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Players to Watch in Egypt

Mohamed Morsi: A leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood and the founding chairman of the FJP, Morsi won the presidency in a run-off election held in June 2012 with 51.7% of the vote. Constitutional amendments decreed by the military junta shortly before the presidential elections concentrated governing authority in the hands of the SCAF, a factor that in combination with the court-ordered dissolution of the FJP-dominated Parliament in June 2012 seemed to relegate Morsi to figurehead status even before he was sworn into office. However, his stunning announcement of the retirement of top military officers in August 2012 was accompanied by the annulment of the aforementioned amendments, moves that amounted to the assertion of civilian authority over the military. President Morsi’s subsequent decree in November 2012 that abolished judicial review for any decisions made by his government or by the body tasked with drafting a new constitution was perceived by the secular opposition as confirmation of their fears that Morsi intended to replace a military-backed authoritarian system with an Islamist dictatorship. Although the constitution was approved in December 2012, opposition to Morsi’s rule is spreading, a development that has clouded the outlook for completing the transition to democratic governance.

Military: The support of the armed forces was essential to President Hosni Mubarak’s political longevity, and it was the senior members of the military, led by Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, who convinced Mubarak that he had no choice but to step down in February 2011. The military assumed control of the government and exercised its authority through the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which acted as the country’s main governing authority from mid-February 2011 until early August 2012, when President Morsi announced the retirement of Tantawi and his chief of staff, Sami Hafez Ana. The transfer of power, through which President Morsi assumed leadership of the SCAF in his capacity as commander-in-chief of the armed forces, was likely the result of a negotiated deal, and there is little to suggest the presence of any lingering hostility between the military brass and the president. In fact, it is widely speculated that some of the younger members of the SCAF, most notably, Lt.-Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who replaced Tantawi as minister of defense and currently holds the number two position in the military council, are sympathetic to the political goals of the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated FJP. Be that as it may, the military’s loyalty to Morsi is likely to be determined by the generals’ perception of the president’s ability and willingness to protect their personal and economic interests, rather than ideological considerations. On that basis, the military brass might very well move to reclaim its dominant political position should spreading popular unrest threaten the president’s ability to provide such protection.
Freedom and Justice Party: Formed in 2011 as the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, the FJP scored a decisive victory in three-stage elections for seats in the lower house of Parliament held in late 2011 and early 2012, winning control of roughly 47% of the elected seats in the 508-member body. The Muslim Brotherhood has taken pains to reassure Egyptians that it has no radical plans, and, prior to the court-ordered dissolution of the lower house in June 2012, the FJP refrained from courting the conservative Islamist Al-Nour party. However, the party did renege on a pledge to not put forward its own candidate for the presidency, and the post-election actions of its victorious nominee, President Morsi, have reinforced suspicions that the FJP is neither as moderate nor as favorably disposed to democracy as it has indicated. In terms of economic policy, large sections of the FJP are strongly opposed to implementing the fiscal and structural reforms that will be required to obtain budget and balance-of-payments support from international donors and multilateral lenders. Given the urgent need to secure external financial assistance, the FJP will need to make some hard decisions in the early going that could trigger social unrest, a prospect that points to the party’s heavy dependence on the backing of the security services if it is to maintain its dominant political position.
Al-Nour: An ultraconservative Islamist party that supports the rigid enforcement of Islamic law, Al-Nour and its two small allies won nearly one-quarter of the seats in the lower house of Parliament, making it the second largest bloc after the FJP-led Democratic Alliance in the now-dissolved lower chamber. FJP leaders have ruled out cooperation with Al-Nour and other Salafist parties, but tensions between the moderate Islamists and liberal parties could prompt the FJP to reconsider its position. A formal political alliance between the FJP and Al-Nour would provoke a strong backlash from non-Islamist parties and their supporters, and it is doubtful that the military leadership would tolerate the formation of a government that includes an influential role for Al-Nour, which favors policies that could threaten the economic interests of the armed forces.
National Salvation Front: The NSF is a coalition of nearly three-dozen liberal and leftist parties that have joined together in defense of the principle of secular democracy. Headed by Mohamed ElBaradei, a former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and a popular defender of liberal democracy, the NSF was formed in November 2012 with the aim of preventing approval of the draft constitution produced by the FJP-dominated Constituent Assembly at a referendum held in December. Since the approval of the constitution, in a vote marked by very low turnout, the NSF has shifted its focus to parliamentary elections that are expected to kick off in April 2013. However, the member parties are divided on the issue of whether to contest or boycott the elections. Likewise, individual parties have been troubled by internal disputes over participation in the NSF, which includes parties created by former members of the Mubarak regime. The opposition coalition has wasted no time exploiting the opportunity presented by the revival of mass anti-government unrest in late January 2013. Although the pressure applied by the NSF—including demands for Morsi’s resignation and amendments to the recently approved constitution—may help to boost the bloc’s electoral support when and if parliamentary elections are held, it could also reinforce the government’s dependence on the armed forces or contribute to a dangerous escalation of unrest that provokes a military takeover, neither of which would promote the cause of democracy.
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