The brief // by Ben FrankelGoverning post-Mubarak Egypt

Published 11 February 2011

The end of Mubarak’s reign and the likely reforms of Egypt’s political system make for an unpredictable, nervous period; in 2005 the Muslim Brotherhood won 88 seats in parliament, or about 20 percent; the leadership of the MB at the time was more pragmatic and actively sought to be involved in the country’s politics; in January 2010 the leadership of the MB was changed, and a more religiously conservative, but also a more politically aloof, leaders are now at the helm; moreover, the MB historically has been the only movement to take on the regime, and as a result it has enjoyed what analysts regard as an inflated support; the demonstrations of the last two weeks show that there are many movements and groups now willing to participate in the political process; this means that Egypt’s silent majority will have alternatives to the MB at the polls; the trouble: there may be too many alternatives, risking splitting the secular vote, thus allowing the MB to emerge as one of the largest, if not the largest, party in the post-September elections parliament

In a sudden turn of events, Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak has capitulated to the demands of protestors and stepped down.

Vice-President Omar Suleiman announced on state television on Friday that Mubarak had turned over all power to the military and left Cairo for his resort home in Sharm el-Sheik.

“Taking into consideration the difficult circumstances the country is going through, President Mohammed Hosni Mubarak has decided to leave the post of president of the republic and has tasked the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to manage the state’s affairs,” Suleiman said.

The announcement was made during evening prayers in Cairo and set off jubilant celebrations with revelers shouting “Egypt is free!”

On Friday the Egyptian military also released a statement that declared it would carry out “needed legislative amendments and conduct free and fair presidential elections in light of the approved constitutional amendments.“

The communiqué pledged the army’s support of protestors stating, “the Armed forces are committed to sponsor the legitimate demands of the people and achieving them.”

The army will remain in charge “until the peaceful transfer of authority is completed towards a free democratic community that the people aspire to.”

What are the likely repercussions of Mubarak’s resignation and, more generally, of the opening of the Egyptian political system?

Parliamentary elections will be held in Egypt no later than September. We should assume that the fall elections will be more open than the last elections, in that more parties, including the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), will be allowed to participate. The elections will also likely to be fairer, in that Mubarak’s party operatives will not be in a position to engage in the massive fraud that characterized previous elections in Egypt.

Even in an open and fair elections, it is not likely that the MB will win a majority. Their best achievement to date was the eighty-eight seats — or 20 percent — of the total seats in parliament which they won in the 2005. Those elections were not completely open — and, moreover, the leadership of the MB at that time was regarded as more moderate and pragmatic, supporting active involvement of the MB in Egyptian politics.

In January 2010 the leadership of the MB was replaced, and the movement is now being led by a more religiously conservative cast, with Muhammad Badi at the helm. Part of the renewed religious conservatism is manifested in the advocacy of the new leadership of less involvement in the country’s politics, and greater emphasis on making individuals more religious in their private lives through teachings and education.

We should also note that it was clear from the outset that the MB was ambivalent during the recent events in Egypt — not ambivalent about the call for the removal of Mubarak, but uncomfortable about its members marching side by side with English-speaking, college-educated youngsters and women wearing short-sleeve T-shirts and no bras.

Moreover, at least part of the support the MB has historically enjoyed was the result of the fact that there was no other opposition to the regime during the 60-year military rule in Egypt. What the demonstrations of the last two weeks have shown is the fact that there are many — perhaps too many — opposition groups willing to take on the regime. These different groups cover the political spectrum — from nationalists to liberals to socialists — but what unites them is that they are not in favor of establishing a theocracy in Egypt.

We said above that there may be too many opposition group, and this is a problem: It may well be that the very fact that there are so many new movements and groupings on the secular side of the protest movement, and that these groups are so diverse in their ideologies and outlooks, that they will split the vote of Egypt’s silent majority. The result will be that the MB will likely to emerge as one of the largest parties, if not the largest one, in the post-September parliament.

This means that any new government in Egypt, even if it does not include the MB, will have to take into account the Islamic movement and its preferences.

What will be the regional ramifications of a more open political system in Egypt, and what will be the consequences for U.S. security and economic interests in the region? We will discuss these issues on Monday.

Ben Frankel is editor of the Homeland Security NewsWire