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The Egyptian Regime's Achilles' Heel
JEFF MARTINI is a Middle East analyst at the RAND Corporation.See more by this author
In the seven months since former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi was booted from office, Egypt has fallen into a disheartening but predictable pattern: The generals consolidate power while their allies in the Interior Ministry crack down on the Muslim Brotherhood. Now, with the front pages of half of Egypt’s papers proclaiming the virtues of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Egypt’s new strongman in waiting, and the other half running tales of the Brotherhood’s terrorist connections, the question in Egypt is no longer what is going on -- the trajectory, a return to military dictatorship, should be clear to anyone. Rather, the question is what, if anything could, change the future.
To be sure, one should be careful about betting against a regime with an overwhelming advantage in both firepower and public support, but the current order does have two Achilles’ heels. First, as the threat of the Muslim Brotherhood reclaiming power recedes, it will become difficult for the new authorities to hold together a coalition that is built solely on its members’ shared antipathy for the Islamist group. Second, the new regime might overreach in its suppression of the opposition, inviting a backlash like the one that eroded public support for the interim government led by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) two years ago.
Egypt’s governing coalition is a strange mix of state institutions and political forces. Its core is made up of the officer corps, the internal security apparatus, the judiciary, the state media, and public-sector bureaucrats -- all of which are often lumped together as the deep state. Fronting for the deep state is what passes for civilian leadership in Egypt these days: a hodgepodge of opportunistic leftists, liberals, and ultraconservative Salafists. These groups have bandwagoned with the military in the hopes of avoiding the fate of the Brotherhood, which, in a few short months, saw the generals freeze its assets, incarcerate its senior leadership, and officially designate it as a terrorist organization.