Egyptian election crisis may doom the Arab Spring

Noah Feldman writes: [T]he army represents the traditional power structure in Egypt, and the Brotherhood represents the will of the people as it would be defined in an ordinary democracy. Their clash is the real thing: a head-to-head confrontation between autocratic force and popular majoritarianism. Its resolution will determine, to a great extent, the future of democracy in the entire Arab world. It will determine once and for all whether the Arab Spring was real.

The struggle could be peacefully resolved in several ways — none very likely. The Brotherhood could fold, accepting the position of token power under the thumb of the military, as its Moroccan wing has done under King Muhammad VI. This would mean sacrificing credibility as well as ideology. If the Brotherhood were to accept such a wholly a subordinate position, it would squander its historic opportunity to marry religious legitimacy with constitutional democracy — its goal for the past two decades.

Alternatively, in a perfect Brotherhood world, the public would return to the streets in opposition to the army and the Supreme Council could back down, accepting the Brotherhood’s electoral victory in exchange for a promise to allow the military to keep its $1 billion-plus in annual US aid. The difficulty is that a substantial minority — 48 percent — of Egyptians voted for the military’s preferred presidential candidate, Ahmed Shafik.

Given the extent of its public support, there is little reason for the army to go gently. Nor will it be content to control a US-bankrolled military fiefdom — the generals know that over time, the Brotherhood will try to change the army by urging the promotion of younger, Islamist officers.

There is one model for compromise between the Brotherhood and the military, in which genuine power-sharing subsists over time: Turkey since the Justice and Development Party took power in 2002. The Turkish military has gradually lost its controlling place in government, a fact the Supreme Council will not ignore. But Turkey is comparatively rich, stable and happy — and that, too, is relevant.

Egyptians would also do well to recall the example of Algeria. After the first contemporary Arab democratic experiment took place there two decades ago, the military reacted to Islamist victory by reversing the electoral results and declaring martial law. The war that followed lasted for years. More than 100,000 people were killed in vicious guerilla fighting. Unless the Muslim Brotherhood and the military can find common ground soon, Egypt will be on a similar path.

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