Can There Be Shared Power In Egypt?

Jun 27, 2012
Originally published on July 4, 2012 10:48 am

"The election of muslim brotherhood presidential candidate Mohammed Morsi is another step in the balance of power counter-revolutionary process that many wrongly characterized as a revolution eighteen months ago.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit


The victory of the Muslim Brotherhood's candidate in Egypt's presidential election has analyst Aaron David Miller reflecting on that country's revolution last year. For two decades, Miller advised six secretaries of state on U.S. policy toward the Middle East.

Our colleague Steve Inskeep asked him if the shift in Egyptian politics resulted in any real change.


You suggested that the results of the presidential election underlined for you that you don't even think Egypt's revolution was a revolution. What was it?

AARON DAVID MILLER: Look, it was a heroic, extraordinary set of changes which, for the first time, had the Arabs, the Egyptian people and others throughout the region owning their politics for the first time in their history. And that's a rather extraordinary development. The fact that a civilian - Muslim Brotherhood not withstanding - is the president of Egypt today is an extraordinary development.

But the question is whether or not this was really more a regime change. And in creating a regime change, it opened up space for the two most disciplined, most well-organized and arguably the two most anti-democratic forces in the country to compete for power, to struggle over the character of Egypt's institutions, and ultimately to crowd out the liberal, secular elements who played such a major role in sparking the so-called Arab Spring. So...

INSKEEP: Wait, wait. I want to understand this. When you say there are two institutions that are rather anti-democratic that have been able to compete for power, you're talking about the army, the armed forces and the Muslim Brotherhood, right?

MILLER: Exactly. The question is whether or not they could manage to share power in a way that is directed at bettering and improving the national interests of the Egyptian people and not just their own what I would describe as corporatist influence. Because in a sense...

INSKEEP: Meaning their own businesses, their own power, their own economic interests, their own special issues.

MILLER: That and the Brotherhood's notion - and I don't fear the Brotherhood as much as I worry about its competency. The question here is not that the Islamists can't govern. We've seen these govern very effectively in Turkey. We've seen them govern effectively in Indonesia. Their legitimacy must be tied, ultimately, to whether or not they can deliver: deliver good governance, deliver accountability, transparency, and deliver the reality that they are, in fact, prepared to share power.

The question is, over time, whether or not they can be effective and whether or not they're prepared to be inclusive. And the truth is we don't know the answer.

INSKEEP: You talked about the question of whether the Brotherhood can deliver good governance. What is good governance in the situation that Egypt is in right now? How would you define that?

MILLER: Well, since Egypt is so dependent on external sources of aid and economic reform, the brothers are going to have to adopt a pretty internationalist, reform-minded modernist view of economic change. And...

INSKEEP: In other words, they need money from America. They need money from elsewhere.

MILLER: Exactly, exactly. And to negotiate with the IMF. I think the real role that they're going to have to play - and that very much is going to mean toning down their rhetoric or abandoning it with respect to their criticism to the United States, the peace treaty. Because it seems to me that...

INSKEEP: The peace treaty with Israel, specifically, you mean.

MILLER: Well, yeah. I think the brothers, under the pressure of change and being effective, will have to change their vocabulary. But the question is: Will they be allowed to govern? Will the military actually create enough political space and opening so that they will, in fact, shape and influence these kinds of economic decisions? I don't know the answer to that.

INSKEEP: So they have to make the people at large happy by delivering services and just seeming competent. They have to make their core followers happy by going after some of the basic philosophy of the Muslim Brotherhood. They have to make the army at least not too unhappy so the army doesn't step on them. And it sounds like you feel they also have to make sure they don't annoy the United States too greatly.

MILLER: It's a lot of balls to keep up in the air without dropping any for a party that has never, in its eight decades, ruled anything. The Egyptian military has, in effect, run the country under Mubarak. They at least have the shell of a how-to manual. I'm not sure the Muslim Brotherhood has that, and they may well have to defer to the military and cooperate closely with it.

INSKEEP: Aaron David Miller is a distinguished scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C. Thanks very much.

MILLER: Appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.