Egypt on the brink

The most important news of today, I believe, is the decision by Egypt’s highest court that the country’s newly elected parliament must be dissolved. The court, made up of Mubarak appointees, found that one-third of the new parliament’s members were elected unlawfully. Talk about judicial activism.

In anticipation of the ruling, the Egyptian military council imposed martial law. This gave military and intelligence officers the right to detain civilians.

According to Michael Rubin, about 80 percent of the members of the now-dissolved Egyptian parliament are Islamists. Thus, the latest developments should be understood, I think, as a statement by the military that it will not accept a democracy in which Islamists dominate. It no doubt hopes that, in view of this statement, Egyptians will recoil from such a democracy. If they do, the democracy project can proceed, albeit in an impure fashion.

The short-term success (or lack thereof) of the military’s ploy can be measured by the outcome of this weekend’s presidential run-off election between the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi and former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq. In addition to its ruling regarding parliament, the court ruled that Shafiq will remain on the ballot because a law barring former members of Mubarak’s government is unconstitutional.

I hope that the marker laid down by the military will re-route Egyptian democracy away from Islamist control. However, I am not confident that it will.

And even if it does, this may not be the end of the matter. Islamist clerics and their followers seem to be as determined as the military to see Egyptian “democracy” follow a pre-determined course. Indeed, though the military ultimately may be bluffing, the Islamists almost certainly are not.

Thus, Egypt could be heading for a bloody civil war.


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