With all of Egypt’s dramatic events surrounding the fall of President Hosni Mubarak, Egyptian political dynamics have been characterized with an undercurrent of uncertainty on both the domestic and foreign policy fronts. The seeds of democracy have already been planted after the historic presidential elections, but the polarizing autocratic tendencies of the old regime still dominate Egypt’s emerging power structure. Egypt has experienced many positive political strides in the past few months, but the ongoing “ikhwanization” trend, the Arabic expression for the Muslim Brotherhood’s (MB) rapid consolidation of power, poses a major obstacle for Egypt’s democratization.
It is still too early to draw any conclusive assumptions about Egypt’s post-Mubarak era, but the characteristics for a new one-party dominant system are beginning to emerge. President Mohamed Morsi of the MB has, within few weeks of assuming power, restricted press freedoms, appointed MB members as provincial governors, replaced the head of state-owned Arab Contractors with a member of the MB, and infused the National Council for Human Rights and Supreme Press Council with Islamists. The MB also controls the executive and legislative branches of government, and enjoys some influence over the judiciary after the appointment of Mahmoud Mekki as Vice-President, the brother of the Minister of Justice. Needless to say, the MB also dominates the Constituent Assembly. The Egyptian uprising sought to end the phenomena of one political party dominating state affairs. However, Egypt’s “ikhwanization” trend seems to be replacing Mubarak’s dissolved National Democratic Party.
The rise of the MB has come at the expense of the pro-democracy activists. In fact, former President Mubarak’s oppressive policies, characterized several years ago by one Egyptian Ambassador as the Mubarak Doctrine, still shape Egypt’s current political struggles. For decades, Mubarak had allowed the MB to operate within set boundaries while simultaneously harassing secular opposition forces. The post-Mubarak era saw the continuing marginalization of pro-democracy activists, as the military leadership adopted a self-interest driven engagement with the MB, to keep activists out of the decision-making process. After Mubarak’s ouster, the Egyptian military among other things released many Muslim extremists from prison, including some key members of the Brotherhood, while imprisoning pro-democracy activists and cracking down on American and European NGOs who supported them. Moreover, the military used the state media to tarnish the image of the pro-democracy revolutionaries and the MB repeatedly criticized the pro-democracy protesters in attempts to delegitimize them.
The Egyptian uprising called for a vibrant democracy, and called for the end of a dominant one-party political system. This of course stands in conflict to several core military and MB interests. For the former, democracy would at minimum affect its exclusive economic empire and privileges; a reason for the lack of democratic elections and severe authoritarian repression during the six decades of military rule. For the latter, the MB’s ultimate goal of building an Islamic State under its own narrow interpretation of Islamic law represents an antithesis to democratic principles. The Brotherhood also has never held democratic elections within its secretive and exclusive organization, which does not allow women or minorities to join its leadership ranks. In fact, the MB regards women as second-class citizens. A more politically inclusive landscape would create a more competitive political environment, consequently constrain MB powers. It is understandable that the political transition lead by the military and MB disenfranchised pro-democracy activists. The institutional histories of both the Egyptian military and the MB serve as evidence that democratic principles were never a priority. Of course, the identity of these institutions could eventually change, but as of yet there is no concrete evidence of any kind of ideological transformation. The replacement of Mubarak with a Brotherhood regime might after all not be the best step for Egypt’s democratization.
Today, Egypt’s struggle for democracy is synonymous with the ability to counter the “ikhwanization” trend to avoid an authoritarian relapse and to guarantee two fundamental things: a Constitution with proper checks and balances on all branches of government, and upcoming free and fair democratic elections. Egypt is still a far from the sincere democratic aspirations envisioned by protests in early 2011. A post-Mubarak political environment, dominated only by the MB resembles Mubarak’s long-time autocratic regime. There are various inchoate initiatives by the pro-democracy camp to unite and establish a stronger front to push for the demands of Egypt’s uprising, but these efforts have yet to materialize.