CAIRO — Against a background of entrenched resistance from Muslim Brotherhood supporters and disagreement within the opposition, the military is implementing its “road map.” Meanwhile, pro and anti-“coupvolution” demonstrators are holding their ground. Crowds continue to flock to Rabaa El Adaweya mosque and Cairo University, where protesters call for the deposed President Mohammed Morsi’s reinstatement on the basis that he is the constitutionally legitimate president of Egypt. In the Brotherhood’s preferred framing of political fights, Morsi’s removal is being described as an attack on Islam.
There is anticipation that the beginning of Ramadan on July 10 will only embolden Brotherhood supporters. While the mood at the Brotherhood’s protests is one of preparedness for battle, Tahrir continues to celebrate with nightly displays of fireworks and military airplanes overhead.
Cairo’s streets in the past few days have vacillated between a return to normalcy and unusual quiet. While both sides still use the streets as a standoff to determine which side is louder and bigger, the military has appointed the prime minister and vice president, laid out a constitutional declaration and set a timetable for presidential and parliamentary elections.
After the Salafist Nour Party — which backed the downfall of Morsi — refused two earlier propositions for the prime minister, including Mohamed ElBaradei, the June 30 coalition spokesman and head of the Dostour Party, they finally agreed to former finance minister and liberal economist Hazem el-Biblawi as prime minister, who was appointed on July 9.
ElBaradei will now be the “vice-president of foreign affairs.” The current foreign minister, as well as the ministers of interior and defense, will all retain their positions. A divisive political figure, it is apparent that ElBaradei’s appointment is targeted at the West. His experience as director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, as well as his established position as a secular liberal, will give the West — still edgy with Morsi’s removal — a familiar face and ideology to deal with in the interim government. Moreover, as US aid to Egypt remains uncertain in the face of whether or not the military’s intervention was a coup, ElBaradei as the icon of Egyptian liberalism and the declared election timetable may help convince the US government of Egypt’s commitment to liberal, democratic values moving forward.
In Egypt, while many liberal progressives are enthusiastic about ElBaradei’s appointment, many moderate Egyptians see him as a weak personality who showed up at the last minute to take power. Among the Islamists, he is detested for his secular stance on religion, and he has done little to convince the general public that secularism does not mean the removal of Islam from the Egyptian identity.
For Mustapha Kamel al-Sayyid, adjunct professor of political science at the American University in Cairo, who spoke on the phone to Al-Monitor on July 7, ElBaradei’s participation in the interim government is crucial in facilitating the division between religion and politics, a combination he views as dangerous.
Ironically, in appeasing the Salafists, the military’s constitutional declaration, issued around midnight on July 9, keeps the reference to the principles of Islamic Sharia as the basis of the state and main sources of legislation — one of the main articles the liberal opposition vehemently opposed during the 2012 drafting process. Furthermore, freedom of worship stays limited to the three monotheistic religions as in the 2012 constitution, whereas the 1971 constitution protected freedom of belief.
A once fickle ally of the Muslim Brotherhood in competition over a similar base, the Nour Party — which has been straddling the fence over Morsi’s removal — is now reaping its rewards. Acknowledging the popular, peaceful nature of the June 30 protests and critical of the Brotherhood’s political domination, it also expressed support for the constitution and legitimacy of Morsi’s presidency. However, it ensured the party’s role in the post-June 30 order by agreeing to participate in Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s meeting prior to the expiration of Morsi’s 48-hour ultimatum. Playing both sides, they also assured their Islamist constituency that they had nothing to do with Morsi’s overthrow.
As the now dominant Islamist group willing to engage in the political process, the Nour Party — whose beliefs are more hard-line than the Brotherhood — have played a prominent role in the shaping of the interim government and constitutional declaration. While their engagement is important to prevent the complete alienation of the country’s Islamists, they will prove an obstacle to the liberal vision for the new state.
However, navigating the transition and maintaining that they did not betray their brothers in Islam is proving increasingly difficult with their followers. After the July 8 clashes between the army and Brotherhood supporters, which left 51 dead and 400 injured, the Nour Party announced that it was suspending cooperation with the interim government. Worried about its members who were joining the Brotherhood’s protests, it also proposed an alternative road map on the grounds the military’s road map had increased violence and suppression.
Newly appointed Biblawi stated that he will include the Brotherhood and the Nour Party in the formation of a cabinet, but the Brotherhood unsurprisingly rejected the offer to join the “revolution cabinet.” For them, any solution begins with the reinstatement of Morsi, as they do not even acknowledge the legitimacy of the new interim government.
Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha Center — speaking to Al-Monitor via Skype on July 6 — said, “The Brotherhood is not going to pre-emptively give up their legitimacy claim because in some ways that is the best bargaining chip they have with the new government.”
In the long run, Hamid believes that if the Muslim Brotherhood leadership decides to cut its losses in a couple of weeks and get back into the system, they will need clear guarantees about their participation, including whether they could appoint a prime minister should they win a plurality in the elections.
Sayyid, however, thinks that the interim government will need to deal with the all-encompassing nature of the Muslim Brotherhood organization before deciding on their return to politics. “The Brotherhood as an association should be subject to the rule of law as a nongovernmental organization, but Egyptian law forbids NGOs from being involved in politics.”
How the interim government will handle the Brotherhood’s reintegration into the political process is one of many questions that remains to be answered, but meanwhile, the military continues to plow ahead with its road map amid increasing political influence by the Salafists.
This piece was originally written for and published by Al-Monitor on July 10, 2013.