Egypt’s Democracy: Between the Military, Islamists, and Illiberal Democrats
Egypt faces three major and related political challenges to a successful democratic transition: the role the military is playing and will continue to play; the presence of powerful Islamic forces, not only the Muslim Brotherhood, but also the Salafi groups and al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya; and, somewhat more unexpectedly, the growing reluctance of some self-proclaimed democrats to put the future of the country in the hands of a democratic process. The way these challenges are handled in the coming months will determine whether Egypt moves toward democracy or sinks into a new authoritarianism. Unless Islamists and liberals manage to find a modus vivendi in the coming months, the outcome will be a new authoritarianism, with an alliance between the military and so-called liberals as a more likely outcome than a takeover by radical Islamists.
Judging simply on the official pronouncements of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which has been acting as a sort of collective presidency in Egypt since the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak in February 2011, the military does not constitute an obstacle to a democratic transition. On the contrary, it has taken upon itself the task of guiding the country toward such transition, maintaining stability, and ensuring continuity until a parliament and a president are elected. Indeed, many reports point out that the military appears uneasy with the central role it is playing now, and that it is anxious to return, if not to its barracks, at least to the less conspicuous position it occupied under the Mubarak regime, as the ultimate guarantor of stability with no involvement in the day-to-day running of the country.