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Issue Guide: Egypt's Tenuous Road to Democracy

Author: Jonathan Masters, Deputy Editor
July 3, 2012


The election of Mohamed Morsi as Egypt's first post-revolution president is a symbolic but ambiguous landmark on the country's road to democracy. Morsi's victory, which will install Egypt's first civilian rule in over six decades, is unlikely to provide answers to the bigger questions regarding the country's future constitution, the development of its governing institutions, and the outsized role of the military throughout this formative process. A series of political power plays by the ruling generals in recent weeks, including disbanding parliament and significantly diluting the authority of the incoming president, has cast a pall over the prospects for an orderly transition in the world's most populous Arab state. The following materials provide expert analysis and essential background on some of the central issues surrounding these events.

Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood

CFR Interview: Morsi's 'Difficult Balancing Act' Ahead

Egypt's new President Mohamed Morsi faces a number of challenges, including a disbanded parliament, a rocky economy, and a powerful military, says expert Daniel Brumberg.

Reuters: Newsmaker: Egypt's Morsi Goes From Prisoner to President

The election of Mohamed Morsi, a U.S.-educated engineer, breaks the military's domination of the presidency, which has been occupied by a member of the armed forces for over sixty years.

Washington Post: Who Is Mohamed Morsi?

Mohamed Morsi, Egypt's newly anointed president, was selected by the Muslim Brotherhood for his allegiance to the organization's conservative wing, writes the Post's Leila Fadel.

Al-Jazeera: The Power of Mohamed Morsi

Whether Mohamed Morsi will wield any real power after assuming the presidency remains an "enormous question," write Gregg Carlstrom and Evan Hill. His choice of a prime minister should reveal clues on his ability to work well with other state institutions, particularly the courts, they write.

CFR Backgrounder: Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood

The Muslim Brotherhood's political ascension in parliament and the presidency raises questions about whether the Islamist group will choose a path of moderation or extremism.

CFR Blog: Three Myths About the Muslim Brothehood

Steven A. Cook examines and dispels some of the mythology surrounding the Muslim Brotherhood, including the group's pedigree of violence, its democratic pretensions, and its potential for a workable relationship with the United States.

BusinessWeek: The Economic Vision of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood Millionaires

Bloomberg's Suzy Hansen examines the "one percenters" of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, a small group of businessmen and "former pariahs [that] have become the country's newest elite."

The Power of the Military

CFR Blog: After the Arab Spring, the Junta's Summer

Egypt is not a country with a military, but a military with a country, writes CFR's Ed Husain. The youth that helped drive the revolution now seem powerless to stop the old regime from reasserting itself, he says.

CFR Blog: Egypt's Military Adopts Turkish Model to Retain Power Over Morsi

The military's June 17 decree hedged against Morsi's win by approximating the tutelary role the Turkish military enjoyed until recently, writes CFR's Steven A. Cook.

Al Jazeera: Who Are Egypt's Military Rulers?

This profile from Gregg Carlstrom provides background on Egypt's Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and a few of its leading members.

International Crisis Group: Lost in Transition: The World According to Egypt's SCAF

This ICG report takes an in-depth look at Egypt's Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, a body once lauded as the "revolution's protector," and now condemned by many as an impediment to democracy.

Economist: Egypt in Peril

In the power struggle between the military and the Islamists, Western governments should support the latter, says the Economist. A revolutionary backslide in Egypt could threaten the march of democracy elsewhere in the Arab world.

Agence Global: The Egyptian Military's Two Big Mistakes

The military's recent "power grab" will send Egypt into a long period of political struggle, where the central question will be to see which groups can gain both power and democratic legitimacy, writes Mideast expert Rami G. Khouri.

The Path to Democracy

Project Syndicate: The Egyptian Crucible

Mohamed Morsi's narrow presidential victory reflects "a polarized, exhausted society that lacks confidence in the electoral process and the candidates," writes Javier Solana, former NATO secretary-general.

CFR Blog: The Pharaoh's Legacy

Former president Hosni Mubarak and the institutions he established "continue to linger like an unwanted houseguest," making a mockery of the country's transition to democracy, writes CFR's Steven A. Cook.

CFR Book: The Struggle for Egypt

Steven A. Cook offers a sweeping account of Egypt in the modern era: what Egypt is, what it stands for, and its relation to the world.

National Interest: The Salafi Awakening

The biggest surprise of Egypt's election, write Daniel Byman and Zack Gold, was the success of the Salafi Islamist bloc, which won nearly a quarter of the seats. A strong Salafi presence in Egyptian politics is likely to pose a challenge to U.S. interests in the region, they write.

Foreign Policy: Egypt's Constitutional Chaos

Egypt's drafting of a new constitution is a seminal step in its path toward democracy, but the process is a "train wreck," write Mara Revkin and Yussuf Auf.

U.S. Institute of Peace: Egypt, Elections, and the Fate of the Transition

Many obstacles stand in the way of Egypt's transition to democracy, says USIP's Dan Brumberg. It remains to be seen whether a reworked autocracy is established or the opposition can push back effectively against the military and its allies, he says.

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace: The Egyptian Political System in Disarray

Recent developments in Egypt, including unilateral moves by the constitutional court and the military, betray a political system in significant disarray, writes Arab politics expert Nathan J. Brown.

Jadaliyya: The Troubled Revolutionary Path in Egypt: A Return to Basics

The lifespan of a revolution is not eighteen months, writes Egyptian journalist Hossam El-Hamalawy. He says Egypt is at a critical point "when the counterrevolution is on the offense, but by no means should we expect the revolution to be finished."

BBC: Q&A: Egypt's New Constitutional Declaration

This primer from the BBC examines the June 17 constitutional declaration by Egypt's Supreme Council of Armed Forces and what it means for the country's fragile democratic transition.

U.S. Policy Toward Egypt

Foreign Policy: Reach Out to Morsi

Egypt's new president deserves the benefit of the doubt, writes Yossi Beilin, and the world should fulfill its promises--both financial and political-- to the country. A helping hand from Israel and the West can be retracted if Morsi disappoints, he says.

Atlantic: The Real Reason the U.S. Should Cut Military Aid to Egypt

The $1 billion in military aid Washington provides Egypt gives the White House a certain degree of leverage over the SCAF, writes Shadi Hamid. But it also leads many Egyptians to believe the United States is backing the ruling generals, he writes.

Congressional Research Service: Egypt in Transition

This report from the bipartisan Congressional Research Service provides a brief overview of the political changes under way in Egypt and a short history of U.S. foreign aid to the country.

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