When the Arab Spring bug caught on in Egypt, in late January 2011, commentators rushed to explain that the Tahrir Square crowd was hip and Western, secular and “facebooked.” Never mind the rape of a Western journalist, Lara Logan, by the hip and Western revolutionaries – a fate visited upon other female journalists during the following months (see here and here). Everyone looked around, and the Muslim Brotherhood was nowhere to be seen.
This fact, alone, seems to have fed the facile illusion that the Brotherhood could not hijack the initial Twitter moment of the Egyptian revolt against Hosni Mubarak.
Since then, at each turn of the road, as the Muslim Brotherhood gradually hijacked the Egyptian transition, commentators told us there was no need to worry. The Muslim Brotherhood would only contest a small number of seats (they did not); they would not have a candidate of their own for the presidency (they did); and their candidate was moderate (he wasn’t).
One can imagine the alarm felt by Egypt’s generals at each of these developments. Finally, they took action days before one of their own was to lose the presidential runoff to the Brotherhood candidate. They engineered the dissolution of the Brotherhood-dominated parliament and dramatically reduced the powers of the presidency.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi is now the president of Egypt and, predictably, he’s moved to overturn the generals’ move, by reinstating parliament until the constitution is drafted and new elections are called for.
Just as predictably, this morning Time has a blog entry illustrating why, yet again, there is nothing to worry about: “Some analysts say that Morsi and the junta likely worked out a power-sharing deal well before the Islamist president, representing the most reliably pragmatic political organization in the country, took his presidential oath on June 24. A closer examination of the decree suggests a deal may be in the works this time too.”
Feel reassured? I don’t.
Every revolution I can remember started out as a coalition of different forces–and the radicals were not the majority. Think of the Bolsheviks and Kerensky’s government in 1917 Russia. Think of Mehdi Bazargan’s government in Iran’s early revolutionary days, in 1979. Even Hitler, when he first seized power, formed a coalition and perfunctorily bowed to the then German president – there were reassurances then as well. Radicals take over the revolution because that is what they are best at doing – and any compromise or pragmatic concession to more moderate forces is just a tactical move to bide their time.
The Muslim Brotherhood has fought the generals for the last 60 years and contended with Arab nationalism and Western ideas since 1928. In the last 20 months, the Brotherhood has come out of the shadows and savored its final triumph. The ballot box vindicated its vision and patience. To assume, at each twist of the story, that the Brotherhood will be pragmatic or compromising is to ignore history and precedent. The Muslim Brotherhood has the support of the majority of Egyptian society on its side. It has penetrated the lower ranks of the army already. It controls the presidency and will begin to exert its power more and more over the state bureaucracy and the state-financed and appointed clergy.
It is a matter of time, but for all intents and purposes, and optimistic articles notwithstanding, the Brotherhood owns Egypt.