By June 15, 2013 Read More →
The Muslim Brothers and the Egyptian Military: An Awkward Partnership?

The Muslim Brothers and the Egyptian Military: An Awkward Partnership?

There have been questions about the compatibility of the Brotherhood and the Military establishment since they entered into partnership in 2012. Their collective ability to meet the demands of the January 2011 ‘revolution’ – which called for a profound restructuring of the state’s “exclusivist practices that instruct Egyptians to obey rather than participate in the country’s future” – is also open to question.

The military, a vestige of the old order par excellence, is eager to protect its vast economic interests while remaining out of the reach of civilian accountability. The Brotherhood, although demonstrating a clear willingness to partner with the generals, has also been engaged in a fierce battle for control over the state apparatus. And yet it seems Egypt’s political order grows weaker as the weeks and months go by, as Egyptians continue to take to the streets with calls for change. As noted Egypt scholar Josh Stacher observes however – and against the claims of both the military and the Brotherhood, it is not Egypt’s protesters who are causing the weakening and fragmentation of the state;

It is increasingly weak because rather than reform it, the military and civilian elites in the post-Mubarak period have heard the calls to reform the state and have chosen not to heed them. Rather than formal processes and electoral politics determining the transition’s way forward and strengthening the state, these spectacles are inherently undermining it. The crux of the problem remains that people mobilized to remove Mubarak in January and February 2011…

By simply ejecting Mubarak, SCAF led a transition that preserved the surviving unreformed state bureaucracy while granting elections. Not only did this stitch continuity into the bureaucracy’s practices, it meant that whoever won elections would have to compromise with the bureaucracy rather than break with it and work toward the demands of the protesters. Thus, suggesting that the Muslim Brotherhood or the president are islands unto themselves is misleading. They are not detached from the military or any other part of the state bureaucracy at this point. They have become enmeshed into the fabric in ways that will discredit the 85-year old organization in the long term.

Will a profound restructuring of the Egyptian political economy, so essential for a more equal and just society to emerge in Egypt, materialize? If somewhat belatedly, many Egyptians are coming to realize that the Brotherhood is a fundamentally conservative political force, and accordingly is predisposed to preserving the status-quo. Hazem Kandil proposes a framework for understanding the current chaos:

The Egyptian revolt is trapped in a balance of weakness. None of the key actors has the power to consolidate a new regime, or even to resurrect the old one. Alliances are necessary, but nobody knows which will last. Every combination seems equally plausible, but each would lead the country in a very different direction. Egypt’s old regime depended on a ‘power triangle’: an uneasy partnership between the military (primarily the army), the security services (the police and secret police under the control of the Interior Ministry), and the political establishment. The uprising in January 2011 disrupted this delicate balance. It inadvertently enhanced the leverage of the military, left the security services largely untouched and created a political vacancy which Islamists, secular revolutionaries and old regime loyalists all scrambled to fill. The three political rivals would find themselves playing a game of musical chairs under the fretful gaze of the military and the security services, and it isn’t yet clear who is the winner.


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(Wikimedia Commons image courtesy of Gigi Ibrahim)

Posted in: Egypt, Middle East

About the Author:

William Oliver is Nabateans’ editor for international economics and Middle East current affairs. He obtained his degree in History from the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. While his studies focused on the Middle East in the 18th and 19th centuries, William has a long-standing interest in international finance and the political economy of development. William’s work is aimed at understanding how the Middle East integrates with the global economy, and into the wider geopolitical landscape.

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