The Muslim Brotherhood’s winning hand in Egypt

Lyndon Johnson reportedly once offered this assessment of the American electorate: Men worry about heart attacks; women worry about cancer of the [breasts]; and everyone worries about war.

The Egyptian electorate might be assessed as follows: many worry about a restoration of the old regime; many worry about their relationship with Allah; and everyone worries about instability.

If this assessment is correct, then Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Mursi has a bit of an edge in the upcoming run-off election for president. His opponent, we now know, will be Ahmed Shafiq, a military man who served briefly as Hosni Mubarak’s last prime minister.

As an Islamist, Mursi appeals to the pious; as a Muslim Brotherhood man there is no question of him restoring the old order. Shafiq is a secular candidate. And although he would be unlikely to push for a full return to the days of Mubarak (and has promised not to), Shafiq’s election would still be a victory for the old order.

Shafiq’s appeal resides in the prospect that he would bring stability to Egypt. But even this seeming advantage is debatable. According to Middle East expert Marina Ottaway, Shafiq’s election would be completely unacceptable to the forces that made the revolution, to the point that another upheaval might well occur.

Mursi’s election would also be unacceptable to many; the Muslim Brotherhood is far from universally popular. But would secularists attempt to overthrow a popularly elected government? It seems unlikely. However, Mursi probably would need to accommodate the military, a more likely source of serious trouble for him.

In sum, Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood appear to hold the winning hand in Egypt right now.


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