Although it’s too soon to fully understand what they mean, there are important developments in Egypt today in the run-up to this fall’s election. First, a major coalition of parties has formed that includes not only the Muslim Brotherhood, but two key liberal parties, Wafd and Ghad. The coalition also includes a left leaning Nasserist (Arab nationalist) party, Karama, and the socialist Tagammu party. At the same time, a there is talk of yet another coalition of liberal and socialist parties forming to oppose the first coalition, given that it seems to be dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood.
What is going on here? We can only speculate at this point, but it looks as though the strength of the Muslim Brotherhood has allowed it to coopt the core of its opposition. This assures weak non-Islamist parties of some representation, while also providing the Brotherhood with protection against backlash from the military or the United States, should it dominate the coming election. Yet the new coalition likely puts the Brotherhood in position to control an only nominally diverse parliament.
Many of the most prominent leftist and Nasserist parties are already in the Brotherhood-dominated coalition. That would leave a second, more purely secular coalition weak. On the other hand, if non-Islamist Egyptians are alarmed by the Brotherhood’s rising power, they could turn a possible counter-coalition into a significant force.
For now, however, it seems as though the Muslim Brotherhood has moved to coopt its opposition, and therefore has an excellent chance of exercising de facto control over the new parliament, with appropriate cover. The one thing that brings together Egypt’s liberals, leftists, and Islamists is foreign policy. So expect a Brotherhood-dominated coalition to be less than entirely friendly to the United States and Israel.
One of the only positive developments here is that the start of actual party maneuvering may force the Western press to start talking openly about socialist and Arab-nationalist parties. The media’s current characterization of nearly all non-Islamist groups as “secular liberals” is deeply misleading.