Egypt's Salafi parties sacrificed their principles to back Abdel Moneim Abou el-Fatouh in their country's presidential elections. But his downfall will likely discourage such bargaining in the future, holding back the rise of a pragmatic political center in Egypt.
The disqualification of ten candidates from Egypt's presidential race, including the Muslim Brotherhood nominee, has convinced the Brotherhood that the military is conspiring against it to win the election. It's now attempting to grab power from the army and threatening to take to the streets -- potentially sparking a new round in Egypt's revolution.
The disqualification of ten candidates from Egypt's presidential election has not fundamentally changed the nature of the race. As before, voters are facing a decision about the scope and nature of Egypt's coming transformation. And there are still candidates representing almost every position.
There are times when Cairo's Tahrir Square still evokes a revolutionary spirit. But over the last year the square has largely become a bureaucratic battleground where political foot soldiers carry out the power struggle under way between the Muslim Brotherhood and the military. In the process, secular revolutionaries have been marginalized, and the glory of the revolution has fizzled.
Election posters in Egypt (Jonathan Rashad / flickr)
A powerful sense of innovation and possibility surrounded the February 2011 protests that pushed Egyptian ruler Hosni Mubarak from office. If the results of the first round of Egypt's presidential elections last week are any guide, that sense has all but disappeared. The old guard is back, and the revolutionary youth and the populists are out. The two remaining candidates, Muhammad Mursi and Ahmed Shafiq, represent the most hierarchical institutions in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood and the military. These institutions have been battling each other for more than half a century, and they won the first round not by finding creative ways to attract the center but by energizing their traditional bases.
Earlier this year, it seemed that things might turn out differently. One contender for power was the ad hoc youth coalition that pushed the revolution forward in January and February 2011. The young revolutionaries, including the Google executive Wael Ghoneim, shunned political hierarchy. Instead, they sought to establish a rhizomatic organization that stressed peer-to-peer communication. Disdainful of smoke-filled rooms and political intrigue, they asked supporters in May 2011 to submit questions via Facebook that they should ask the military (they got 850 suggestions), and they posted summaries of their meetings with the country's top brass on the Internet. In a world of political transition, they were giving postmodern politics a try.
But as postmodern politicians they could not bargain with powerful interest groups in Egypt, including the military. Tahrir Square had been great theater, but when the stage lights switched off there was no way to keep the attention of the masses. In fact, the revolutionaries' first defeat came more than a year ago in March 2011, when less than 25 percent of Egyptian voters joined them in opposing a slate of constitutional amendments meant to set the terms of Egyptian politics going forward. The group was defeated even more soundly in parliamentary elections last winter, when avowedly pro-revolutionary parties won just a handful of seats. Their disdain for formal leadership cost them influence; as one analyst put it in a private meeting, "It's unclear if the revolutionary youth dislike politics or they're just bad at it."