Political Players in Egypt
Freedom and Justice Party: The political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood scored a decisive victory in three-stage elections for seats in the lower house of Parliament, 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 toward that end has announced that it will not put forward a candidate for the presidency. Although the FJP campaigned in alliance with secular parties, and has indicated that it prefers to forge a majority coalition that includes non-Islamist partners, top political liberals have attributed the FJP’s success in part to the covert support of the military, which sees the formation of an FJP-led government as its path to retaining political influence in the post-transition period. In fact, the party owes its success largely to its proven commitment to social justice, a legacy that will limit its flexibility to impose fiscal discipline without alienating its less committed supporters. Given the urgent need to secure financial assistance from the IMF and other international lenders, 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 cooperation of the security services.
Mohamed Hussain Tantawi: As the top leader of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), Field Marshal Tantawi, the long-serving minister of defense in President Hosni Mubarak’s government, is currently the most powerful political actor and the de facto ruler of the country. Under his leadership, the SCAF has overseen some important political reforms, but the council has also acted in a manner that suggests a strong determination to ensure a permanent political role for the armed forces in the post-Mubarak era. The military will exert its influence over each stage of the ongoing political transition in an effort to realize that goal. Both the outcome of the imminent constitutional reform process and the relationship between the SCAF and the FJP will be crucial. In that regard, suspicions that the Islamists and the generals are working behind the scenes to hammer out a power-sharing arrangement are foreboding, as the growing hostility of political secularists toward the FJP could very well produce a self-fulfilling result.
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. 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. It is unlikely that the SCAF would tolerate the formation of a government that includes Al-Nour, which favors policies that could threaten the economic interests of the armed forces.
Liberal Parties: The division of voter support among several parties and an evident inability to connect with low-income Egyptians contributed to a poor showing for the mainstream liberal parties. The New Wafd Party and the three-party Egyptian Block were the most successful of the liberal entities, but their combined seat total is less than that of Al-Nour, and only about one-third of the total won by the FJP. The willingness of the liberal parties to participate in a government headed by the moderate Islamist FJP will have significant implications for both legislative stability and the relationship between the elected civilian government and the armed forces. The polarization of the country along Islamist-secular lines would incline both sides of the conflict to seek an alliance with the SCAF, effectively thrusting the generals into the role of kingmaker.
Democracy Activists: The secular pro-democracy activists who spearheaded the anti-Mubarak uprising in January 2011 will play only a marginal role in the new Parliament, and there are already signs that they intend to focus instead on sustaining public pressure for a complete and rapid transfer of political control from the SCAF to civilian authorities. Although they have demonstrated a continued capacity to mobilize mass rallies, they have little chance of forcing the military back to the barracks without the support of the Muslim Brother-FJP, which has displayed a great reluctance to engage in provocative acts that might give the military an excuse to halt the transition process, thereby denying the Islamists their first real shot at wielding political power.
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