“God is our objective; the Quran is our constitution, the Prophet is our leader; Jihad is our way; and death for the sake of God is the highest of our aspirations.” So reads the credo of the Muslim Brotherhood, whose Freedom and Justice Party won 36 percent of the vote in the first round of elections for the post-Mubarak Egyptian Parliament. Finishing second was the Salafist Nour Party, which is more openly violent and extreme in word and deed than the Brotherhood, and which secured 25 percent of the vote.
As for the parties that represented the young, educated, Western-media savvy protestors in Tahrir Square who drove Mubrarak out and demanded immediate elections to eliminate the last vestiges of his militarist state, they limped in with no more than 13 percent. Two more rounds of voting are to come in 18 of the country’s 27 provinces in the next few months, all leading to a presidential election. Most observers believe that the Brotherhood-Salafist parties will eventually wind up with 65 to 70 percent of the vote. Herein lie three lessons:
1) Be careful what you wish for, you may just get it. The youthful protestors of Tahrir Square believed that the sooner they voted, the faster Egypt could be moved to a new day of tolerant, semi-secular representative democracy. They should have been patient and used the time to build the kind of formal and informal networks and support among a broad cross-section of the populace which has been developed over decades by the Brotherhood and their supporters. Instead, their lack of organization led to a result in which they will be woefully underrepresented in the new government. The same warning applies to all those foreign observers who wanted Mubarak out immediately and believed that the youths in Tahrir Square were representative of the entire country; they weren’t. Thus, the first foray into post-Mubarak democratic parliamentary rule is going to be very problematic because…
2) There is an ugly underside to freedom quickly acquired, especially in states with little to no usable democratic past or any of the institutions necessary to support responsible self-government. Since the fall of Mubarak, some 300,000 Coptic Christians have been driven out of Egypt and scores of the churches have been destroyed by Brotherhood and Salafist mobs – in some cases aided by the military (which is well practiced at playing both sides of the religious-secular divide in order to maintain its status). In an ominous foreshadowing of how a Brotherhood-Salafist government would honor Egypt’s peace commitments to Israel, a mob of their followers also laid siege to the Israeli Embassy threatening to kill its personnel. Our State Department placed an emergency call to the provisional government and reminded it that American aid is conditional on good behavior, and attacking an allied embassy can severely reduce it. Mindful that the economy has imploded, that the country is burning through some $1 billion of reserves each month and that only about $21 billion remains in the country’s coffers, the military acted to end the siege.
3) Do not expect the fundamentalists to go quietly into that good night. The vast majority of the Egyptian mob is less educated; and more religiously and politically intolerant, gender-driven, and violent than the corrupt regime it replaced – and their representatives will likely make-up nearly three-fourths of the Parliament. Things may change over time, especially because the new government will likely not be able to markedly improve the economic conditions of the country. Thus, people may tire of “Islam is the Answer” as an economic policy. But decades of authoritarian rule have robbed Egypt of the institutions that make democracy peaceful and productive (free press, independent judiciary, objective rule of law regardless of circumstance of birth, education, property rights, free markets). It’s going to be a rough ride for some time.
Edward A. Turzanski is a Senior fellow with the Foreign Policy Research Institute, the Scholar-in-Residence at the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia, and a Professor of Political Science and History at La Salle University.