#12 power
Fady Salah

The Army, the Brotherhood, and the Liberals: the Story of the Power Struggle in Egypt

Three parties hold most of the power in Egypt. Recent developments are a mirror of their struggles. Who is going to last?

The accelerating events happening every day in Egypt have prompted many scholars and political analysts to seek scientific explanations for them. In fact, many political and sociological theories can be used to analyze the current transitional period in Egypt. But as a local political analyst and journalist, I tend to classify the recent Egyptian situation as a power struggle among the leading political forces that influence the Egyptian political scene, namely: the Armed Forces, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), and the Egyptian liberal groups.

The power of Mubarak

Throughout his 30-year rule, former president Mubarak [1] managed to keep the influence of those three forces under relative control. This was achieved through the policies of the 85-year-old Mubarak, who used his power to restrict these forces.

Mubarak’s use of power was apparent in his attempts to control {2] the media, and, although it was not under complete control, it was relatively constrained [3] during his rule. Notably, such control was more significant for the state-run newspapers [4].

In addition to media control, security forces were the main power instrument used by Mubarak to oppress the opposition. Police forces committed many violations [5] against opposition forces, protesters, MB members, and journalists, granting Mubarak’s regime the deserved title of an authoritarian police regime.

Those tools, along with others, led to the very poor representation [6] of opposition forces, Islamists and liberals in the parliaments of 2005 and 2010. In 2005, opposition forces won 98 of the 444 parliamentary seats, while in 2010 they won only 15 out of the 504 seats.

Such results are an indication of Mubarak’s success at using different power manifestations to restrict the opposition, which included both the liberal forces and the MB, two of the current three main political actors in Egypt.

The fall of old powers, the unity of others

Reacting to the continuous violations committed by police in addition to the other authoritarian threats of Mubarak’s rule, the dissent of both citizens and elites rose significantly, and several opposition blocs were formed. The Kifaya [7] (meaning enough) movement was formed in 2004, and was followed by several opposition blocs, most importantly the April 6 Youth Movement [8] in 2008, and the National Association for Change [9] in 2010.

These blocs, especially the last, succeeded in bringing liberal and Islamist forces together, and with the increasing public dissent came the January 25 revolution in 2011. After few days of mass protests in which tens of protesters were killed, even the armed forces took to the streets to maintain order and to protect state institutions. On Feb. 11 2011, former vice-president Omar Suleiman delivered a historical short speech [10], announcing that Mubarak has stepped down and put the armed forces in charge of administrating Egypt. The speech launched a new political era for Egypt: the post-Mubarak era.

Foes again

As Mubarak stepped down, the once-united liberal and Islamist forces began splitting and emerged as two opposing political forces. The armed forces that ruled the country temporarily at the time were perceived as a third political force, and a very powerful one indeed.

Throughout the following 18 months, Egypt witnessed dozens of political events until Mohamed Morsi, a leading figure in the Muslim Brotherhood and Head of their Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), was elected president of Egypt on June 30, 2012.

But many people were disappointed by their president elect. One year later, millions of Egyptians [11] again took to the street to declare their dissatisfaction with Morsi’s rule and demand his removal. The armed forces took to the streets again as well, and on July 3 2013, General Abdel Fattah El-Sisi announced [12] the ousting of Morsi [13]. Morsi, the first ever MB president of Egypt, witnessed quite a lot in just one year, as he is now imprisoned and facing several charges, including espionage, killing protesters, and insulting the judiciary [14].

Let’s try to assess the nature of power relations between the three main political actors during this period as well as the power tools used by each of them to influence the Egyptian political scene.

The army

Throughout its long history, the Egyptian army has maintained a sacred position in the minds of Egyptians. This position has been the result of two main factors: the army’s battles to free Egypt from foreign occupation throughout its history, and Egyptians’ belief that army personnel are their brothers, fathers, sons, and friends, given that most Egyptian males join the army for at least one year of their lives since military service is obligatory.

This position was strongly affected during the post-Mubarak transitional period, when many Egyptians criticized the way the army ruled Egypt and even protested against it [15] for attacking protesters, allegedly prolonging the transitional period, and conducting virginity tests [16] on Egyptian female protesters, the incident that resulted in local and international criticism of the army administration that ruled Egypt at the time. However, the fact that millions Egyptians praised the army [17], calling on it to intervene in politics and oust Morsi in June 2013, is a clear indication that the army’s image has changed again. Building on such facts, we can definitely consider that the army’s first power tool for influencing politics in Egypt is the ability to mobilise millions of Egyptians.

In fact, the army recently used this tool. At the end of July, General El-Sisi called on Egyptians to take to the streets [18] to authorize the army to confront the violence and terrorism threatening Egypt, which was prevailing in Sinai [19] as dozens of Islamist militants were attacking army and police forces [20] located there on a daily basis. Millions of Egyptians responded [21] to El-Sisi's calls. “I just want the people to tell the world loud and clear that they have given the power to the army and police to fight violence and terrorism,” said El-Sisi during his speech.

In addition to huge public support, the army currently enjoys fairly charismatic and skillful leadership. This is represented by General El-Sisi, previously the head of Egypt's Army Intelligence Authority. El-Sisi, who was appointed head of the Intelligence Authority under Mubarak, also served in several prestigious military positions, which included the post of Defense Diplomat in Saudi Arabia. Additionally, the 58-year-old general obtained his master’s in strategic studies from the US [22], before former president Morsi appointed him to his current position as the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and Minister of Defense and Military Production.

Since becoming Defense Minister, El-Sisi has worked on fixing the army’s distorted image caused by the pre-Morsi army administration. To achieve this aim, he appointed Egypt's first-ever military spokesperson [23] to issue statements and speak about army operations.

Today, after the ousting of Morsi, a considerable number of Egyptians are calling for El-Sisi to run in the next presidential elections [24]. If he runs for president, the results are most likely to be in the popular General’s favor. The military’s leadership ability is the second power tool in the hands of the Egyptian armed forces. Finally, and in addition to the previous two power indicators, the possession of arms can be considered the third power tool the army enjoys.

The Brotherhood

Another very influential political force is the MB and its political party, the FJP, which leads several minor Islamist coalitions and parties. A significant power tool enjoyed by the MB is the backing of their supporters, who believe that any opposition to the MB is part of a "war against Islam" [25]. Since this is an essential part of MB founder Hassan El-Banna's doctrine [26], nearly all members and supporters of the MB pledge an oath of full and unconditioned “obedience” to their seniors [27], all the way up to their supreme guide, who has the final say in all matters, according to El-Banna's instructions.

This means leading MB figures also have the ability to mobilize masses of their supporters. This was evident in huge pro-MB protests, such as the mobilization of masses [28] to support them in the 2011 parliamentary elections [29] and to approve the controversial [30] constitution of 2012 [31].

Another power tool the MB have recently been using is contacting foreign states in an attempt to bring Morsi back to power. Several leading MB figures explicitly directed their speeches to foreign states, writing statements [32] and logans in English [33] denouncing the overthrow of Morsi. The MB discourse has led to a variety of responses from several international actors: the US expressed its deep concern [34] over the events and suspended part of its military aid to Egypt [35], while the European Union [36] (EU) exerted more diplomatic efforts and called on Egyptian authorities to release Morsi after meeting with him [37].

The statement issued by Coptic Pope Tawadros II [38], where he rebuffed any foreign intervention in Egyptian affairs although tens of Coptic churches and businesses has been torched and burnt [39] by radical Islamists, reveals the difference between the MB's self-interested discourse, which prompted them to seek foreign intervention just to bring Morsi back to power, and the Copts patriotic discourse, which puts the national interest above all else.

Liberal forces

Liberal forces are Egypt’s third influential political actor. Although they appear to be the weakest, they still have some power indicators that grant them relative influence over the Egyptian political apparatus.

A few days before Morsi’s overthrow, and as the army started warning him that he could be toppled, some liberal opposition forces and leading figures expressed their clear support of the army [40], which they have maintained to the present time. A logical reason behind such support is that those forces acknowledge that they are currently not strong enough to nominate a presidential candidate with the ability to win an election.

Accordingly, it is a rational decision for them to support the army in getting rid of the MB during the current phase, until they are hopefully able to compete for the presidency in a few months, or maybe in a few years.

A significant power tool is reliance on the huge dissent over the Islamists’ performance and policies adopted during the previous year. Such dissent would logically prompt many dissatisfied citizens to vote for a new alternative, for liberal forces, in the upcoming parliamentary elections, which would then witness no army representatives, granting the liberals an opportunity to get hold of a power share in the new Egyptian political system.

Building on this analysis, the army seems to be the most influential political actor in today's Egypt. If the army can maintain its three power indicators, I suppose that it is most likely to remain on top of the Egyptian political scene during the next 3-4 years.


[1] More about Mubarak http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hosni_Mubarak

[2] Attempts To Control http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3969270,00.html

[3] Media Under His Rule PDF, http://www2.gsu.edu/%7Ewwwaus/Vol8/JMEM2012_ElMasry.pdf

[4] More on State-Run Newspapers http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-11313738

[5] Violations http://www.hrw.org/world-report-2011/egypt

[6] More about Very Poor Representation http://egyptelections.carnegieendowment.org/2010/09/10/egypt%E2%80%99s-elections-primer

[7] More about Kifaya PDF, http://http//www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/monographs/2008/RAND_MG778.pdf

[8] More about The April 6 Youth Movement http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/25/magazine/25bloggers-t.html?_r=0

[9] More about The National Association For Change http://egyptelections.carnegieendowment.org/2010/09/22/national-assocation-for-change

[10] Historical Short Speech http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/12/world/middleeast/12-suleiman-speech-text.html

[11] More about Millions of Egyptians http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/06/30/us-egypt-protests-idUSBRE95Q0NO20130630

[12] Announcement of General Abdel Fattah El-Sisi http://www.egyptindependent.com/news/excerpts-general-abdel-fattah-al-sisi-s-speech

[13] The Ousting Of Morsi http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jul/03/mohamed-morsi-egypt-second-revolution

[14] More about Insulting The Judiciary http://news.yahoo.com/egypts-morsi-faces-accusation-insulting-judges-093841185.html

[15] More about The Protest http://www.egyptindependent.com/news/protesters-vow-continue-sit-against-scaf

[16] More about The Virginity Tests http://www.hrw.org/news/2011/11/09/egypt-military-virginity-test-investigation-sham

[17] More about The Army Praise http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContent/1/64/75447/Egypt/Politics-/Egypt-army-ultimatum-hailed-by-opposition,-sparks-.aspx

[18] More about Call on Egyptians http://www.sis.gov.eg/En/Templates/Articles/tmpArticleNews.aspx?ArtID=69083

[19] More about Prevailing In Sinai http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/09/08/us-egypt-protests-idUSBRE9860JT20130908

[20] More about The Attack Of Army And Police Forces http://news.yahoo.com/twin-bomb-attack-against-army-egypts-sinai-075613954.html

[21] More about The Response of Millions Of Egyptians http://www.nzherald.co.nz/world/news/article.cfm?c_id=2&objectid=10903842

[22] General al-Sisi at the U.S. Army War College http://sherifazuhur.wordpress.com/2013/08/01/general-al-sisi-at-the-u-s-army-war-college-by-sherifa-zuhur

[23] Egypt's First-Ever Military Spokesperson http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4417161,00.html

[24] El-Sisi To Run In The Next Presidential Elections http://www.aa.com.tr/en/politics/224398--calls-grow-for-egypts-top-general-to-run-for-president

[25] War Against Islam http://mbinenglish.wordpress.com/2013/08/16/fjp-helwan-facebook-page-on-church-attacks

[26] More about Hassan El-Banna's Doctrine http://web.youngmuslims.ca/online_library/books/tmott

[27] Rethinking The Muslim Brotherhood http://mideast.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2012/12/17/rethinking_the_muslim_brotherhood

[28] More about The Mobilization Of Masses http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContent/33/104/24939/Elections-/Political-Parties/Freedom-and-Justice-Party.aspx

[29] 2011 Parliamentary Elections http://egyptelections.carnegieendowment.org/2012/01/25/results-of-egypt%E2%80%99s-people%E2%80%99s-assembly-elections

[30] Controversial Constitutionhttp://rt.com/news/egypt-approves-constitution-941

[31] Constitution Of 2012 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-20829911

[32] Writing Statements http://www.dailynewsegypt.com/2013/07/19/interview-gehad-el-haddad-this-is-a-police-state-back-in-full-brute-force

[33] Slogans In English http://i.alalam.ir/news/Image/original/2013/07/22/alalam_635100783925068205_25f_4x3.jpg

[34] US Expressed Its Deep Concern http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/obama-condemns-egypt-violence-as-muslim-brotherhood-storms-government-building-in-cairo-8762731.html

[35] Military Aid http://news.yahoo.com/obama-halts-delivery-f-16s-egypt-given-current-154423245.html

[36] European Union http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2013/07/2013717124459915328.html

[37] Aftermeeting http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContent/1/64/77777/Egypt/Politics-/EU-envoy-Ashton-meets-Morsi,-nears-deal-to-end-vio.aspx

[38] Statement Issue by Coptic Pope Tawadros II http://www.sis.gov.eg/En/Templates/Articles/tmpArticleNews.aspx?ArtID=69669

[39] Churches torched across Egypt in anti-Coptic violence http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContent/1/64/79124/Egypt/Politics-/Churches-torched-across-Egypt-in-antiCoptic-violen.aspx

[39] Aftermeeting http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContent/1/64/77777/Egypt/Politics-/EU-envoy-Ashton-meets-Morsi,-nears-deal-to-end-vio.aspx

[40] Support Of The Army http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContent/1/64/75430/Egypt/Politics-/Rebel-campaign,-opposition-react-positively-to-Egy.aspx

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