An alliance that was formed following the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak between Egypt’s powerful Muslim Brotherhood group and the intractable ruling generals has exhibited cracks in the recent weeks as the country moves closer to the presidential race.
Both parties built up their strengths in the shade during Mubarak’s 30-year rule. The military took advantage of billions of dollars in U.S. military aid to strengthen itself far from the public limelight, while the Muslim brotherhood built up a massive underground network that brought it closer to the lives of millions of Egyptians.
In the wake of the Jan. 25 revolution, both forces made their presence felt in the country’s political center stage. Both appeared to understand one another’s might, agenda, and the need for mutual cooperation, which developed into an alliance – however implicit this might be. The coming together of the two forces in the post-revolutionary Egypt spared the country a clash of the titans.
Coming under fire from liberal groups last year, the military moved closer to the Brotherhood and succumbed to its “less painful” demands in several occasions to win their support. For the generals, winning the support of Egypt’s most powerful political bloc was essential for steering the boat in the direction of their intended objective, which looks more like a democracy, but not a democracy. They want a system in which elected officials manage domestic affairs but have little say on strategic matters.
While everyone was busy talking about a “Turkish model” that reconciles Islam with democracy, the generals in Cairo appeared to be heading towards a “Turkish model” in which a "pasha" general – like the leader of Turkey’s 1980 military coup, Kenan Evren – acts as the custodian of the state’s strategic issues, especially when it comes to foreign policy, including primarily the relation with the United States and Israel.
Muslim Brotherhood leaderships, appearing to have learned from decades of enmity with Egyptian rulers, decided this time it was in their best interest to support the military in the path to democracy, because they are all but certain to emerge as the victors.
The two forces had interests in joint collaboration during the transitional period, but their starkly different – if not opposing – visions of the future dictated their inevitable breakup – and the cracks are emerging.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), has expressed cynicism over the military council’s staunch support for the cabinet of Prime Minister Kamal al-Ganzouri.
“Is it a desire to abort the revolution and destroy the people’s belief in their ability to achieve their goals? Or is there an intention to defraud or influence the forthcoming presidential election?” the Brotherhood’s party asked in a statement.
“If anyone intends to reproduce the former corrupt regime with new faces, the people are ready to move in order to revive their revolution,” the Islamist party threatened.
The military and the Brotherhood have worked together – or rather played together – in an often climate of distrust, which never burst into the open until last week.
Egypt’s military ruler Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi said he could not take it anymore. “We were careful not to be provoked, but what happened recently is enough.” Sounding the warning bell, he called “on all to be aware of history’s lessons not to repeat past mistakes.”
At this stage in Egypt’s transition, the Muslim Brotherhood likely realized that it and the military have two different understandings of democracy.
Unlike the generals, Islamists want a democracy in which elected officials and public institutions would have full power over the military and the country’s foreign policy. The ruling generals, under pressure from Washington, will never accept this…at least without a fight. It is Israel’s security here which is at stake!
(Mustapha Ajbaili is a senior journalist at English Al Arabiya)