mead cohen berger shevtsova garfinkle michta grygiel blankenhorn
Egypt’s Liberals Have a Weak Hand—and They Know It

Yesterday President Mohamed Morsi announced that the country will hold parliamentary elections this coming April. Bloomberg reports that, while Egypt’s Islamists are pleased, the liberal opposition is furious:

“Holding the elections amid the persisting social tension and fragility of state institutions and before reaching a national consensus is irresponsible and will inflame the situation,” ElBaradei, a Nobel laureate who led the International Atomic Energy Agency, said on Twitter today.

ElBaradei’s National Salvation Front, the broadest secular group, has threatened to boycott elections unless voting is delayed to allow tensions to ease, the economy to recover and the constitution to be amended to reverse measures it says were imposed by Islamists.

When an opposition thinks it can win an election, it normally demands early ones. That opponents of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood are angry about the prospect of an election just a few weeks from now tells us exactly what they think about their popularity in Egypt.

Many things are happening in Egypt, not least of which is a general economic meltdown that threatens to wreck all plans for parliamentary governance. But one of the key factors shaping the country right now is a disconnect between Egypt’s elite and its ordinary citizens. The country’s relatively sophisticated, cosmopolitan, urban, upper middle class wants modern, democratic government, but the majority of Egyptians are not part of this class and have different priorities. Historically this was the situation in France in 1848, and we see it today in places like Thailand. The name “Napoleon” alone won French rural support for Louis-Napoleon; in Egypt the label “Islam” is good enough for many voters.

It’s difficult if not impossible to resolve this kind of division without some kind of authoritarian rule. Either the urban middle class imposes its agenda on the countryside or vice versa. It’s not clear yet which will happen in Egypt, but the opposition’s panicky reaction to new elections does not speak well of their prospects.

Features Icon
© The American Interest LLC 2005-2016 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service