Mohamed Morsi, the candidate from Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood party, has been declared the winner of the country’s presidential run-off election, narrowly defeating former prime minister and general Ahmed Shafik. Morsi, who ran on the ticket of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, gained 52 percent of the vote while Shafik gained 48 percent of the vote. As the election commission announced Morsi as Egypt’s next president, Cairo’s Tahrir Square erupted into jubilation, with citizens celebrating the country’s first democratic election in history. The election puts the Muslim Brotherhood, a party that was outlawed under the rule of former president Hosni Mubarak, in control of the presidency.
During the tumult of the election last week, the current ruling military party, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), eliminated many of the powers of the president and dissolved the lower house of Egypt’s Parliament, in which a majority of the seats were held by Muslim Brotherhood members. Morsi will have less power than his predecessor while much of the authority remains with the SCAF. For more than six decades, the military has been at odds with the Muslim Brotherhood and now differences must be worked out between these two governing forces. The sight of thousands of Egyptians converging on Tahrir Square is a symbol of the fact that this was the people’s vote. The results were a win for the Muslim Brotherhood, but also a win for democracy in a region that could change the political map of the Middle East. Egypt’s vote yielded the first popularly elected Islamist leader following last year’s Arab Spring movement.
Egypt will remain on edge as tensions rise between the ruling military party and the Muslim Brotherhood. As Egyptians watch deposed president Hosni Mubarak move from a life sentence to life support, they are left questioning whether the regime that controlled Egypt for so long will again usurp power from the first freely elected government in the country in decades. Many in Egypt are calling the ongoing takeover of power by the SCAF a “military coup.”
Analysts are urging the United States to recognize the enormity of the moment and understand that the U.S. has to “think about accommodating the Muslim Brotherhood and allow them to govern,” Mohamad Bazzi, a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at Council on Foreign Relations, said at a discussion at the Ford Foundation in New York City last week.
The United States needs to make a decision on whether to support democracy or the imposed military council in Egypt and what it perceives as stability. The Muslim Brotherhood is now set to gain control of both the parliament and presidency, a monumental win for a group that has been forced to organize underground after being banned in early 1950s and is now grappling with SCAF for a handover of power.
“The Muslim Brotherhood is willing to work with the military although their election was stolen from under them. The Brotherhood is very incremental after 80 years of preparing and building a network, and they have survived repression,” Bazzi said. “They’ve been patient and they’ll be patient again. It will be a multi-year effort for the military to hand power over to civilian rule.”
Initially, it seemed that the military was attempting a soft coup on authority, but the power-grab has escalated, as SCAF granted itself more parliamentary powers. A key aspect of SCAF’s control is the $1.3 billion in military aid that Egypt annually receives from the United States. SCAF regularly boasts this economic element to leverage more power. This aid allows the military to take control of key aspects of Egypt’s economy, placing generals in charge of supermarkets and shopping centers. “There is a huge economic incentive for the military and these top leaders feel that they are the guardians of society,” Bazzi said.
As Morsi prepares to become Egypt’s first freely elected president, the military will continue to make changes to the interim constitution that reduced many of the powers given to the president while extending the hand of the military into foreign affairs. Even though the election commission declared Morsi the winner, it is clear that the ruling military has set up a trap door that Morsi will fall into, preventing him from holding presidential powers that still remain in SCAF’s grip.
Egypt has reached a crucial fork in the road this summer as the country tries to head up the path toward democracy. But it is constantly dragged back to march down the trail of military rule as SCAF puts up a fence around civilian rule. Cairo’s streets called for democracy during the Arab Spring and as the Muslim Brotherhood inches closer to taking power of Egypt’s Parliament and presidency, it is able to create a model for democracy in the Middle East—democracy with a religious streak running through it. Although the Muslim Brotherhood achieved a monumental victory, it is unclear whether the party will be able to wrestle control away from the military leaders who are so reluctant to parcel out power.