Will elections only take place in Egypt once the military is able to control the outcome?

Read few initial thoughts on what is going on in Egypt by Timo BehrResearch Fellow, Finnish Institute of International Affairs.

Yesterday’s coup – in my mind – is a complete disaster for Egypt and the region. It really brings to an end any hope we might have ever had for a quick consolidation of democracy in the Middle East. Despite the promises of the military, it seems highly unlikely that we will see a quick transition to Parliamentary and Presidential elections – never mind whether they could ever be free and fair in the current atmosphere. I would more expect a drawn out period of “technocratic” government under the supervision of the military. The liberal and secular parties are not ready for polls. And it’s unlikely that the military would accept the risk of another Islamist victory. It will be interesting to see whether the FJP will be formally banned from the electoral process now. My guess is that the military will look for some excuse to do so, which means that they might have an interest in provoking Brotherhood hardliners into a violent reaction. Either way I would expect that new elections will only take place once the military is able to control the outcome.

The MB now is facing a tough choice. They abandoned violence a long time ago, biting their time and waiting for democracy. Now that it has become clear to them that they will not be allowed to rule even in a quasi-democratic state, the question is whether they will return to violence. The indication is that some hardliners might. At least that is what brotherhood watchers like Khalil al-Anani speculate. Indeed some violence, especially at the grassroots base in the provinces where the MB is the strongest seems sure to happen. But whether this will lead to a wholesale re-radicalization of the Brotherhood probably will depend on how thing play out in the coming days and weeks. From Morsi’s calls for non-violent protests before his arrest, it sounded a little like they will try to play the oppositions game and opt for a campaign of protests and civil disobedience now. Whether the military and police will allow them to play this game is doubtful – given the closure of MB TV stations, mass arrests, the use of thugs to break-up MB rallies, etc.

On the side of the odd Salafists-liberal-youth alliance that we saw supporting the military on TV yesterday I can’t really see how this can hold for the future. The Salafists clearly have different interests than the liberals and will oppose any amendment of the new constitution and the idea of a secular state. Their gamble that by jettisoning the MB they will be able to turn into the biggest Islamist party in Egypt seems hopelessly naïve. The same holds true for the youth, which I expect will be back in the streets in a couple of months again to protest against military rule by proxy, when they realize what they have bartered for. The one thing that could salvage the whole situation slightly and calm things down would probably be a noticeable growth impulse. One place where this could come from is Saudi Arabia. They are clearly pleased and might release that money they had promised and been holding up for some time. Whether the US/EU/IMF will follow will be interesting. Obama’s careful avoidance of “the coup” might be an indication…

Looking at the region, what has happened in Egypt will inevitably fuel more polarization. Liberals from Tunisia to Turkey will be emboldened, while in Syria the MB and other Islamists will be cautious about any alliance with the secularists.

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