Whither the Egyptian Revolution?

WASHINGTON, DC – Egypt’s revolution toppled a dictator in February, but the country’s future as a stable, functioning democracy remains uncertain. The West is, of course, limited in its ability to shape the transition process. Nonetheless, the potential for constructive influence remains considerable, and it should be responsive to those in Egypt who favor liberal ideas, democratic institutions, and broad distribution of the benefits of economic development.

The upcoming parliamentary elections are but an early stage in a long (perhaps decades-long) struggle to define the new Egypt. Will Egypt gravitate toward Islamic theocracy or adopt a secular government that respects minority rights? Which economic policies – statist, liberal, or some combination of the two – will best ensure social justice and broad distribution of prosperity? Can civilian control of the military be established? Will the regional security structure formed around the United States, Egypt, and Israel survive?

The November elections will not resolve these fundamental questions, and whether a workable constitutional framework will develop is uncertain. A parliamentary system of government will likely emerge, including a prime minister and a cabinet, with the strong possibility that the presidency will be politically overshadowed, particularly if the presidential election is delayed. The central unknown is the composition of the ruling coalition.

It appears unlikely that a single party will emerge from the election with enough parliamentary seats to govern on its own. So a coalition government will be necessary. The political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood (the Freedom and Justice Party) currently is the best-organized party, and may be in the strongest position to form a majority coalition, including Salafist elements.