. Despite the fact that the state experienced a rupture during the course of the 18 days, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) managed to plug the gap created by Mubarak's ouster, the imprisonment of his entourage and the virtual withdrawal of the police. SCAF blatantly declared itself as the new state elite.
After a decade of increasing political marginalisation the military came to the political fore at a contentious time. SCAF succeeded Mubarak amid popular protests, a reconfiguration of social forces and rising hostility towards state institutions. The military needed to co-opt a political and social force, and quickly. Faced with a lack of leadership among revolutionary forces it opted for the Muslim Brotherhood (MB).
The SCAF-MB alliance was based on several factors. In the months that followed Mubarak's ousting SCAF realised the extent of the state's vulnerability to mass mobilisation. The MB, as Egypt's most organised force and with a mass street presence, was its ideal partner. The military, which had no interest in radical revolutionary change, wanted a group that also had an interest in the status quo. Again the Brotherhood, with its commitment to capitalism and, by extension, the global hegemony capitalism underwrote, fit the bill. SCAF's resistance to radical change meant it was looking for a partner to help implement a political process that would guarantee the resilience of state institutions while the Muslim Brotherhood, certain of winning an electoral victory, was looking for the same.
Between March 2011 and March 2012 the Muslim Brotherhood and the SCAF alliance was manifest on several levels. The Brotherhood mobilised for a "yes" vote in the constitutional referendum in March, condemned strikes and demonstrations, countered revolutionary forces in favour of the state and employed its media to demonise and tarnish revolutionaries. For its part, SCAF included Article 2 of the 1971 constitution in the Constitutional Declaration of March 2011, decreed an electoral system that allowed parties to compete in two thirds of the People's Assembly seats -- thus favouring the Brotherhood as the most organised force -- and insisted elections go ahead despite murderous attacks on protesters in Mohamed Mahmoud Street and outside the cabinet offices. It also used its allies in the state-owned media to defame all demonstrations and protests in which the Brotherhood did not participate. SCAF and the Muslim Brotherhood were wedded in a pragmatic alliance that served their mutual interests.
Like all marriages of convenience there were bound to be problems. While it is difficult to pinpoint specific causes for tension, cracks soon began to show. There appeared to be a collapse in negotiations between the Brotherhood and the "deep state", the network of state institutions that endured regardless of the change in the elected leadership and which retained power regardless of any election results. This was compounded by problems with the formation of the constitution drafting committee, which led other political forces to seek SCAF's involvement, exacerbating tensions between the generals and the Brotherhood.
The Brotherhood's decision to nominate a candidate for the presidency saw a further deterioration in the relationship. The move was viewed by the deep state as an unconscionable crossing of lines. The result was a Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) ruling that the People's Assembly had been elected unconstitutionally, a judgement based on the fact that party-affiliates had stood in the meager third of seats that had been reserved for independent candidates under the electoral rules concocted by SCAF and the Brotherhood. The bipolar alliance was replaced by a bipolar dispute.
Both poles retain a degree of political capital, and each lacks essential cards that the other enjoys. The Brotherhood has a claim on the executive through its presidential candidate's victory in the elections. The Brotherhood also enjoys legitimacy through its success in legislative elections. It controls a highly mobilised street and has managed to retain an alliance with some revolutionary political forces. SCAF, meanwhile, has accrued legislative authority by amending the Constitutional Declaration following the SCC decision against the People's Assembly. It has a monopoly over coercive force, and enjoys control over state institutions, specifically the judiciary and the bureaucracy.
Although confrontation is a possibility, compromise between the onetime partners is more likely. Compromise will serve the Brotherhood's interests and secure its position as the dominant political force. SCAF, ever with an eye on a safe exit strategy, sees compromise as a way to facilitate continued military dominance over the political scene while maintaining the necessary democratic façade.
Bipolarity will continue for the foreseeable future. Political groups outside the SCAF-Brotherhood orbit will have to organise in whatever cracks in the façade they can.