Lose-Lose or Win-Win in Egypt?

With several hours to go before Egypt’s election committee names a winner, Ahmed Shafik has already posted his claim to be President on his web-site.  Is this the military’s trial balloon to see how much outrage or public approval this provokes?

The long delay in announcing the winner seems to be a period in which the military leadership is deciding what is the best course of action.  If the Brotherhood candidate Morsi is declared the winner, he will insist that the Islamist-controlled elected legislature be at least partly restored, given back its legislative power, and that the military submit to civilian authority.  All of this is anathema to the military.  Giving Morsi the presidency gives him a powerful position to challenge the new rules the military created to preserve its power.   Moreover, it is likley Morsi will use that power to raise popular mobilization against military rule.

If the Army’s candidate, Ahmed Shafiq, is declared the winner, the Brotherhood will immediately try to raise popular mobilization to demand the military hand over power.  So the military is likely to face popular mobilization against itself either way.  However, if Morsi is president he will have more power and limited immunity to oppose the military.  If Morsi is simply cast as an embittered loser who is seeking to overturn the law to claim a false victory, then a President Shafiq can unleash the full force of martial law against the Brotherhood under cover of simply upholding the law.

So it seems to me the logical thing to do for the military is have Shafiq declared the winner.  But this is lose-lose for Egypt, as both democracy and stability will have been sacrificed to the military’s belief it is entitled to rule.

Can there be a win-win?  Yes, if Morse is named president, and the military council starts negotiating for a handover of civilian authority, and gives the Brotherhood and its secular allies the major role in shaping the new constitution and outlines prompt procedures for electing a new civilian Parliament.  But is this the likely outcome?  I think not — we will see in just a few hours how this unfolds.

About jackgoldstone

Hazel Professor of Public Policy at George Mason University
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