This issue we ask “5 Questions” of Anne Mariel Peters, assistant professor of government who specializes in the Middle East. Her research interests include the durability of Middle Eastern Authoritarianism.
Q: We all saw the stirring images from Egypt in the spring, but there’s been very little coverage of what is happening there since. What happened in the days and weeks after the protest ended?
A: The Egyptian protesters were a diverse group of people with varying levels of policy goals and political sophistication who all coalesced around the need to remove the President Hosni Mubarak’s regime. That we now see acute fragmentation and intense rivalry among formal parties and informal groups is not surprising. However, this has put the groups in poor position to exert leverage over the military leadership, the Supreme Council for the Armed Forces (SCAF), that asserted its role as a transitional government after Mubarak resigned from office.
Two major party coalitions have emerged. The first is the Democratic Alliance, which is headed up by the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party. Although the Brotherhood was prohibited from forming a political party, under Mubarak’s rule it built a political bureau that fronted a number of “independents” in parliamentary and associational elections. Until recently, the Alliance comprised about forty Islamic and secular parties. Yet two-thirds of the original members have since left the Alliance (including leading salafi Islamist parties), after expressing concern that the FJP is trying to take the majority of nominees. The second coalition is the liberal Egyptian Bloc, which was established by Coptic Christian businessman Naguib Sawiris and consists of about twenty parties, fifteen of which have reportedly withdrawn because they fear that the dominant Egyptian Liberals Party is trying to hoard nominations.
Newer and smaller parties, then, are largely responsible for the fragmentation of the coalitions. A more liberal political parties law has allowed many new parties to register, but it also means that many of them are less cohesive and less organized. They fear the disproportionate power of leading parties in their respective coalitions. Although nobody knows its precise level of support, as an older organization the Brotherhood has the advantage of drawing upon pre-established networks. By contrast, the Egyptian Liberals Party is a new party, but has the advantage of resources and support from Egypt’s relatively organized business communities.
Q: It was an odd uprising in that there really wasn’t a single organized political group leading it. What were some of the factors that precipitated it?
A: In general, standards of living were being eroded by inflation and unemployment; the financial sector suffered from corruption and unequal access to capital; and educated Egyptians could not find gainful employment.