Until Sunday, it was unthinkable that a follower of Sayyid Qutb and Hassan al Banna could ever hold any executive authority—let alone the presidency—in Egypt. Yet, that is what has happened with the election of Muhammad Morsi as president of that country.
His victory marks a win for democracy, but also opens a new chapter of political experimentation in a troubled part of the world.
Morsi’s win, while it was narrow—the gap between him and his rival Ahmed Shafik was just a couple of percentage points—marks a sea change in a country where generals have presided over utterly disenfranchised masses. Already there are signs of trouble. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), the actual bearer of power in the country, has had the Parliament dissolved. In addition, SCAF has exhibited a marked reluctance in letting Morsi enjoy the powers that accompany the presidency. While such transitions are often complicated, in Egypt’s case it will be tragic if democracy is not allowed its full run.
At the moment, the Middle East is in the grip of a political fashion: there is widespread electoral acceptance of what is called “political Islam”—an expression for social conservatism with marked religious overtones. The Muslim Brotherhood—the organization to which Morsi belongs—and other similar forces in the region are fond of pointing to the success—economic and political—of Turkey. The “Turkish model” is held in great esteem. But what is often left unsaid is that Turkey’s economic success required generals who believed in free markets. It was a combination of sweeping off dissent by the generals and an unusually, for the region that is, open economy that made Turkey what it is today.
These conditions do not exist in Egypt and it is doubtful if Egyptians even want to choose that course. If anything, decades of unbroken populism from the age of Gamal Abdel Nasser right till Hosni Mubarak, will make it difficult for Morsi to liberalize the Egyptian to the extent required for its future prosperity. What is often left unsaid is the existence of that other example of political Islam—Iran —is hardly an exemplar of success. It will be interesting to watch which way Egypt heads.
Morsi’s victory: a win for democracy? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org