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Egypt on the agenda

There has been a lot of attention to Egypt this past month, as the constitution-making process continues to move along; our occasional contributor Tamir Moustafa has an excellent and thorough analysis for the Brookings Center available here.

Yesterday's report that the Muslim Brotherhood has decided to run a presidential candidate marks an important turning point for the likely outcome in Egypt. One way to think about the situation is as a bargaining problem among the three major groups in the negotiating process: the liberals (L), who have international support but a weak social base; the Islamists (I), who are internally diverse but are characterized by very strong social roots; and the military (M), which seeks above all to maintain its material position. Thinking about the relative positions of the groups in the constitutional bargain as a set of preference orderings, the liberals would rank them as [L, I, M]; the Islamists as [I, M, L]; and the Military, arguably, as [M, I, L]. Each group naturally prefers that it end up on top, but the orderings of the second and third preferences may end up determining the likely coalitions. The military-islamist alliance seems to be the likeliest outcome: each of those players would end up with its first and second choices in the coalition; the liberals, by understandably focusing on the military as the major obstacle, seem doomed to be sidelined in government, with their best hope being a set of guardian institutions to protect the rights of political and other minorities. There is, of course, precedent for this kind of role being played by the Supreme Constitutional Court, as Moustafa's importantbook documents.

More comment on Egypt can be found here.



  1. The article by Tamir Moustafa is excellent, as was his book.

    Here is the operative line:" If Egypt emerges from its transition with a stable constitutional order protecting basic rights, it will be in
    spite of the process that has unfolded thus far". What can produce a better outcome then the process? Pressure and only pressure, excluding the rare democratic commitment on the part of a majority party.

    Two additional things have happened since: The Islamic Brotherhood did not follow the author's advice, and picked a non consensual "const assembly" i.e. drafting committee. And, they have declared a presidential candidate. Thus the likelihood of a weak presidency stressed by the article is gone. Thus the process has become even worse, and similarly the likely outcome.

    In this light, I question one of the focal points of the article, namely that democrats and liberals in and out of Egypt should primarily focus on the attempts of SCAF to preserve incumbent power. That is a serious danger of course, the Turkish formula in one meaning, but so is majoritarian imposition, or even a deal between the Brotherhood and SCAF.

    Given the situation now, should we now focus on the second, external "constituional assembly" formed by dissidents from the official one even if it has no legal status? Would not a "constitution" produced by such a body provide a possible rallying point for altering or influencing the official document?

    In any case we should not be blind concerning tomorrow's danger, because of the dangers from the past that also remain relevant.


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