Two years ago, I watched as the unorganized Egyptian citizenry rose up en masse and pushed back against an oppressive police force and toppled an autocratic tyrant. At the time, even before President Mubarak had deferred his powers, there was a general sense of jubilation. It was clear to everyone that Mubarak could not resume normal governance, and it was only a matter of time until he would inevitably step down.
Perhaps most telling of the irony of the situation, a new acquaintance turned to me in Tahrir on February 4, 2011 and said – regarding the filoul or remnants of the former regime – that the price of democracy was sharing the same rights with them. It was a hopeful statement. But it was not omnipresent. The revolution, that is to say those eighteen days, had several stages. And at almost every juncture there was a factionalization, far clearer in hindsight, that has shaped the broad domestic organization of Egyptian politics.
Liberals, Secularists, and Islamists… Not a good enough schema
One can offer any number of categorizations of Egyptian political actors: socialists, liberals, Islamists, and nationalists. The Islamist and secularist divide was clear early on, and the nationalists as distinct from liberals became clearer later on. However, there is far greater fluidity than any set rubric would suggest. And in many cases ‘liberals’ have argued for positions as illiberal as any other. This division is also not entirely accurate as within the inaccurate ‘Islamist’ category, one should also define the ‘Core Brotherhood,’ in contrast to more liberal and more independent Brotherhood members. One could also look at Salafis in terms of the more established political Salafi class in contrast to nouveau lay Salafis who are both at a distance from and perhaps somewhat repulsed by the new Egyptian politicization of Islam.
Unfortunately, numbers are difficult to compile in a way that shows anything of real value. But it is worth noting that subsequent to the revolution, official election data and results are freely available online. This is a monumental change in terms of information. However, the data also do not show much of a connection between turnout overall. Instead, there is some evidence that turnout between the referendums in 2011 and 2012 respectively may have been linked; likewise there is some evidence that turnout between rounds of the presidential elections was also linked. But that linkage is not as strong between the two types of elections.
So the President’s argument the referendum has any bearing on his legitimacy may be inaccurate – at least not on the face of it. I have searched for this data but never seriously enough to forestall my failure by default. Still, my suspicion is that no Egyptian referendum has ever failed – or if so such failure is extremely rare. And thus the success of any specific presidentially-mandated referendum in Egypt should not be taken prima facie as evidence of the success or failure of that presidency. I am not sure to what extent that has been the case in the West regarding the two visible referendums over the last few years. I am not sure to what extent most people cared.
Rather, Morsi’s mandate comes from an amalgam of forces, which was well known between rounds of the presidential election. To test the word on the street at the time, I grouped candidates into four broad categories: Secular Revolutionary, Secular (former) Regime, Islamist Independent, and Islamist Establishment. The revolutionary forces were split over whether to support a Brotherhood candidate or a member of the former regime, and so their vote was actually split.
Aside from that, Islamist forces supported Morsi, along with some revolutionaries. And former regime stalwarts, along with the staunchest secularist aspects of revolutionary forces, support Shafiq. Without a large group of revolutionaries, Morsi would not have been elected president. And as a factor affecting policies, this has been something that is not often acknowledged – particularly by the President. But this is also not a theory in a vacuum. Using an algorithm based on that information to predict Morsi/Shafiq Round 2 electoral outcomes from Round 1 results is highly effective:
|Pred (coef, p, r)||1.1754, 0, 0.8920||1.1754, 0, 0.8917|
So despite some bias or skew, this hypothesis cannot be rejected outright on statistical grounds. It is likely that split-discussion on the matter among revolutionaries at the time did in fact equate to action, which was also split. And I personally observed this to be true in a handful of cases.
But, if one adjusts the ratio of defection to either Morsi or Shafiq from the Secular Revolutionaries, the result is even more robust: MorsiPredict = (0.5877 * SecRev) + IslInd + IslEst, and ShafiqPredict = (0.4123 * SecRev) + SecReg
|Pred (coef, p, r)||0.9662, 0, 0.9902||0.9662, 0, 0.9902|
And this may suggest that there was a somewhat more significant defection to Morsi as compared to Shafiq. This may have reflected a greater fear, at the time, of a resurgence of the former regime as compared to a fear of Islamization. However, neither that fear nor the configuration that produced it has proven immutable.
Fear of True Dictatorship versus Institutionalized Coups
The President should have early come out with a broad platform for various reforms, notably tax reform, employment and subsidies, security sector, and constitutional. His most notable impact has inadvertently been in the last category. And in part, the reliance on ambiguous referendums to cite dubious constitutional claims has frightened observers into thinking that the President is in fact trying to monopolize power. But Morsi did not come out with such a platform, and his administration has primarily been shaped by loyalists and Brotherhood members plucked from around him.
The devastating singularity that has shaped Egypt’s last year is largely the result of a decrepit state chugging along for most of Mubarak’s rule. This is, for sure, not President Morsi’s fault. But if his goal was not to help, he should not simply be occupying a position until Khairat el-Shater is no longer politically excluded and will replace him. Instead, Morsi’s Egypt is at best as bad a rights-violator as the SCAF’s administration – and both are (in numbers) worse than Mubarak’s administration. It has done next to nothing to manage severe economic crises. And it has arguably been seen as consolidating power at the expense of managing either crisis.
I think people would be a lot less angry if the President were publicly willing to admit any of this. And yet his speech did not seem to address the issue, as it did not really seem to quell the palpable disquietude. But again, the issue is not of blame. The Tamarod movement does not have legal standing. However, if they have actually achieved over 22 million signatures, this would probably mark mass participation exceeding the total number of voters in the first round of the 2012 Presidential Election.
There is no legal standing to the matter. Whatever one’s qualms about Morsi’s election, he is the closest thing to a freely and fairly elected leader that Egypt has ever had. So the issue comes down to whether impeachment is appropriate. On the one hand, arguments over his incompetence are not inherently invalid. On the other hand, without a constitutional channel to displace him, there is risk of encouraging instability by destabilizing newly reconstituted institutions. This is not entirely theoretical, coups – by delegitimizing any standing order – do have a tendency to beget coups, notably in Chad, Sudan, and formerly Turkey (arguably to different effect).
But those afraid of what has happened in his first year must be truly petrified of waiting out another three. There is a fork, at the moment: and either Morsi will stay or he will leave. I do not believe he is likely to leave. Though mass protests provided the cover, last time, the mechanism for Mubarak’s removal was undoubtedly the military. And based on the lack of prosecution of members of SCAF like Anan and Tantawi, it is quite probable that the appointment of the new Defense Minister el-Sisi reflects a deal between the Brotherhood and the Army. It is not surprising as negotiations began in the late days of January 2011.
So there are a series of possibilities subsequent to these events. The opposition has presented a number of demands over time, varying in reason. But the President has appeared relatively intractable in his lethargic response to everything. Every once in a while he proposes dialogue that never seems to occur with any players of importance. Perhaps he is waiting for the Renaissance; hey, we all are. And as one so fond of referendums, why does he not hold a referendum on his presidency. I am not kidding here. This would be a way of legally restoring confidence – or not. And it is a well-known legal and constitutional mechanism for selecting Egypt’s president. Why not repurpose it?
But this, too, is unlikely as the President would never bind himself to an uncertain outcome. And this unfortunately leads to a best case scenario which had been repeatedly and vocally suggested by el-Baradei – a national salvation government consisting of a broad base. In any such cabinet, Muslim Brotherhood members should form a minority. But based on the current trends, even this outcome seems almost impossible. And in part, a rational analysis may sadly lead back to the futility and anger that has led many Egyptians to the streets today.
But the results of this analysis suggest something else that is interesting. The revolutionaries are almost certainly divided. And we move further from the unique sentiment felt by those of us fortunate to be in the right place at the right time. And as time dilutes those feelings of hope, so the memory of a common enemy symbolized by Mubarak or the NDP is no longer enough of a guiding principle forward. So any ‘natural’ coalition of revolutionaries is almost certainly doomed to fail – at least extrapolating from what little official data is available.
A Liberal Pivot?
Based on the outcome in the Presidential Elections, this suggests that revolutionaries need to regroup under better principles. This does not need to be a conscious process. Over time, the small and extreme parties will have to be reabsorbed. The split will probably come down to a secularist anti-liberal faction and a liberal faction. In the election, my argument is that the secularist anti-liberal faction sided with Shafiq and the liberal faction with Morsi. The liberal faction is the one now uncertain how to move forward.
So the core of politics, which certainly played out after Parliamentary Elections, is the ‘broad’ Islamists and the ‘broad’ secularists. Sad that it took so long to get there – but this image is only valid under certain circumstances. If the divide had not been between a former NDP Prime Minister and a Brotherhood representative, it would probably not have played out this way. Nevertheless, it is possible that the liberal faction can play a pivotal role in shaping Egyptian politics in the near-future. One reason this is not really visible from Parliamentary Election data is that this framing is not a natural or immutable one, and will undoubtedly change.
But this is the first real Egyptian foray into democratic Islamist politics. And as a result a deeply religious society did not inherently distrust Islamism or the Brotherhood. On the latter, some certainly did – but that has increased with the sad realities of modern governance. However, the liberals have never really recognized their limited scope in a society like Egypt’s. And if they play the pivot rather than the moralists, they may be more successfully able to help moderate the Brotherhood or the secularists by means of conditional support.