The latest news out of Egypt constitutes, at least on the surface, a setback for the Muslim Brotherhood’s drive to obtain a monopoly on power in the world’s most populous Arab country. An Egyptian court suspended the proceedings of a committee that was drafting a new constitution. Considering that the Muslim Brotherhood dominated the body working on the constitution, this represents a victory for the embattled secularists and religious minorities that view the group’s rise with alarm. But in doing so, the court flipped the timetable under which Egypt was supposed to move toward a new government. The president Egyptians elect next month will now come to office prior to the adoption of a new constitution.
That means that person will be vested with the same powers held by authoritarian dictator Hosni Mubarak, whose fall last year during the Arab Spring protests set in motion these events. Should the new president be the Muslim Brotherhood candidate Khairat el-Shater or that of one of the other Islamist parties, he won’t need to write a constitution to fit his whims, the new leader will be able to transform the country via executive fiat. In which case the Obama administration’s faltering attempts to portray the Brotherhood as moderates or to work with a military that is rapidly losing control of the situation will all have been in vain.