With clashes overnight between police and Muslim Brotherhood protesters killing ‘scores’ of people in the streets of Cairo, it’s worth taking a step back and remembering exactly how we got here. This excellent Reuters special report on the very recent history of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt serves that purpose.The authors argue that the Brotherhood’s actual downfall began with the fateful decision to put forward a presidential candidate. Initially, the Brotherhood’s leadership was deeply split on the wisdom of running at all. Khairat El-Shater, their charismatic deputy leader, was against it: “[T]he world’s not ready for it, Egypt’s not ready for it, and… the burdens of Egypt are too big for any one political actor.”Shater’s cautious approach was eventually rejected by the younger, hungrier Brotherhood members who thought the time was ripe to assume power. After days of internal lobbying and a nail-bitingly close vote at the Brotherhood’s Shura Council—56-52—the Brothers decided to put forward a candidate. Shater was initially nominated, and was just as quickly disqualified by an electoral commission staffed by Mubarrak loyalists. The nomination thus fell to Mohammed Morsi, a politically tone-deaf and uncharismatic provincial engineering professor who had studied in the United States. Colleagues reported him leaving the Brotherhood offices weeping. “He had been given a responsibility that he had not sought.”That decision was the first turning point. The others: “the way Morsi pushed through the constitution; the failures of the secular opposition; and the military’s decision to step in,” eventually led to Morsi’s eviction and the ongoing suppression of the Muslim Brothers.Now what?
The military now faces the same conundrum it failed to solve in 2011-12: how to make Egypt work without taking responsibility, and hence unpopularity, for painful reforms? In their first temporary stint in power, the generals presided over a period of economic stagnation, unabated human rights abuses and scant reform. […]This time, it’s different, said the colonel. The army will not govern and there will be a short, sharp transition to elected civilian government. Yet despite a sudden infusion of $12 billion in Saudi, UAE and Kuwaiti aid, the starting conditions look worse than for the previous period of military rule.
This is all just a small taste of a very rich and deep article. Do yourself a favor and read the whole thing. As Egypt’s uncertain revolution pursues its erratic and unpredictable course, we are getting a real-time chance to observe a major historical drama. Learning about Egypt today will help you understand similar great events in the past, and offers timeless lessons about human nature and political life. Most revolutions end badly, and Egypt’s so far isn’t going particularly well, but revolution itself is one of the most important political phenomena in existence, and the opportunity to study and observe one as it unfolds is not to be thrown away.It’s impossible to follow this revolution without developing a deep admiration for so many people in Egypt struggling to build a better society; it is impossible, also, to follow these events without trying to understand why positive change is so hard. Like the French in 1789 or the Russians in 1917, many Egyptians feel that the conditions of their lives have become unendurable, and they hope and believe that a great change for the better is just a few short political steps away. Such hopes are almost always delusory, but the people who chase these phantasms change the world.