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Power Struggles Follow Arab Spring in Egypt

Politics in post-Mubarak Egypt have just grown murkier. The constitutional convention was supposed to ratify a new constitution before May’s presidential elections, but an Egyptian court ruling Tuesday suspended the activities of the constitutional committee, according to the New York Times. Now there won’t be a constitution until after the election—a disappointment for the Muslim Brotherhood, which was hoping to install a parliamentary system to take advantage of its parliamentary majority. Yet the impact of this change is still far from clear. If the Brotherhood wins the presidency in March, the group may actually have more power over the constitution than it does currently.

Amid the confusion a few things are clear:

  • Egypt’s liberals are weak, and have been losing power ever since the protests in Tahrir Square. Their poor showing in the parliamentary election and their lack of representation on the constitutional committee have further diminished their impact. Even if the constitution is not drafted until after the election, the liberals are likely to be increasingly marginalized as the new government takes shape.
  • Islamists are dominating the mass electorate. Their desire for parliamentary rule makes sense. The more democratic Egypt becomes, the more likely the Brotherhood and other Islamist parties are to claim power.
  • Meanwhile, the army and the remnant of the ancien régime (not always the same thing) still wield a lot of power behind the scenes. While the liberals and Islamists squabble over the future of the country, the military retains control over the formation of new governments and could easily exert influence in the upcoming elections. Many liberals are already beginning to see the candidacy of former vice president and security officer Omar Suleiman as a troubling sign that the old regime isn’t letting go.

While these three groups jockey for power, life gets worse for most Egyptians. The economy is going nowhere, and an increasingly unstable political situation does nothing to reassure a beleagured public that things will improve.

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  • Remember when pundits told us there were no legitimate concerns about the Muslim Brotherhood coming to power in Egypt? Islamists are the best organized groups in nearly all Muslim countries. When a power vacuum appears, they are in the best position to fill it. Egypt is proof positive.

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