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Region | The Future of Egypt and What It Means for Iran


09 May 2012 03:32Comments

Relations with Islamic Republic unlikely to improve under Egypt's shadow government.

Amir Bagherpour leads a public policy research initiative at the Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans (PAAIA). The first Iranian-born graduate of West Point, he recently completed his Ph.D. at Claremont Graduate University in political science with a focus in international relations.
[ comment ] Democracies are created from negotiations. The prospect of democracy in Egypt will hinge on the military keeping its commitment to relinquish some of its power and the various political parties' commitment to pursue democratization while also weighing the desires of Egypt's transitional military authority. To understand what the future is likely to hold, we must now turn to the past. The military's role as interim custodian for transition in Egypt appears to reflect not the situation in Iran after the Islamic Revolution of 1979 so much as it does the Turkish coup d'état of 1980 and its aftermath. Similar to what occurred in Egypt, the Turkish coup was secularly driven and centered on demands for economic reform. Although Egyptian political groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood and the ultra-conservative Nour Party have Islamist aspirations, the center of gravity in Egypt's revolution has been the populist demand for reforms that have less to do with religious ideology and more to do with high unemployment and economic inequality.

Although the Turkish coup was far more violent than the Egyptian revolution, the conditions and outcomes are astonishingly alike. In September 1980, the Turkish military deposed the civilian government, abolished parliament, and suspended the constitution. Egypt's military took virtually identical actions. The transition from a military regime to a new Turkish democracy, however, began three years after the coup with a one-party election in 1983, whereas Egypt's security forces are claiming they intend to hand over power more quickly. Examining the Turkish precedent, we can conclude that Egypt too must undergo a sequence of evolutionary transitions from the current military rule to a series of successive fair elections, only after which will we be able to call the state democratic.

For now, Egypt continues to develop two parallel governments: a legitimate legislature composed of elected officials and a shadow government comprising the military and intelligence apparatus. The shadow government is less autocratic than the previous Mubarak regime, meaning there will be more stakeholders sharing power within the authoritarian structure. However, it is not likely to meet the threshold even for a semi-democratic system like that in Russia. Two distinct coalitions are forming, one centered on a push for democratic elections under a multi-party system and the other around a military apparatus that maintains authoritarian power. Fearing the rise of even greater anti-Israeli sentiment, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continues to support the Egyptian military and intelligence apparatus as a hedge against the potential for mounting dissent. Israel has consistently turned to the Egyptian military much more than it has to any prospective elected leaders, such as presidential candidate Amr Moussa.

Although Egypt is engaging in a democratic transition, so long as a military council holds ultimate authority, the state's relationship with Iran will not change significantly. Egyptian political parties and presidential candidates such as Moussa will continue to issue statements indicating their desire for greater cooperation with the Islamic Republic, but they will not have sufficient power to shift the status quo toward better relations. Specifically, the military and intelligence services are expected to resist Moussa's attempts to warm up to Iran. The conclusion is that the security apparatus will have a foreign policy that is not in sync with that of the elected administration, a situation that will result in the shadow government operating independently from the official one -- similar to the relationship between Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence and the elected government in Islamabad.

by the same author | Getting Recognized the Right Way: What Iranian Americans Can Learn | Oppression 2.0: Iranian Discontent in Cyberspace (with Roya Soleimani) | The Iranian Influence in Afghanistan (with Asad Farhad)

related reading | Iran and the New Egypt: Better Relations, Greater Competition | Egypt's Revolution Terrifies Iran's Hardliners | Iran and Egypt, Twin Outsiders of the Muslim World

Copyright © 2012 Tehran Bureau

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