There is a paradigm nobody talks about much anymore in regard to Egypt: the democratic transition. The problem with the idea of democratic transition, dearly beloved by the Barack Obama Administration, most of my colleagues in political science, and the Muslim Brotherhood, was that it presumed the institutions of the state would be passed, intact, from the old regime to the new. Through elections, constitutions, and the circulation of new elites, popular sovereignty and democratic practice would re-invigorate the barren institutions of the old order. Where necessary, new ones would be created.
What, we are impelled to ask, went wrong in Egypt? What made it, as one analyst is reported to have said, the stupidest transition ever or the revolution that never was? Or did the fault lie not in our Egypt but our selves? Not least in our inability to recognize that the complicated and confusing period, lasting a decade or more, between the first observation of revolutionary upheaval and its conclusion, is both more important and more uncertain than we feel comfortable with. (...)
The dominant concern in Egypt today is the high, and increasing, level of polarization. It seems to be common in the US and Europe to describe this a conflict between the country’s minority urban secular middle-class and its religious (Islamic) majority. That Egypt has become increasingly polarized is apparent, but it is doubtful that the polarization that paralyzes the country is between the secular middle-class and the rest of Egypt. Much of the violence in the streets today is occurring outside of Cairo in the Canal Zone and the provincial cities of the Delta, places not known for their large, secular middle classes. The violence is often specifically between the Muslim Brotherhood, its direct supporters and its occasional allies on specific issues, and the restive lower middle and working classes in these cities. Socially, we can speak of polarization on many dimensions. There is a marked rural/urban dimension to what we see. There is also a clear aspect of educational attainment. In terms of religion there is also an obvious Christian/Muslim dimension, but within the Muslim community there may also be an antagonism based on how the Brotherhood understands Islam in the modern world. Lastly, there is a rather widespread dissatisfaction with what many Egyptians perceive as the Brotherhood’s own internal lack of transparency and democracy and aggrandizing organizational ambitions. These, in turn, provide both local and national elites with the basis through which they have opposed the Brotherhood but over which they have very little direct influence.(...)
Looking forward, then, we can see two institutional forces with significant legitimacy: the Armed Forces and the courts. And we can see, two institutions, paradoxically based on liberal notions of legitimacy—an elected presidency and legislature— are having the most trouble establishing broad acceptance. One problem for the president is that he tries to wield the power of his office in ways consonant with a regime that is dead (the old republic) or with a regime that has not yet been born.