Now that the hemming and hawing of the Egyptian presidential elections has passed (in what Marc Lynch dubbed a game of “Calvinball”) and Moursi declared the winner, we have a number of vital questions to ask. That the SCAF was willing to accept Moursi as a de-fanged president may have been obvious by their last-minute attempt to defang him or whoever else came into office, though they no doubt would have preferred Shafiq (one of their own). What isn’t obvious is to what extent Moursi and the Muslim Brotherhood are willing to accept the SCAF. What’s unknown here is principally what does the Brotherhood truly want and how savvy are they at getting it?

Some have speculated that Moursi’s next few weeks must be filled with trying to wrangle a compromise from the SCAF, to get them to devolve some power to the presidency and parliament, and ideally to agree (via the election commission and high court) to hold a rerun for only the third of parliamentary seats that were contested by parties running as independents. If the rest of the two-thirds of parliament could be reconvened, they say, Moursi and Egyptian democracy would have a real chance (There’s even a site to hold Moursi to account for these changes within his first hundred days, a la American presidents, here).

Fine enough, but it is not out of bounds to ask if Moursi or the Brotherhood even care about this. I along with everyone else have been assuming that the goal of both was to rule and that they were conducting behind-the-scenes negotiations towards that end, but there’s no hard evidence of this. It is possible that the Brotherhood has decided it can live with a symbolic presidency; that holding such a high-profile position, even devoid of true power, would help them in their larger goal: bringing Egyptian society more in line with their view of Islamic morality.

If this is the case, then there may not be any negotiations and those waiting for reform will wait a long time. But I have to say that if this is the case, then the Brotherhood may find itself in the unenviable position a year or so from now of appearing to the general public to be in power, and thus responsible for “fixing” many facets of Egyptian life, but without actually being able to do anything about it. This would likely suit the SCAF just fine: setting up a fall-guy administration to take the heat for failure to fix the economy and a host of other issues. Shafiq’s next run for president might go somewhat better.

But assuming that Moursi and the Brotherhood do want to rule, and are trying to cut deals to do just that, my question is are they going to try and win back concessions from the SCAF, or outmaneuver them? The scenario I outlined above works both ways: since the economic issues are not likely to be solved by the Brotherhood or the SCAF, there’s a good chance that in a year’s time public anger will be focused on whomever they see as being chiefly responsible for the continued failure. If the SCAF can use Moursi as a patsy to take the heat, then they win. If Moursi can make the SCAF look responsible, then he and the Brotherhood win. So look for major PR campaigns with Moursi & Co. clamoring about how the SCAF is preventing them from making real change, and vice versa.

The biggest problem with this strategy for the Brotherhood is that there’s no easy endpoint in sight. The Brotherhood can’t force the SCAF to give up power just by channeling popular anger. One way or another, to get real power from them, it has to come to blows. I can’t help but feel that this week’s machinations have only succeeded in kicking the problem down the field, perhaps for another year—it might not even make it until the next elections.

One final thought: all of the above assumes much in regards to how much Moursi and the Brotherhood’s interests converge. That’s probably fair to assume at the moment, but will that still be the case a year hence? Moursi has been picked on for seeming unsophisticated and politically unsavvy, but that reminds me of how the unsavvy Nouri al-Maliki was characterized when first elected Iraqi PM as a compromise candidate. Say what you will about al-Maliki, he managed to survive and against the odds recreate himself as a major power player. If I were the SCAF, I would be making sure to give cash incentives to Moursi and other key figures even while setting them up for the fall. When the Brotherhood decides that they need to act, will they find that Moursi is still their man?

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