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Egypt Politics ‘Entering New, Dangerous Period’

June 15, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
More than 200 policemen were deployed outside Egypt's parliament Friday after a court nullified recent elections. Jeffrey Brown and Harvard University professor Tarek Masoud discuss the dashed hopes of the Egyptian people as voters head to the polls this weekend for a presidential election.

TRANSCRIPT

JEFFREY BROWN: And for more, I’m joined by Tarek Masoud, an assistant professor of public policy at Harvard University. He specializes in Islamic political parties and their role in governance.

Well, Tarek, there has been a lot of talk about what has happened in the last couple of days as approaching a kind of coup, almost, by the military, certainly a showing of strength by the military and the old guard. How would you characterize it?

TAREK MASOUD, Assistant Professor of Public Policy, Harvard University: Well, Jeff, it’s important to remember that the decision to dissolve the parliament and the decision to allow Ahmed Shafiq, the old Mubarak prime minister, to run for president, these were not decisions that were made by the military.

They were decisions that were made by the court. So though one — we might look at this as the military behind the scenes pulling the strings. Another way to look at this is that the Egyptian judiciary has stepped in and wants to assert its influence over the process.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, tell us about that judiciary and this court. Who do they represent? Are they independent? Are they beholden to Mubarak or the military or anybody?

TAREK MASOUD: Well, so, if you look at the members of the Supreme Constitutional Court, they’re all appointed by Mubarak. They’re all men who made their careers during the Mubarak era.

But there is a very strong strain of judicial independence in Egypt. And so it’s not entirely clear that we could just look at this and say that the judges are just doing the military’s bidding or the judges have always been loyal to Mubarak. I think basically what happened is this.

The Muslim Brotherhood which had the majority in the parliament didn’t do a very good job of building consensus. And so the Egyptian political space was very fragmented. There was a lot of conflict. And because there was this conflict, because the liberals felt that the Muslim Brothers had broke faith with them, I think this gave the judiciary the opening it needed to step in and clip the Brotherhood’s wings.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, so where does this leave the Muslim Brotherhood? What’s their reaction been to the call for dissolving parliament? And, I mean they are still fielding their candidate in the election, right?  

TAREK MASOUD: That’s absolutely right.

So this is more than a call for dissolving parliament. Parliament has been dissolved. The military has barred the parliamentarians from entering the building. And what has the reaction of the Muslim Brotherhood been? Well, they have gnashed their teeth a little bit. They have lamented this, but they are not taking to the streets.

They are very much focused on the election tomorrow and the day after tomorrow. So, if you look at the photographs of Tahrir Square, that symbol of revolution, they’re completely quiet. The Brothers aren’t there. And, more importantly, the liberals aren’t protesting in the square either because from their standpoint, having the Islamist-dominated parliament be dissolved is not necessarily a bad thing.      

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, let’s fill in that picture a little bit, the secular liberals.

They played such a role in the revolution. They didn’t play much of a role in the parliament. They don’t have a candidate in this presidential election. So, dashed hopes? What happened here?      

TAREK MASOUD: It’s dashed hopes, and I think it’s mismanagement of the political situation by the Muslim Brotherhood.

So, basically the — as you said, the liberals, they were the ones who kind of catalyzed the revolution. The Muslim Brotherhood came in and helped the revolution succeed, but the liberals were very important in getting this revolution started.

But then, once the politics moved towards elections, the liberals were not in a very good position. We know that the Muslim Brotherhood is much more organized. They had a lot more experience running for parliament. The liberals had to scramble to get ready to run for election.

And as a result, the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists dominated the parliament. And the problem is that they then, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamists acted as if they had a mandate. And so they didn’t really reach out as much as they should have to the liberals.

And so when they came to pick the committee to write the constitution, the liberals felt that they were under-represented. And so, as a result, there was this just tremendous conflict. And there was some hope with the first round of the presidential election because the liberal candidate did pretty well, got almost 21 percent of the vote. And that should have indicated to the Muslim Brotherhood that it needed to change its ways a little bit and reach out to these liberals, but that’s not what happened.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, let me just ask you in our last minute. I just want to pick up on something we heard in that ITN piece, the person who said — talked about expectations, about what would happen if Mubarak fell. Then everything would change. And now it becomes clear that perhaps — or it’s not clear, but perhaps not as much is changing as people thought or expected.

TAREK MASOUD: I think — look, I think that’s absolutely true. And one thing we have got to remember when we are talking about all of these maneuvers by elite politicians, there’s 80 million Egyptian people there who are careening towards economic crisis and whose daily lives have not improved over the last 18 months.

And so we have got to remember these are people who have been failed by the military, they have been failed by the liberals, they have been failed by the Muslim Brotherhood, they have been failed by everybody.

There is still some hope. We will see what happens with the presidential election. If the Muslim Brotherhood candidate wins, maybe then that he will — because he won’t have a parliament behind him will have to reach out to other political forces. But I think we are now entering into a very dangerous period.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Tarek Masoud, thanks so much.