Egypt: Has the military junta already won?

Two days ahead of Egypt’s landmark presidential vote, the country’s Supreme Constitutional Court and military government dissolved the one major accomplishment of more than a year of political struggle and turmoil: the first truly democratically elected legislature in the country’s history. The reason, the court said, was that the election—which the judiciary had supervised—was unconstitutional. Few of the newly disenfranchised politicians and activists deemed the decision legitimate. Rather it revealed a clear manipulation by the junta, they said—a final nail in the coffin of Egypt’s nascent and short-lived democracy. But on Friday, a day that has become synonymous with protest in the Middle East since the start of last year’s hopeful Arab Spring, few were protesting. …

It’s not that the Brotherhood sees the Supreme Court’s ruling as legitimate. To many Islamists and liberals alike, the ruling reflected a military move to shut down the Islamists’ one real facet of power before a constitution has been drafted and before the next president’s powers have even been defined. Mubarak’s regime was fond of using the courts that way too, says Ahmed Rageb at the Hisham Mubarak Law Center in Cairo. “The supreme constitutional court has always been political,” he says. It has often served as a convenient cloak for the regime’s authoritarianism. …

But analysts say that even in the face of such blatant bias going into the election, the Muslim Brotherhood has little option but to proceed with the vote. Sultan Al-Qassemi, a writer and prominent commentator on Arab politics on Twitter, says the Brotherhood dug its own grave. “I think it’s a real possibility that they might not win, only because they disenfranchised so many people,” he says. They pushed for too much political power too early on—for the majority share of parliament and positions in the transitional cabinet, frightening the country’s liberals and moderates. They failed to form alliances when they should have. They were too confident, he says. And the result is this: “There aren’t that many people who are vocally upset or unhappy about the dissolution of the parliament. The Muslim Brotherhood has not made many friends, and when the time came for others to stand with them and defend them, they’ve kind of lost all their non Islamist supporters.”