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June 04, 2010

Why Can't the Egyptian Opposition Get Along?
Posted by Shadi Hamid

I have a new piece out in Foreign Policy on the failure of the Egyptian opposition to unite, even in circumstances that would seem particularly conducive to opposition unity. Today, the Mubarak regime is as unpopular as ever. Mubarak's health is deteriorating. The succession of his son, Gamal - once a sure thing - is no longer. And then there's the rise of the occasionally Obama-like Mohamed El Baradei. Put it all together and you'd think the Egyptian opposition would get its act together and take advantage of the window of opportunity. But, as it turns out, you'd be wrong.

The piece draws on interviews, meetings, discussions I had in May with leading members of the Egyptian opposition, including Ayman Nour and senior Muslim Brotherhood officials. Here's a teaser:

No group really trusts the other. Some of this has to do with ideology - liberals and Islamists have rather different views of what Egypt should look like. But much of it has to do with the lopsided power balance; The Brotherhood is a massive organization, boasting up to 300,000 members, while its liberal counterparts are elite outfits with little grassroots support. One might expect, then, that Islamists would play a leading role in any opposition coalition. Liberals, however, have different ideas. "We are very protective of the idea of liberals in the position of leadership because we don't want to work for the Brotherhood's agenda," explained Taha. Echoing similar concerns, former presidential candidate Ayman Nour told me that "we have to work together but we can't afford to be swallowed [by them]."  

For the Brotherhood, these arguments hold little water. According to Mohammed Morsi, the liberals want to have it both ways - benefiting from the Brotherhood's numbers but leaving its agenda by the wayside. "The ideological direction [of their preferred coalition] would be liberal-secular but the popular support would come from the ranks of the Brotherhood; this doesn't make any rational sense... [the liberals] want us but without our ideas," he said.

ElBaradei has made some tentative efforts to reach out to the Brotherhood, suggesting the potential for what would undoubtedly be a powerful alliance. But, if ElBaradei is flirting with Islamists, Islamists feel he is not flirting enough. One Brotherhood leader I spoke to complained that Saad al-Katatni, who represents the Brotherhood in ElBaradei's National Association for Change, has not been included in top-level discussions. "The founders [of NAC] informed [us] about the coalition only after the fact," complained Morsi. "Then they asked us to join without asking for our substantive input."

You can read the whole thing here.

UPDATE: Issandr El Amrani at The Arabist comments on my piece.


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