Only days before parliamentary elections, Egypt is in a huge crisis whose outcome will determine the future of almost 80 million people and perhaps the Arabic-speaking world’s fate for decades to come.
Will the army go ahead with elections that will be won by the Muslim Brotherhood and other radical Salafist groups, thus producing an Islamist regime?
Or will it cancel elections, declare martial law in some form, and set off a passionate civil conflict?
Or will it find some compromise that quiets the disorder but doesn’t solve the problems (see below for the proposed new deal)?
That’s quite a difficult choice and not one the army prefers. Understandably, the military has a third alternative: set up some compromise rules for the new Egyptian state that leave it feeling secure even if this plan sacrifices a lot of other factors.
The nominal cause of this upheaval are the demonstrations in Tahrir square that have produced a bloodier tool than any single event in the entire Egyptian revolutionary process, with more than 30 people dead. But the real background is this:
Despite the persistent mocking of Western officials, media, and “experts” about the Muslim Brotherhood’s weakness and moderation, it has become increasingly apparent that a very radical Muslim Brotherhood will take power and fundamentally transform Egypt into something far worse than that which existed during the six-decades-long Nasser-Sadat-Mubarak regime.
The army’s compromise went along the following lines:
A parliament would be elected on November 28. In April 2012 it would choose a 100-member assembly to write a new constitution, a process that would take one year. After the constitution was written by April 2013 it would be ratified. Only then, in the second half of 2013, would a president be elected and the military junta stand aside and yield executive authority.
So much for the delaying aspects of the plan; there were also provisions for protecting the military’s interests. It would retain control of its own budget, which would remain secret; moreover the junta could veto the constitution entirely or in part. And finally, though vaguely, it wanted some provisions to protect rights including those of the Christian minority. The last item presumably was out of concern with the country’s international reputation.