The election of Egypt’s first freely elected President has not brought the relief or sense of closure many hoped for after nearly a year and half of uncertainty. Many questions are left unanswered and Egypt’s future is still quite fragile and tentative. The citizens of Egypt fought to overthrow an autocracy but are now on the precipice between a democracy and a theocracy. Morsi, Egypt’s President-elect was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, an organisation which resists western influence and seeks to enforce Sharia law. So how can the citizens of Egypt overthrow an autocracy in an effort to attain liberty only to have the freedom limiting laws of Sharia imposed upon them?
Well Egyptian citizens were not seeking freedom when they revolted. Western media simply romanticized the Egyptians’ motives and portrayed our idealised notion of ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ as their motivation. Those revolting were more concerned with economic and social issues, such as high unemployment, corruption, and inflation. Of course free elections and democracy were a part of the revolt but it was the former that occupied the thoughts of the voters and it was for these reasons that Morsi was elected. His Muslim Brotherhood background is not important to most voters providing the economy gets fixed. Another reason he was elected is due to the fact that he is the lesser of two evils. His election rival, Shafik, was Prime Minister under Mubarak so his campaign was tainted by this association. The fear of Sharia was also allayed by the military. During the transitional period the military, The Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF), commandeered many Presidential powers. The state budget, the legislature, and the promulgation of the constitution are now all under the control of SCAF. Many still fear Sharia may grip the nation, especially given Morsi’s comments, ‘the Qu’ran is our constitution, the Prophet is our leader, jihad is our path and death in the name of Allah is our goal’, which is almost identical to the Brotherhood’s creed. This statement, however, was blown out of proportion by the media due its Brotherhood implications and our interpretation of ‘jihad’. Firstly, jihad is merely a struggle for a cause which the Egypt revolt was and secondly the mention of the Qu’ran and Mohammad could just be a nationalistic affirmation; a statement that Egypt will no longer be under the control of the West, which Mubarak was.
I find it difficult to believe that Morsi will continue with strong links to the Brotherhood. Egypt is still quite volatile and has a high Christian population (10%) and a developed middle class which will not accept Sharia. The most important factor, however, is the military. They are notoriously against the Brotherhood and hold all the power. Morsi is only the President-elect and there is every chance that there will be another election in nine months. So it is my prediction that Morsi will distance himself from the Brotherhood over the next nine months and cosy up with the military in an attempt to remain President or the military will call another election in nine months and a stronger candidate with no links to Mubarak will oppose Morsi. Either way, although some Islamic laws may be enacted, I do not think Sharia will be implemented because to stay in power the Brotherhood has to contend with the Christians, the middle class, and most importantly the military. A bigger issue will be if the Military fail to surrender their powers back to the President and Parliament, which will plant Egypt back into the realm of revolution.
Peter Ferguson is a classicist at the National University of Ireland, Galway. He is a member of Atheist Ireland and the Humanist Association of Ireland. Read more of Peter’s work at his website: www.humanisticus.com