Monday, December 26, 2011

Cairo: Elections and Other Issues


            I’m back in Cairo and when I asked a young friend recently what she thought would happen next in Egypt she gave me a wry smile and said she wasn’t even sure what was happening now.  Anybody who’s paying attention feels that way and anyone who doesn’t feel that way, which includes most of the pundits in the US and Europe, isn’t paying attention.  That lots of people with strong opinions about what’s going to happen, let alone what is happening, have very little insight or knowledge about this large and diverse country seems to be a basic fact of life.

            I’ve been reading the stories in the foreign media about how unexpected the victories of the Islamist parties are and how no one predicted that the Muslim Brothers and the Salafis would dominate the elections.  The Salafi success was indeed unexpected but inside Egypt I think for different reasons than outside in ways that are consequential for trying to understand what’s going on.

Accounts like that of Jeffrey Goldberg (no relation) recently in Bloomberg suggest that many Americans were spending far too much time with random contacts they met in cafes around Tahrir Square.  If Tahrir isn’t Egypt, then the Hurriyeh CafĂ© in nearby Midan Falaki where you can buy a beer and play pick-up games of backgammon with fluent English speaking liberals, isn’t even Tahrir. 

            More seriously, the very well-known and highly respected student of democratic transitions, Professor Alfred Stepan, visited Cairo frequently in the spring and made some guesses about the elections.  Stepan.  A professor at Columbia University, is a very smart man with considerable experience in writing about politics and democratic transitions and more relevant to the field of political science than I will ever be.  His work has been profoundly influential in how American academics and (to a lesser extent) policy makers think about transitions.  But when he confidently asserted during a trip to Egypt in March that the Muslim Brothers and Islamists would not take more than 30% of the votes (and seats) in a parliamentary election it was hard to avoid, at least in private, rolling my eyes. 

Goldberg and Stepan go it wrong, but when people say that, during the days of the massive demonstrations in Tahrir, no one predicted the dominance of the Muslim Brothers, they’re wrong.  I’m pretty sure I wrote about it at length back in March and April.  And I wasn’t alone:  almost every serious Egyptian political analyst understood this was the likely outcome of free elections.  My deep oracular powers of prediction and mystical connection to the currents of Egyptian politics were based primarily on simply reading what Egyptians were arguing about in op-ed pieces every day and talking to different people (including, I must admit, the occasional taxi-cab driver). 

What most Egyptians had expected was that the remnants of the old government party, the National Democrats, would share dominance of the new parliament with the MB.  So the elections in the past three weeks have brought about a double surprise:  the strong showing of the Salafis and the nearly total rejection of the remnants of the NDP by voters.  In retrospect it is clear that the attempts to exclude the NDP members from running was not only politically short-sighted and possibly dangerous in the longer-term to Egyptian democracy but also unnecessary.  (It was dangerous because it doesn’t seem like a good idea to establish the precedent that individuals can be denied political rights simply because of their former partisan membership; unnecessary because they turn out not to have been a danger).

Because it’s now clear the NDP had no existence as a party, the Salafis didn’t prosper by picking up its supporters.   Their voters, like those of most electoral parties, are something an impromptu coalition.  Some, especially in Upper Egypt, are probably extremely prejudiced about Christians and fearful of their demands for equality (which to be honest is pretty much what the call for a secular state is about).  Some may be attracted to the populist policies that several Salafist currents espouse which strongly resemble some of the left parties programs in terms of wages, subsidies, and government support of the poor in the name of social justice.  Others may see in the Salafis the “real” Islamic alternative to the Muslim Brothers who many now see as hopelessly opportunistic in their search for political power.  Without adequate studies we don’t know but these are some of the guesses I’ve heard.  What we also don’t know is how strongly different sections of the Salafi voters are attached to them.  The ideologically anti-Christian vote will stick with them but some of the others might vote for other parties if they become unhappy with the Salafi performance in the parliament or if the economy worsens. 

For better or worse, however, the fate of Egypt’s political future is clearly in the hands of the Muslim Brothers and SCAF.  One temptation for the MB will be to compromise with SCAF and insert themselves into the system in the place of the old NDP but as a functioning party.  Another will be to step back and let SCAF and some other set of leaders attempt to deal with what will undoubtedly be the difficult problem of re-igniting the economy over the next couple of years. Given that the Freedom and Justice party, now routinely described in the Egyptian press with the nearly Homeric epithet “political arm of the Muslim Brothers”, has a membership and a political appeal largely skewed to conservative professionals and urban residents, it is unlikely to make a sudden changes to the economic policies of the Mubarak era and it has announced its intention to honor Egypt’s treaties (that is, the Camp David accord with Israel) albeit to seek some alteration.  But it can achieve many of its ends by using its parliamentary role rather than necessarily dominating the government for now.

This morning’s news brings a report that the MB and SCAF have agreed to a division of spheres in which the MB will dominate parliament and the SCAF will control the presidency.  Whether this particular report is true, it is clear that the two major forces will have to come to some agreement about how, in practice, to work together.  The MB have whatever legitimacy comes from electoral dominance and SCAF has both raw coercive power (which it has shown repeatedly it will not shrink from using) and the appeal to many Egyptians who fear that continuation of the revolutionary process will lead to a complete collapse of public order and the economy.  There is a third force, of course.  Not the hidden hands both SCAF and the MB frequently invoke—whether Israeli, Qatari, or American.  The third force is the apparently still irrepressible spontaneous force of Egyptian society, sometimes manifested in Tahrir and sometimes elsewhere. 

It will not be easy for the MB and SCAF to reach a stable agreement.  I am not one of those who think they have been working hand in glove since February.  There are important differences especially over the division of power in the country.  SCAF cannot look at what has happened to the Turkish army and feel very secure about actually creating civilian control of the Ministry of Defense.  The MB leadership have spent enough time in the regime’s prisons to know that as long as the Ministries of Defense and Interior are not under their control they remain vulnerable.  The MB can bring hundreds of thousands of people out into the streets and the Army can bring out the tanks.  Whether either can actually command sufficient authority in the face of adversity to persevere in making the country work is a different matter entirely and here they both face the constant danger of that unpredictable third force.

It is quite possible that SCAF is more afraid than many suspect of spontaneous social unrest.  They may have watched it bring down the Mubarak regime with mixed emotions as it destroyed a clique they were willing to be rid of but that left the institutions of the state wholly at risk for weeks, culminating in a week when the entire Ministry of Interior including its most redoubtable fortresses fell before waves of popular unrest.  SCAF may have felt that the events of November and December were far more threatening than they appeared to be to those on the Tahrir side of the barricades.  They were able to contain mass discontent once but they may not be so sure they can do it again. 

Yet SCAF and the MB have many things in common.  They probably both share many of the widespread prejudices and preferences that are certainly widespread in society.  They are partisans of order and discipline. 

Christians have a place in their society and it is a distinctly subordinate place enforced by social pressures rather than legal measures.  Whatever orders were actually given at Maspero in October when dozens of Christian protesters were killed, it marked the willingness of the army to deploy violence against Egyptians with the support of other sections of the popular in a frightening way.  The events at Maspero deserve more attention but the generals must have been noticed a widespread unwillingness by many of the political parties, notably the MB, to declare those who died at Maspero martyrs of the revolution as has routinely been the case with others who fell to violence in demonstrations. Indeed they suggested in public that the demonstrators may have threatened army officers.  Neither the generals, the soldiers at Maspero, nor the Muslim Brothers have given much public attention to the lives they took that day.  Nor has the army ever identified the soldiers that it claimed were killed, presumably because there were none.

Women, in this view, also have a role in their society but their primary task, especially in their 20s and 30s, should to provide a wholesome family environment.   The disrobing and beating of a woman wearing a headscarf in Tahrir two weeks ago which was so widely recounted in the international press is suggestive.  So too the response within conservative political quarters here questioning why exactly she was in Tahrir. Of course it's not right to attack women nor to leave them struggling half-naked in the dust, but what exactly do they expect.  And besides it wasn't the soldiers who did it but unnamed and effectively invisible hidden hands.  And I don't know the exact Arabic equivalent for "who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes" but the existence of video footage showing exactly what happened (as at Maspero) has been dismissed by the armed forces and their supporters.

SCAF and the MB remind me a bit of the so-called country club Republicans of two generations ago in the US.  It was almost impossible for them to imagine that those who did not share their religious, class, and (in the US where this matters) racial background had any important role to play in politics.  They believed in law and order and respect for government as well as the free enterprise system.  They may have been hypocrites and narrow-minded but they made up the backbone of conservative America.  Comparing them to the Muslim Brothers will no doubt seem harsh and a bit absurd to many Americans (and too obvious to others).  The country club Republicans and their Democratic opposite numbers thought of themselves as decent, moderate and rational.  They were sober and unprejudiced in their own minds.  They never blew up churches.  But in Birmingham in 1962 they made excuses for those who did because they claimed that the protesters, threatening as they were to the social order, essentially brought disaster on themselves.  This is not incompatible with a functioning electoral democracy but it leaves a lot to be desired.


            The destruction of the Institut d’Egypte by fire was a significant loss to history and historians.  I don’t mean to diminish the importance of this event but it was not, despite some comparisons, like the burning of the library of Alexandria by Julius Caesar or of Baghdad by Hulagu.  It was a significant collection with many unique materials but it was not the sole location in which a large number of intellectual works of crucial importance were held.  And like the destruction of the Alexandrian library by Caesar it appears to have been an accident rather than a concerted attempt to destroy Egypt’s history, its archives, or its connections to the outside world.

            Without excusing whoever tossed the Molotov cocktail that ended the library’s 200 year existence, anyone familiar with Cairo’s recent history of fires might draw a somewhat different (but not more reassuring) lesson. 

            Accidental fires are not infrequent and especially in Cairo.  I was almost the unfortunate witness to one when a doorman managed to light a butane gas cylinder on fire about 15 years ago while checking to see if it had a leak.  He lit a match to the area at the top of the container and nearly turned it into a bomb.  Electrical fires are also not uncommon.

            One of the most impressive recent fires in the area around Tahrir Square occurred on August 19 2008 when the Shoura Council building burned to the ground.  Along with it went records of 19th century parliamentary debates that were held in its archives.  The fire itself was an accident and perhaps could have been contained but the fire department was unable to arrive at the building in a timely fashion.  Had the 19th century building ever been equipped with a sprinkler system perhaps it could have survived until the errant fire fighters arrived.

            In the early morning of September 27 2008 another fire occurred.  This one was at the National Theater (in a different part of downtown) and it also burned to the ground.  Again the fire department did not arrive in a timely fashion and the equally charming 19th century building in which many years ago I saw an Arabic translation of a Latin American play also had no sprinkler system. 

            In the intervening years it evidently never occurred to anyone in the government that it might be a good idea to install sprinkler systems in old buildings, especially old buildings filled with books, journals, and other combustible materials.  So when that fateful Molotov cocktail was thrown no sprinkler system was in place to avoid transforming what might have been a modest problem into a major disaster.

            The government is already at work planning to repair the building just as the army also repaired other buildings destroyed by arson over the past year: notably churches in Soul and Imbaba.  In fact the rapidity with which the army repairs things is a bit unnerving.  Even while demonstrators were being shot on the streets a couple of weeks ago the Supreme Council announced that they would be cared for at the expense of the state. 

            Two errant thoughts occur to me, one of which is quite practical and the other quite metaphorical.  After three major fires have robbed Cairo of some important architectural and historical resources perhaps it would be a good idea if someone paid attention to putting sprinkler systems into other buildings.  I don’t know if the National Archives or the National Library (both of which have some exceptionally rare and irreplaceable collections) have sprinkler systems but perhaps they should.  Second, it is hard not to read this as a metaphor for the collapse of the old regime.  It’s not clear that the kind of spark tossed into an unhappy society by demonstrators on Police Day a year ago had to be the basis for a conflagration that took down an entire regime.  But just as the old regime didn’t do sprinklers, it also didn’t do anything resembling alternation of power or recognition of popular unhappiness.  One can only hope the Second Republic now under construction by the Armed Forces, the Muslim Brothers, and others will do better but that remains to be seen.


Sunday, December 25, 2011

Zombie Economics and the Egyptian Revolution

            Just a brief note since I don’t have access to my books and notes while I’m in Cairo.  I see that the meme that the Armed Forces control between 20 and 45% of the Egyptian economy is making its way around again.  While there is no doubt that the Armed Forces and SCAF have economic power and privileges to maintain  I’m very dubious about these figures.  And nobody wants to do the work of looking at it more careful so it just won't die.  When I return to Seattle I’ll see if I can find some actual numbers to plug into the argument, but I recently came to understand what people who use this figure are thinking.  If you think in terms of a ratio between army and the economy then there seems to be a confusion between the role of the state overall in the economy and the armed forces on the one hand and between industrial economy and the economy overall on the other.  Confusing the role of the armed forces with that of the state makes it seem proportionately larger than it is; confusing the latter two makes the economy seem smaller than it is (which again, makes the role of the army seem bigger). In other words we're looking at Army economy/Total Egyptian economy and coming up with something between 1/5 and 2/5 or 20-40%. 

            Let’s begin with one very simple definitional problem.  What do we mean by “the economy”?  I don’t mean any fancy postmodern issues.  I mean simply what do we count?  Are we looking at Gross Domestic Product or something like the total value of all economic exchanges in the country?  Are we looking at total capital formation or something like the value of all the productive capital in the country?  In the former case we’re concerned about returns to factors rather than the total value of productive factors but if the latter we’re interested in something like the replacement value of factors of production and especially land and capital goods.

            We can try, qualitatively, looking at both.  The Egyptian state owns a lot of capital.  Of course it owns all the capital that the Armed Forces own but it also owns a lot of property not owned by the Armed Forces.  It owns a very large canal linking the Red Sea with the Mediterranean from which it receives significant returns.  It acquired this asset at zero cost in 1956 but has spent quite a bit on repairing  it (generally and after several destructive wars)  as well as making capital investments to enlarge it.  It also owns a very large dam in the extreme south of the country which may need replacement in about 100 years.  The state also has extensive and valuable infrastructural investments in canals, roads, government buildings, civil airports, as well as educational, health and policing systems.  It also owns valuable mineral resources in the form of producing assets for its oil and gas reserves.

            The Armed Forces have extensive investments in industry as well as other sunk capital costs which we can think of as essentially worthless (unproductive) investments economically although they are very reassuring to society at large.  The Armed Forces appear to own a significant number of trucks, cars, busses, tanks, armored personnel carriers, airplanes which are rarely deployed and which carry neither passengers nor freight but which are capable of destroying significant quantities of capital if necessary.  The last time these planes appear to have been used for anything other than training was during the February demonstrations when they briefly took to the skies.  The armed forces also own significant numbers of weapons, uniforms, and the capital installations necessary to keep all of these investments in good repair. 

            The armed forces have also made a significant number of direct investments in industrial production whose total value we do not know.  If the army owned all the capital that produced the country’s industrial output, it would be responsible for close to 40% of GDP.  But this is to assume there are no other state-owned enterprises and no privately-owned industrial enterprises.  If only half of industrial output is produced by other state firms and private firms then the Armed Forces could control about 20% of GDP.  But if this were the case then it would be doubtful that we could account for the importance of private-sector investment over the past decade.  Nor would we be able to account for the sectoral shifts toward communications and services (including tourism and finance) which have been important sectors for economic growth (although not necessarily for employment growth). 

            Some of these investments must be profitable especially because the cost of capital for the Armed Forces must be very low (if not zero) and their labor costs may also be very low if they are using conscripts, but there is no reason to believe they are vastly more profitable than other state enterprises.  Given that private industry competes with the firms owned by the Armed Forces in a variety of sectors (bottled water, agricultural products and so forth) which do not have a zero cost of capital it is unclear what we are looking at. 

            If we think in terms of capital formation, then it would be clear that (apart from its investments in industry) the armed forces have very large and very unprofitable investments.  Theirs are, like military expenditure everywhere, an important element in maintaining demand for civilian goods but do not themselves play a significant role in the economy.  In addition to the Suez Canal, the High Dam, the educational, health, and security services there is another sector that matters in terms of capital formation: the private sector.  Although industry was nationalized in the 1960s, land always remained in private hands.  It is very hard to believe that whatever the army owns amounts to something like value of all of Egypt’s agricultural land and urban real estate which (at least as an order of magnitude) is what the armed forces would have to own if they were to control 40% of the economy. 

            The officers of the armed forces do have privileges and the institution has acquired significant property in Egypt which gives it a stake in whatever arrangements are made for the economy in the future.  But this, it seems to me, neither explains nor excuses how they have chosen to determine the country’s political future nor the methods they have employed to do so.  The armed forces bear the moral and political responsibility for what they have chosen to do.  Economics are an implausible substitute for insisting that they bear that responsibility. 

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Elections and the Path to the Second Egyptian Republic

            Massive street demonstrations marked the beginning of the end of the First Republic in Egypt and their continuation a week ago has brought the Second Republic more fully into view.  In the process the revolutionary upheaval that has transformed the politics of the country has continued to devastate the reputations of the individuals, institutions and organizations that crossed its path.   Five days of bitter street battles coupled with peaceful demonstrations by hundreds of thousands of people mere dozens of meters away were the prelude to the first round of voting for a new parliament.  The first round began November 28, just a year after the Mubarak regime’s fraudulent elections for the assembly eliminated the Muslim Brothers from the body.  They ended November 29 and if the next two rounds have similar results they will provide the Muslim Brothers with at least 40% of the seats in the legislative body to be installed in 2012.  Salafi parties that are set to take 20% of the seats will join them. If they can work together, will form an absolute majority in a legislature whose electoral legitimacy may be uncontested but whose powers are far from clear.

            Observers outside Egypt persistently ask how the young, often liberal, and secular leaders of the early demonstrations have now been maneuvered aside.  That the Muslim Brotherhood’s present leadership has played its political hand well with the consistent goal of moving the country toward elections it believed it would dominate is uncontestable.  But it had a strong hand to begin with.  It is now a truism in the international as well as Egyptian media that the Brotherhood is the largest and best-organized association in the country and that its leaders express ideas that have significant resonance among many Egyptian Muslims.  What is less commonly appreciated is just how large the organization is and how relatively well disciplined, ideologically and organizationally, it has become.  Egyptian press accounts, based on leaks from the Brotherhood’s finance office, in the spring suggested that the Brotherhood had nearly 800,000 dues-paying members.   Whether an exaggeration or an understatement, this number probably represents the correct order of magnitude. It accords with accounts of membership in the organization in the late 1940s.   Since the country’s population was then a quarter of its present size, it may also indicate that the MB is relatively not quite as popular now as six decades ago when it more completely embodied its founder’s wishes to combine elements of a mystical order, a political party, and an activist association.

The widely heralded splits from the Brotherhood, which have yielded such disparate parties as the Wasat (which ran a common list with the Brotherhood’s party) and the Adl (which did not) have left the Brotherhood and its Freedom and Justice party (FJP) more coherent and so far not weakened at all.  American specialists in the art of voter analysis who believed that the Brotherhood would not gain more than 20% of the seats in an election based on their showing in the 2005 parliamentary election were of course mistaken.  In fact, based on the results of the March referendum it was always more realistic to assume that, for now, less than 50% of the electorate would cast ballots for parties other than Freedom and Justice.

            What is more surprising is both that the Salafi parties did so well and politicians associated with the old regime, the so-called fulul or remnants, did poorly.   It had long been argued that the now-dissolved National Democratic party was made up of locally powerful and ambitious politicians and it was long feared in Egypt that unless they were legally barred from running that they would return to office in large numbers.  We have long known that they were not democratic but it is  apparent that they were also neither national nor even a party and very few of their number appear to have much of a chance of serving in the new parliament.   

            One way to think about the new parliament is that it will contain a dominant Islamist bloc stretching from the extreme Salafi Islamist right through the conservative core of the FJP/MB to the moderate centrist elements of that party.   Another way to think about it is that there will be a very large, possibly majoritarian, central coalition headed by the FJP with an exuberant array to its right and left each of which will command about 20% of the electorate and the seats.  The Salafis and the secular forces are not likely to cooperate very much and certainly with no relish, and for the moment they will not be able to do more than embarrass the FJP. Politics may nevertheless occasionally bring such strange partners as bearded Salafis and stylish silk-stocking liberals into the same political bed.

            Assuming that the remaining elections do not dramatically change events on the ground (and it may be a mistake to assume that the results in Mahalla, Tanta or even Giza will be necessarily better for the FJP than Alexandria, Asyut and the Fayoum), the Muslim Brothers will finally gain the prize so long denied to its current generation of leaders:  a share of governance.   Many of its current leaders moved from the politics of the student movement to the professional associations and now they are on the verge of assuming parliamentary authority.   Heady as this moment must be, it is a distinctly new challenge for political leaders who have not previously had to contend with the need to manage  sprawling government institutions for diverse and increasingly demanding constituencies. 

            One particular example is the ministry of social solidarity, a portfolio that FJP might covet.  Widespread gossip in Cairo suggests that this ministry, which controls the supply of subsidized bread to Egyptians, is locked in a fierce struggle with the bakers and variety of gangsters over the price and supply of flour and loaves.  It has been more than 20 years since Yahya Sadowski wrote of the corruption within the flour trade and the baking and distribution of subsidized bread.  There is no reason to believe that the FJP will be better placed to resist the blandishments and threats with which such corrupt enterprise is maintained than Egyptian ministers past.

            And yet the FJP may not only be forced to try its hand in that game; it may strongly desire to do so.  Egyptians have long characterized their government as comprising two distinct types of ministerial organizations: the social and the sovereign.  The sovereign ministries are those that concentrate coercive power:  interior (the police), defense (the armed forces), justice (the courts and prosecuting attorneys), foreign affairs, and of course the one ring that binds them all: the presidency of the republic.  The social ministries show a more benign face of governance and dispense goods, albeit frequently of low quality, to the population:  education, social welfare, labor, health and a plethora of development-oriented agencies within many industries whose names suggest they are engaged in investment.  They certainly employ workers and spend money.

            It is too early to be certain but there are reasons to believe that a party like the FJP many of whose members are doctors, lawyers, professors and teachers would be more desirous of controlling the social ministries which could directly shape popular conceptions through schools, that provide the public with goods, and that hire a significant number of skilled and semi-skilled employes.  These ministries are important and legitimate sources of patronage. 

        The sovereign ministries may be less attractive.  Controlling them would involve the FJP rapidly in a long and complex struggle to re-shape the national police and take responsibility for what are likely to be their outrages for a decade to come.  While the MB leadership has said that it agrees the Camp David treaty with Israel must be maintained, they may not relish the idea of a member who serves as Foreign Minister shaking hands or giving a friendly hug to his Israeli opposite number before the eager cameras of world’s assembled photographic corps.  Lastly the Army has made it clear that it does not want much civilian oversight of its budget and the FJP might prefer to leave that contentious issue also on the side.  No less than Ulysses, the FJP might prefer binding itself to the mast of the ship of state in inferior positions to remain deaf to the siren sound of sovereign power that could tempt it to self-destruction.           

            Between now and the formation of any government, there are three daunting challenges facing FJP and the parliamentary parties.  These will in the short term determine the outlines of the Second Republic.  First, the constitutional referendum of March asserted that the new parliament will choose the 100 members of the constituent assembly.  This is one of the six clauses of the Constitutional Declaration issued by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces that has the legitimacy of a popular majority vote behind it.  The constant assertion and re-assertion of the legitimacy provided by that vote provided both the MB and SCAF with the basis for rejecting the claims of the liberal left to establish a civilian government of national salvation or indeed to write a constitution before holding elections.  In November SCAF issued another proclamation (which it has recently said might have been only a military suggestion) allowing the elected parliament the choice of only 20 members of the constituent assembly.  The parliament and the FJP will have to decide whether to fight or fold on this issue.  No matter what the outcome of these negotiations, deputies will have to create some mechanism of their own to decide who it will choose to sit in the new body.  Whether it will involve behind-the-scenes maneuvering, public hearings, or the constitution of a parliamentary committee, the Salafis, Brothers, and secularists will have to adopt some common procedure.  How successfully and rapidly they manage that task will affect their power as well as their reputation and that of the parliament they hope to empower.

            Second, the constitutional declaration also gave the new parliament the right to engage in legislative activity (of a vague and ill-defined nature) as soon as it is seated.  The two houses will have to determine if they wish to challenge SCAF on this issue as well, including their presumptive right to examine the state budget.  Few deputies may wish to challenge SCAF on these grounds, but as the uproar over the November “suggestion” shows, the activist public may not be very pleased if the parliament immediately backs down.  What the broader public might think we, of course, do not know but deputies from the Egyptian countryside and impoverished neighborhoods may have a clearer idea of how concerned their constituents are and whether that accords with the wishes of their party’s leadership.

            Third, no matter how and how many delegates the parliament chooses, the deputies will have to choose between those likely to write a constitution endorsing a strong executive of the kind Egypt has had since 1923 (the transition from monarchy to republic in 1952 by no means weakened the executive authority) or significantly strengthen the hand of parliament.  One crucial test already looming on the horizon is whether, for the first time in Egyptian history, it will be an assumption of ordinary politics and a constitutional requirement that the prime minister be a member of the largest party in parliament.  Especially if that party has a majority of seats.  This was a goal that persistently eluded the nationalist Wafd party between 1923 and 1952.

      And, of course, beyond that is the division of power between the president and parliament.  Presidential candidates such as Amr Moussa, who served as Foreign Minister under Hosny Mubarak, have made it clear they favor a very strong presidency and SCAF is likely to as well. While the time to make this decision stretches out over a year, the choice of who to seat in the constituent assembly will be an early bellwether of how this conflict will play out.

            The resolution of these issues will say much about whether parliament is to be a locus of decision-making in the country or the kind of rhetorical playground for the distribution of patronage that characterized the student governments in which the current leadership of the FJP served in the 1980s.

 Although I’ve never much admired Mao Tse-tung, I have always believed that he had a way with words.  “A revolution” he wrote in 1927, “is not a dinner party or writing an essay or doing embroidery; it cannot be so refined, so courteous and so gentle….”  Mao wrote those words as the communist organization in urban China was being destroyed in the aftermath of a military coup and a battle with the Nationalist party led by Chiang Kai-Shek.  Mao, an adept of guerrilla war and leader of a faction of the party based in the countryside, was not sad to see his erstwhile competitors for revolutionary leadership crushed.  In Egypt the urban revolution, often seen as leaderless, has not been crushed and may not be conventionally crushable.  The unlikely street coalition of Ultras (soccer fans),  disaffected youth, the liberal left, swelled on occasion by the ranks of unemployed and semi-employed Muslim majority, has clearly not been engaged in embroidery or a dinner party.  There have been moments, in March for example, when Tahrir (which by synecdoche stands for the crowds that have gathered in most of the urban centers of Egypt) may have resembled a vast mawlid (religious festival) or almost literally Lenin’s “carnival of the oppressed.”  But in its own discourteous and unrefined way it has pushed the work of revolution constantly, if fitfully, forward. 

Not only are Mubarak and most of his cronies gone.  Reputations have been savaged and many prominent political figures cast aside as they seemed to stand athwart the revolution crying stop.  Ahmad Shafiq was forced out of the prime ministership when he appeared likely to become a lightning rod for protest in the early days of the revolution.  A former general, he is now widely if possibly unfairly identified by his fondness for pullover sweaters than for any achievements.  More recently Essam Sharaf, by all accounts a decent man, has achieved the dubious distinction of being the only Egyptian Prime Minister to have resigned from office in response to public protests over government policies.  He also thereby becomes the only Egyptian minister to have twice resigned (the first time was after a terrible train disaster in the Mubarak period when it become apparent that he could not fix a broken Transport ministry).  Supreme Court Justice Tahany el-Gabali saw her political reputation vaporize after some unfortunate (and probably unnecessary) comments on illiterate voting and the role of SCAF in politics.  And the reputation of SCAF itself in the wake of the gruesome deaths of protesters at Maspero nearby Tahrir Square in October and the recent round of fighting in November has also suffered.  SCAF’s success at managing the electoral process may improve its reputation briefly but the Egyptian military has always done very well at logistics of the kind needed to get ballots to the polling stations (or ammunition to the troops) and very poorly at tactical improvisation. 

There is a tendency, especially outside Egypt, to dismiss the demonstrators as erratic, leaderless and playing a negative role.  This is much truth to this, but as the demonstrators continue to assert it has another side as well.  What has weakened the transition to a stable institutional structure of democracy has also prevented SCAF from fully asserting its control with organizations and institutions that might have very willingly collaborated in the re-creation of the old order as long as they sat in the new places of honor.

As Mao both appreciated and resented, stable institutions including parliaments and well-organized electoral parties do have a tendency to resemble dinner parties more than street fighting or guerilla warfare. And there is no doubt that many Egyptian politicians as well as most American political scientists and policy makers are more than ready to return to the banquet table (without alcoholic toasts) and the writing of eight-legged essays about how the Arab Spring has turned to Arab winter.  And yet it is difficult to imagine how the work of creating a new institutional structure and a new political culture could move forward until the debris of the old republic had been more fully cleared out of the way than was the case until mid-November. 

            The Egyptian revolution has, to my mind at any rate, not yet run its course.  I will leave arguments about how to characterize the past year in Egypt to another day, but I do think Egypt experienced a revolutionary crisis that is not yet over.  Just what the Muslim Brothers think I don’t know but their caution at almost every major turning point in the street politics of the past year suggest that they fear the continued power of their old nemesis, the armed forces and the police. 

Tens of millions of Egyptians may be tired of revolutionary disorder and yearn for stability and a return of economic activity but tens of millions of Egyptians (not infrequently the same people) have demands and aspirations that they still expect the revolution to realize.  The MB and their parliamentary party, the FJP, represent a powerful force for stability and order.  But, if indeed the unruly force of the Egyptian revolution continues to manifest itself they may find their own reputation tarnished and their organizations marginalized.   The Salafis are eager to replace the Muslim Brothers as the true leaders of an Islamic and Islamizing revolution and we have a common, if inaccurate picture, of a revolutionary cycle moving from a more moderate to a more radical phase under the impulse of increasing demands from a disaffected underclass.  This is another historically inaccurate picture of the process of revolutionary change that I hope to address in a later blog or else in the book that will result from all of my electronic activity. 

As the revolution has tarnished and then cast aside successive leaders and continues to do so, another possibility also emerges.  If everyone has been taken off the pedestal and reduced to human dimensions and constructed out of the base ingredients of which people are made perhaps a very different political environment will develop: one where admittedly imperfect people with incomplete knowledge and conflicting interests make policies.   It will not be nirvana or the revolution or the Islamic state and it will leave many Egyptians still in search of justice and bread, but it may at least create a political space in which human dignity attains some respect.  This, I continue to recall, was one of the three primary demands of the early days of a revolution whose appearance was a surprise and that has shown more than once its capacity to overturn our expectations and hollow verities.