CAIRO—One of the more charming aspects of post-Mubarak Egypt is the frequency with which political debate erupts spontaneously between ordinary pedestrians, who are then quickly surrounded by dozens of on-listeners eager to hear competing points and, more often than not, interject their own. These deliberative blobs are the best indication that Egypt’s suddenly competitive political life is trickling down to the masses.
CAIRO, Egypt—In the stultifying, 100-plus-degree heat of Tahrir Square on Sunday, where tens of thousands gathered to hear the results of Egypt’s first relatively free presidential election, the sweaty, and occasionally fainting, masses were morbidly grim. Many in the Islamist-dominant crowd were convinced that Egypt’s military junta would anoint former prime minister Ahmed Shafik the next president, and they anticipated deadly confrontation with security forces immediately thereafter.
CAIRO, Egypt—On Wednesday night, thousands of demonstrators descended onto Tahrir Square to demand an end to military rule. It was the twentieth straight night of these protests, and the Muslim Brotherhood marked the occasion by calling on its hundreds of thousands of members nationwide to join an open-ended Tahrir Square sit-in and “complete the revolution.” But from my apartment in Mohandessin, a neighborhood just three miles northwest of downtown Cairo, I couldn’t hear a thing. The streets were calm, the cafes were open, and there was nothing in sight that resembled a revolution.
In the run-up to the first round of Egypt’s presidential elections, which concluded on Thursday, the Muslim Brotherhood’s downfall was widely anticipated.
Egyptian presidential candidate Abdel Monem Abouel Fotouh was a leading force in the militant Islamist student movements of the 1970s; one of the Muslim Brotherhood’s point men for aiding the mujahideen in Afghanistan during the 1980s; and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Guidance Office for twenty-two years.
When Egypt’s Presidential Elections Commission disqualified Muslim Brotherhood presidential candidate Khairat al-Shater from the upcoming elections last week, the Brotherhood was angered, but not surprised. Egyptian law bans criminal convicts from running for president, and though al-Shater’s 2007 conviction for belonging to an “illegal organization”—namely, the Brotherhood— was highly politicized, the Brotherhood knew that it could sink al-Shater’s candidacy nonetheless.
The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace hosted a Muslim Brotherhood delegation in Washington last week to better understand how the Islamist group will govern Egypt. It was a noble attempt at promoting intercultural political dialogue—an engagement for which many in the American policy community, as well as academia, have long advocated. Yet the Brotherhood came to Washington with an agenda of its own: selling itself as a “moderate” organization to a highly skeptical American public.
Shortly after mass protests toppled Hosni Mubarak last February, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood sought to assuage fears of an “Islamist takeover” by making two promises to both the international community and to Egyptian secularist parties: that it would run candidates in fewer than 50 percent of the parliamentary races, and that it would not run a presidential candidate. Yet one month before the parliamentary elections, the Brotherhood backtracked on its first promise.
The Egyptian government’s decision to investigate pro-democracy NGOs for criminal activity and the subsequent imposition of travel bans on democracy workers didn’t just ruin the plans of the six Americans now stuck there—it sparked a severe crisis in relations between Cairo and Washington.