The first round of Egyptian parliamentary elections has taken place, and the winners were two Islamist parties. The Islamists themselves are split between more extreme and more moderate factions, but it is clear that the secularists who dominated the demonstrations and who were the focus of the Arab Spring narrative made a poor showing. Of the three broad power blocs in Egypt — the military, the Islamists and the secular democrats — the last proved the weakest.
It is far from clear what will happen in Egypt now. The military remains unified and powerful, and it is unclear how much actual power it is prepared to cede or whether it will be forced to cede it. What is clear is that the faction championed by Western governments and the media will now have to accept the Islamist agenda, back the military or fade into irrelevance.
One of the points I made during the height of the Arab Spring was that the West should be careful of what it wishes for — it might get it. Democracy does not always bring secular democrats to power. To be more precise, democracy might yield a popular government, but the assumption that that government will support a liberal democratic constitution that conceives of human rights in the European or American sense is by no means certain. Unrest does not always lead to a revolution, a revolution does not always lead to a democracy, and a democracy does not always lead to a European- or American-style constitution.
In Egypt today, just as it is unclear whether the Egyptian military will cede power in any practical sense, it is also unclear whether the Islamists can form a coherent government or how extreme such a government might be. And as we analyze the possibilities, it is important to note that this analysis really isn’t about Egypt. Rather, Egypt serves as a specimen to examine — a case study of an inherent contradiction in Western ideology and, ultimately, of an attempt to create a coherent foreign policy.
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