Nathan Brown writes: When the Egyptian military took control of the Egyptian political system in February 2011, its heavy handed conduct and a series of missteps led Egyptians to ask one another: Were the generals incompetent or malevolent? That question can now be answered: They devised a political transition for Egypt that was so bad that it has led to the current crisis. They were far less an evil master sorcerer than they were a very hapless sorcerer’s apprentice.
Now the same question can be asked of all of Egypt’s leading political actors: are they purposely trying to destroy the country’s democratic hopes or merely doing so by accident? My own evaluation of the actors is that the Brotherhood’s intentions are less questionable than those of their rivals. But its actions are more dangerous: good intentions may help the Islamists in the next life, but what they are doing now may damn their county to either instability or renewed autocracy in this one.
Let us begin by reviewing how the generals put their civilian countrymen in such a difficult position. In 2011, the military oversaw a process that resulted in a set of interim governing procedures that were long on loopholes and short on guarantees. As the euphoria of Tahrir Square gave way to the nitty-gritty of daily politics, political actors on all sides began growing increasingly suspicious. By reserving all authority in its own hands, the military encouraged a system in which each civilian force saw its rivals as acting in an underhanded manner to persuade the military to do its bidding. Many such suspicions were justified. With elections looming, Islamists saw various leftist and liberal forces as seeking to disrupt the process and prolong military rule. And non-Islamists charged that Islamists had struck a deal with the generals to plunge the country into rounds of voting that would reward the types of strong networks that the Muslim Brotherhood, above all, already had.
When a process did emerge for writing a permanent constitution it was poorly organized and weak on guarantees for minority viewpoints. The newly elected parliament was to elect 100 people who would have six months to rush out a draft—and the population would then be granted only fifteen days to discuss it before giving their approval or rejection (in a country where voters are accustomed to being expected to agree). The procedure was not only overly hasty; it was also tilted toward the Islamists, since it was clear from the beginning that religious forces would do well in parliamentary elections (though the extent of their electoral victory at the end of 2011 surprised their adversaries). [Continue reading…]