Voice

Ready for Their Close-Up

The votes are in, and Islamist parties are ascendant throughout the Arab world. But can they rule?

The great experiment has begun. In recent days, Arab publics have gone to the polls in Tunisia, Morocco, and Egypt, and to no one's surprise, Islamist parties have come out on top in each case. Does this mean that Islamists have "hijacked" the revolution? Or that the Arab Spring will become, as Newt Gingrich put it in the Republicans' foreign-policy debate, an "anti-Christian spring"? The one-word answer is "no." The three-word answer is "I hope not."

Tunisia's al-Nahda party, Morocco's Justice and Development Party, and Egypt's Freedom and Justice Party (the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood) are not secular, but they are democratic -- or at the very least, they have earned the right to have their democratic bona fides tested in the real world of political practice. They won pluralities because they were the best-organized parties in each country, but also because in the years before the populist upheaval they had come to be seen as forces for social justice in the face of autocratic rule.

They've earned their place; but what now? The most pressing question is not about their intentions, pious or otherwise, but about whether they will be permitted to rule at all. In Tunisia, where there is no entrenched rival force, the answer is almost certainly yes. In Morocco, King Mohammed VI promulgated a new constitution to give some authority to the feeble parliament, but he has kept virtually all real power for himself. Last week's election aroused nothing like the enthusiasm of Tunisia's or Egypt's, with turnout a relatively modest 45 percent and large numbers of voters turning in intentionally spoiled ballots. In Egypt, of course, the interim military government, known as the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), has said that it plans to rule until a president is elected, apparently in mid-2012; but Egyptians are increasingly worried that the SCAF will not withdraw even then.

Still, elections have a way of changing the landscape. Morocco's Justice and Development Party (PJD by its French initials), through which the country's Islamists are organized, has already gently pushed back against the palace by asserting that if the king did not choose the party's leader, Abdelilah Benkirane, as prime minister, they would reserve the right to review, and reject, his choice. (The king chose Benkirane.) Ahmed Benchemsi, a Moroccan journalist now at Stanford University and very much a secularist, says, "No other party leader would ever have dared say such a thing." For the first time, he says, "the balance of power is being challenged." The Brotherhood in Egypt has challenged the SCAF by calling for a "cabinet of national salvation," which the group would lead. That won't happen; but the gauntlet has, ever so carefully, been thrown down.

For this reason, some of the secular figures who led the revolution in Tahrir Square have reacted calmly to the Brotherhood's showing. On a recent talk show, Wael Ghonim, the Egyptian Google executive who was a pivotal figure in this year's revolution, was quoted as saying, "It makes no difference to me whether Egypt is a civil or religious state so long as it is correctly run politically and economically." Many others, of course, fear that a Brotherhood-dominated parliament will lead Egypt deeper into obscurantism.

The big decision for the Brotherhood will be who to align with. The real surprise of the ballot so far is that the hard-liner Salafis have taken about a quarter of the vote, far outpacing both the traditional liberals who have long operated in the shadows of the military state and the more radical forces associated with Tahrir Square. The Brotherhood is a worldly force accustomed to political maneuver and compromise; the Salafis are genuine theocrats. The Salafis would probably demand clauses in the constitution limiting the rights of women or non-Muslims and would try to legislate morality, which Brotherhood parliamentarians have avoided seeking to do in the past. A Brotherhood-Salafi alliance would draw a line right through Egyptian society and might well turn Tahrir Square into a cockpit of secular-Islamist confrontation.

Will the Brotherhood turn that way? The New York Times' account of the electoral outcome largely accepted that view. And it's true that the Islamists can now dispense with liberal forces if they want to. On the other hand, Saad el-Katatni, the party secretary general, has explicitly rejected an alliance with Al Nour, the main Salafi group. Marina Ottaway, an Egypt expert with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, points out that during the campaign season, the Freedom and Justice Party tried to build an alliance with secular forces -- which ultimately formed a compact of their own -- and refused to join an Islamist alliance. "If I had to take a bet about that right now," Ottaway says, "I would bet they would form an alliance with the more secular parties and the more moderate elements."

Joshua Stacher, an academic at Kent State University who has studied the inner workings of the Brothers, views them less as an Islamic body than as a giant jobs program. Stacher doesn't think the Brotherhood will provoke a civil war with secular forces, but he also doesn't think they will stand up to the generals who have replaced President Hosni Mubarak. The Brotherhood is no longer an opposition party, Stacher notes: "They're part of the political elite." He can imagine a scenario in which the Brotherhood backs Omar Suleiman, Mubarak's intelligence chief and right-hand man, for president -- a dreadful thought.

What is certainly true is that the prospect of finally gaining power has turned the Brothers into allies of Egypt's military rulers. While other forces stood up against the SCAF's brutality and called for a postponement of elections, the Brotherhood held its tongue and stayed off the street. In a recent speech, Mohammed Badie, the leader of the Brotherhood, known as the supreme guide, lamely explained that his members had declined to join the mass demonstrations -- which led to the deaths of at least 40 protesters -- out of fear of a "conspiracy" seeking "to lure the Brotherhood to the square" and then incite violence. Badie blamed the bloodshed on the ubiquitous "hidden hands" -- Israel, the United States, the CIA -- rather than security forces acting on behalf of the military.

On balance the Brotherhood might be less inclined to forge an alliance with the Salafis than it will be to serve as a facade and a prop for the military. (The same may be true of the PJD in Morocco, though it would be providing window dressing for the palace rather than the generals.) That would indeed amount to hijacking the revolution. But this is what democracy is for. Should the Brotherhood become an Islamist-accented version of Mubarak's old National Democratic Party, the Egyptian public won't stand for it. The Islamists could win one election, but lose the next. Of course there's the fear that they simply wouldn't stage another election. But the Brotherhood's own members wouldn't stand for that. "The era of 'one man, one vote, one time' is over," says Stacher.

Meanwhile, Barack Obama's administration has been reaching out to the Brotherhood. Last week, two midlevel State Department officials went to the organization's headquarters to meet with Essam el-Erian, a senior Brotherhood leader and the party's vice chairman. With the apparent Islamist victory, Obama may be tempted to pull back and perhaps even reduce the pressure on the SCAF to hand over power to a civilian government. The United States has, after all, been doing business with military rulers in Egypt for 60 years. But that era, too, is over. Whatever threat the Islamists pose, to Egypt or to the West, pales before the threat of further clumsy and brutal military rule.

FETHI BELAID/AFP/Getty Images

Terms of Engagement

Continental Divide

Do Europeans believe in the European Union enough to save it?

"Europe is either going to fall forward or fall back," my friend Pierre, a French diplomat, told me when I was in Paris last month. "And it must fall forward." By "fall forward," he meant that European countries must agree to surrender to the European Union much of their control over economic issues, as they already have over currency, internal migration, and the like. And by "must" he meant that the crisis over the euro had brought the system to a supreme moment of decision in which Europeans had to choose between greater integration and collapse.

"But will Europeans agree to fall forward?" I asked.

"That's the problem," said Pierre with a rueful grin.

Yes, that's the problem -- or rather, the Gordian knot that Europe's policy intellectuals and political leaders can neither cut nor unravel. The American sense of institutional dysfunction -- a lobbyist-owned Congress, a minority able to block a majority in the Senate -- seems modest by comparison. For an equivalent sense of crisis, you'd almost have to go back to the period in the 1780s when Americans recognized that the Articles of Confederation provided too weak a framework to keep the former colonies -- at the time more like separate countries than provinces -- bound together; the states ultimately accepted the need to surrender much of their sovereignty to an empowered central government.

In a recent essay, Mark Leonard, director of the European Council on Foreign Policy, wrote of "the necessity and impossibility of integration." The "necessity" part of the equation is clear enough. A deep recession, along with an acute banking crisis, has left Europe's weaker economies, including Greece, Ireland, Italy, and Portugal, with enormous debts relative to the size of their economies. The market has responded by refusing to buy the bonds those countries issue save at interest rates so high that first one of them, then another, has been threatened with bankruptcy. And the wealthier countries of the eurozone, fearing a contagion that could engulf them all, have agreed -- in the most piecemeal and grudging manner possible -- to raise sufficient capital to temporarily avert default, leaving publics in both debtor and creditor nations furious and resentful. A currency union of 17 nations, each with their own tax rates and public sector employment rates and labor market rules -- and above all, their own wildly varying rates of productivity -- cannot last. Either a mechanism has to be found to make them behave more like one another, or the 20-year-old experiment that is the euro, and perhaps even the half-century-old experiment that is the EU, will come to an end.

What would that mechanism to be? Most of the suggestions involve a so-called "two-speed Europe," with an avant-garde accepting a much greater degree of mutual integration and a rearguard adhering more or less to the current system -- in effect, falling forward and standing pat at the same time. The avant-garde would likely consist of the current euro states, while the others, like Britain, Denmark, and Poland, would constitute the rearguard. The "euro-core" countries could achieve their federated system by changes in EU treaty, by operating inside existing treaties, or by reaching a series of intergovernmental arrangements. One scheme envisions a kind of consolation-prize entity for the non-core countries, a free-trade zone that might even incorporate non-EU members like Turkey and Russia.

All such plans are fraught with difficulties. Britain, among others, would never accept second-class citizenship, and instead might leave the EU altogether. The weaker states in the euro-core might choose to revert to their own currency rather than undergo radical economic and political surgery. But the greatest problem is that ordinary European citizens, unlike Americans in 1787, are not prepared to surrender their sovereignty to a federal government. European leaders once imagined that this shift in loyalties was almost inevitable. In 1948, Winston Churchill said, "We hope to see a Europe where every man of every country will think of being European as belonging to their native land...." But that has not come to pass. The cautious, step-wise process of European integration hit a roadblock with the effort to adopt a European constitution in 2005, which both the French and the Dutch rejected in a referendum.

Further movement toward integration -- which increasingly has meant building the capacity to hold laggard economies to account -- has thus been carried out quietly, by bureaucrats in Brussels rather than openly, through democratic means. And EU membership now comes not only with delightful opportunities, like passport-free travel, but with onerous (if often unenforced) obligations, like budgetary discipline. This has led to the current crisis in legitimacy. "As the EU matured as a political project," Mark Leonard writes, "its very success as a bureaucratic phenomenon fueled a populist backlash at a national level." The eurozone crisis has only accelerated this process. The new, Brussels-approved prime ministers in Italy and Greece have broad public support. But what happens when they begin to implement the painful austerity measures required to stave off default and meet the terms of bailout agreements? Even if voters conclude that deep cuts in public spending, pensions and wages are a price worth paying in order to remain in the eurozone, their resentment of the system will only grow.

There are two ways to view this populist alienation from Brussels: as a matter of culture and as a matter of politics. The former European Commissioner Chris Patten has suggested that the nation-state is "the largest unit, perhaps, to which people will willingly accord emotional allegiance." As David Brooks wrote in a recent New York Times column, West Germans were prepared to make major sacrifices to reunite with their eastern brethren, but Germans generally are not prepared to pay for the Greeks. Indeed, this popular antipathy has handcuffed German Chancellor Angela Merkel as she has tried to reach agreement with Europeans leaders on a solution to the euro crisis. The EU is thus a symptom of a larger crisis of liberalism, which once imagined that men would slough off their atavistic loyalties, whether to nation or to God, in the name of prosperity, efficiency, and rationality, with Greeks and Swedes alike becoming fresh-minted Europeans. The EU, Brooks writes, was only one of several ultimately failed post-World War II efforts -- the United Nations was another -- "to build governments that were transnational, passionless and safe."

All that may well be so; but the EU has exacerbated this intrinsic cultural problem by consistently choosing technocracy over democracy. You cannot move from an Articles of Confederation world to a United States of Europe by bureaucratic stealth, or by quiet agreements between political leaders. Joschka Fischer, the former German foreign minister and a leading proponent of a two-speed Europe, has argued that further integration can only be pursued "in the bright light of democratic politics." Fischer asserts that that European leaders must openly acknowledge that sovereignty is at issue here, and must respond to public concern by ensuring a strong role for national parliaments in any future settlement. Mark Leonard pointed out in a phone conversation that Europeans will only agree to the further surrender of sovereignty if the EU embraces issues that they, and not just their bankers, care about, such as immigration -- and if financial prescriptions are seen to promote growth, and not just austerity, the great German preoccupation. Absent pro-growth policies, the whole project may become irrelevant in any case, since the most endangered economies will never pay off their debt through cuts alone.

The cultural problem may be insuperable. It is, if anything, compounded by technology: The overall direction of the world is towards disaggregation, homemade networks of the likeminded, suspicion of distant authority. Perhaps the EU will come to be seen, in retrospect, as a quintessential product of the second half of the twentieth century. And yet the EU has not only brought immense prosperity to Europe but has helped foster Europe's collective identity as a place of peace, tolerance, and the good life. That's why my friend, Pierre, and so many others, believe that Europe must fall forwards. But it will never do so without broad political legitimacy; and that will require a very different EU from the one which has existed until now.