The situation in Egypt grows more worrying by the day. As I tentatively noted earlier, and as now seems more likely, a prominent member of the Muslim Brotherhood, Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, is preparing to stand for Egypt’s presidency. Moneim Aboul Fotouh is running without official Muslim Brotherhood authorization, and may even have to formally break with the organization for doing so. That’s because the Muslim Brotherhood has promised not to put up a candidate for the presidency. But if Moneim Aboul Fotouh runs anyway, as now seems likely, it would mean at least a realistic prospect of Islamist control of both parliament and the presidency of a new Egypt.
In a second development, the Muslim Brotherhood has reportedly announced the formation of an electoral alliance with a collection of even more radically Islamist “Salafi” groups in Egypt. Among these Salafi groups is Jama’a al-Islamiyya. Jama’a now claims to have renounced violence, but it played a role in the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1981, and in the murder of many Western tourists as well. Jama’a is considered an al-Qaeda affiliate and takes the “Blind Sheikh,” prosecuted by Andy McCarthy for his involvement in the first plot to bomb the World Trade Center, as its spiritual leader. If Salafis become part of the dominant faction of Egypt’s new parliament, will the army dare crack down when Egypt’s Christians are attacked? And let’s not even think about the fate of Egypt’s foreign policy in a country with an Islamist-dominated parliament. Osama bin Laden may be dead, but will his supporters soon have a prominent hand in governing Egypt?
Meanwhile, as Lee Smith reports, Egypt is going broke and is in serious danger of running out of food. With its huge tourism industry in shambles, and with many of the crony capitalists behind the country’s recent market liberalization in jail, Egypt’s economy is in a tailspin. Only a massive increase in American aid might stave off disaster, but America can no longer afford that. It’s bad enough that Pakistan’s two-faced military is holding us up for billions just to prevent a worst-case scenario of total collapse and Islamist takeover in a nuclear-armed country. Egypt may soon present us with a version of the same unpleasant choice.
To top it off, with Egypt’s formerly all-powerful police force under political siege, the streets are descending into chaos.
The only upside to all this is that, if Islamists do rule the new Egypt, an economic meltdown on their watch may just discredit them. But what then? As I argue in my NR piece, “A Frightful Democracy,” Egypt’s secular opposition is made up largely of socialists and Nasserists hostile to capitalism and ill-equipped to rescue the economy from crisis. Chaos under an elected government’s watch could lead to a military takeover, which would bring us right back to where we started under Mubarak. But with the forces of secular Nasserism and socialism unleashed, alongside Egypt’s newly resurgent Islamists, could military rule ever again be stable? Any way you slice it, the outlook in Egypt, at least right now, seems grim.