The Muslim Brotherhood's Egyptian Sweep; New Islamist Government Could Take Unfriendly Stance toward the U.S

Article excerpt


For all their ideological fervor, revolutions in practice tend to be fairly predictable affairs. More often than not, when the initial groundswell of popular discontent recedes, the best-organized and most ideologically cohesive political factions assume power and proceed to run the show according to their own preferences.

This is what happened in Russia at the turn of the last century, when the Bolsheviks parlayed widespread hostility to czarist rule into a workers' revolution that spawned the Soviet Union. It's what took place in Iran in the late 1970s, when antipathy to the shah was harnessed by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and his followers and channeled into a radical Islamic revolution. The latest such transformation has just happened in Egypt, where over the weekend the radical Muslim Brotherhood movement succeeded in wresting control of the country from pro-democracy forces and the Egyptian military.

By Sunday evening, the results were clear: Islamist candidate Mohammed Morsi had bested former premier (and secular favorite) Ahmed Shafiq in a runoff election for the country's presidency. Mr. Morsi, moreover, succeeded despite frenzied efforts by the Egyptian military to manipulate the national political scene (including the annulment of the country's parliament on the eve of the weekend's polls). That he did reflects just how skillfully Mr. Morsi's party, the Muslim Brotherhood, has managed to navigate the prevailing political currents in Egypt since the ouster of long-serving strongman President Hosni Mubarak in February of last year.

So what now? There's at least some hope that the Muslim Brotherhood, under Mr. Morsi, might not have the ability to fully pursue their radical Islamist agenda. In his acceptance speech on June 24, the new president-elect urged national unity and pledged to be a leader for all Egyptians. This is savvy posturing, given the country's deepening fiscal crisis and widespread societal malaise. The Muslim Brotherhood, moreover, doesn't enjoy unquestioned support across the Egyptian political spectrum, facing opposition from pro-democracy activists and Salafists alike - albeit for very different reasons. Meanwhile, the movement's main political competitor, the Egyptian military, retains controlling interest over vast swaths of the national economy and the country's powerful judiciary and remains a dogged adversary. Indeed, in the early stages of voting, sensing electoral defeat, the military's ruling body, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, issued a constitutional declaration considerably diminishing the executive powers of the presidency. …