Monday, July 29, 2013

Endgame for Egypt's Latest Crisis

I keep wondering about al-Sisi's plan for the endgame of Egypt's current constitutional crisis. He has pledged to hold new parliamentary elections within the next six months, with presumably a new presidential election sometime afterwards. Meanwhile, the Egyptian military is engaged in a crackdown against both the supporters and leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood. If Egypt has a real (by that I mean fair) election, the MB is likely to win, which would put the very people who the military is cracking down upon theoretically in charge. So what is al-Sisi planning to do? Here are all the scenarios I can come up with:

  1. Al-Sisi has no intention to hold free elections. Maybe he will hold fake elections, or maybe he will just delay them endlessly, leaving him in charge of Egypt for the indefinite future. In other words, al-Sisi is the new Mubarak, or maybe Pinochet. It's not clear to me how the world will tolerate that outcome without at least the appearance of a free election.

  2. Al-Sisi will try to hold a free election, but will ban the MB. That's actually difficult to do effectively, because the MB candidate doesn't have to run as the "Muslim Brotherhood candidate." The people who would otherwise call themselves "Muslim Brotherhood" could run under the banner of a different Islamist party, or come up with a new party name that is understood to be an alter ego of the MB. Which would make the military spend the pre-election period chasing alleged MB sympathizers around, shutting down one alter-ego party after another. But because the Muslim Brotherhood has such a substantial percentage of the Egyptian population supporting them, if too many parties are excluded from the race, the election will no longer be viewed as real, which will give the Western powers the choice of either pretending the election really is free when everyone knows it is not, or rejecting the legitimacy of the election. I think it's highly unlikely for the West to do the latter. Which means that scenario #2 actually turns into the fake elections scenario under #1.

  3. After this initial crackdown, al-Sisi will reconcile or reach some kind of arrangement with the MB that allows them to participate in politics going forward. But if that's the plan, what is the point of this crackdown?

  4. Al-Sisi thinks he can wipe out the Brotherhood as a political force, and then it will be okay to hold free elections, with little fear of a MB win.
Am I missing anything? I don't see any other possibilities.

If al-Sisi is not delusional, he's probably going for #1, a fake election with enough of a veneer of fairness for the west to tolerate it. But I'm afraid he's actually trying for #4, even though it can't work. Mubarak spent three decades trying to eliminate the Muslim Brotherhood and yet they emerged after that long crackdown as the most popular political group in the country. How can al-Sisi hope for a different outcome in just 6 months? If he really wanted to discredit the MB, he should have let Morsi serve out his term.