Egypt isn’t Iraq, and it is not Lebanon. Its politics are not militarized. Nearly every gun in the country is held by the army, and if the army has an ideology it’s one of crony capitalism and nationalism, not radical Islam. It was only a few months ago that liberals in Tahrir Square said “the army and the people are one hand” after the military forced Mubarak out, but today they correctly describe the junta as the military dictatorship that it is. It hasn’t fallen out of favor as much as Mubarak did, but it has fallen.
The Muslim Brotherhood has lost some of its popularity, too, for a number of reasons. It denounced and intimidated Egypt’s liberal and leftist activists, it is colluding with the military dictatorship, and Egypt’s political space in the post-Mubarak era has opened up space for more parties. Last year the Muslim Brotherhood was the only real opposition in town. It could count on the anti-Mubarak “protest vote.” That is no longer true. Both the Islamists and the army have less legitimacy than they recently did.
But what if they save each other by banding together? That’s what Hala Mustafa is afraid of. She’s frustrated that Western analysts don’t seem to get this, but Paul Berman said as much himself not long ago in The New Republic.
“The Egyptian army,” he wrote, “which must be dreaming of action, is also maneuvering to survive, and if the generals have not already cut a deal, surely they are working on one, which can only mean that, in the Arab world’s leading country, the army and the Brotherhood are arranging a do-over of their unfortunate falling-out in 1952, and this time the results will make room for both of them.”