On June 16 and 17, revolutionary Egyptians will face an unimaginably painful choice in the run-off to the presidential election, an event that was supposed to be a cause for celebration rather than a somber moment.
On one side stands Mohammed Morsi, the "backup" candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood after its first choice, Khairat al-Shater, was disqualified. The Brotherhood has increasingly earned the distrust of revolutionary and "civil" (the word Egyptians use to describe political liberals) forces by working in the time since the fall of Mubarak to aggressively consolidate its hegemony over Egyptian political life. On the other side is Ahmed Shafiq, Mubarak's final prime minister, close confidante, rumored preferred choice for heir, and a powerful representative of the very regime Egyptians lost their lives fighting to bring down.
In retrospect, the road to this moment seems regrettably logical. It is the result of missteps by revolutionary forces, a growing disconnect between many of the activists and a significant percentage of Egyptian society, and the maneuverings of an Egyptian "deep state" that proved more powerful than previously calculated.
First, revolutionaries themselves admit that it was wrong to leave Tahrir Square on Feb. 11, 2011, after Mubarak had officially stepped down, without installing a suitable government or a setting a detailed roadmap for the democratic transition. What's more, it is argued that they miscalculated the breadth, depth, and reasons of the support for the revolution among the Egyptian people.
From the very beginning, there was a considerable difference in priorities among the groups that took to the streets and squares. For many of Egypt's upper and middle class revolutionaries, the main call to arms was the political oppression and human rights abuses by the Mubarak regime. But for Egypt's underprivileged, it was the dire living conditions, gross disparities in the concentration of wealth, and extreme economic corruption that served as a rallying cry. The oppressive conduct of Mubarak's security apparatus before the revolution, and the unprecedentedly violent conduct during, also played a key role in shocking the nation into rebellion.
When Mubarak was eventually toppled, this rift broke out into the open. Many Egyptians felt the revolution had largely achieved its goals -- 61 percent according to a May 2011 poll -- and that it was time for stability, security and reconstruction in the country. However, activists believed that Mubarak's fall was only the beginning of the road, and that the situation called for continued protest and action for the advancement of the revolution's goals, particularly against the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). With successive rounds of clashes with security forces, the most recent coming in May when protesters and security forces faced off outside the Ministry of Defense, protesters received the brunt of blame for fomenting instability.
But the revolutionaries' challenges went beyond tactics to the very vision of Egypt's future. Activist groups, in part due to the grassroots nature of the movement, were late in generating detailed proposals to achieve their goals. For example, while everyone was united in demands to "purge the judiciary" or "restructure the Interior Ministry," there were few concrete plans to achieve these goals, and fewer still that were effectively marketed to public opinion. As a result, activist groups lost many chances to pressure the current military regime and state institutions at the height of the revolution's popularity.
The revolutionaries' work was made even more difficult by the rise of new political forces and rifts within revolutionary ranks, which made it easier for SCAF to divide and conquer. The political ascent of the Muslim Brotherhood is part of this story, but the meteoric rise of the ultra-traditionalist Salafist movement also dumbfounded everyone's calculations. The Salafists' growing presence on the political scene proved worrisome for Egypt's more moderate and liberal segments of society, furthering for many their tolerance of SCAF's tight grip on power.
The Brotherhood also increasingly abandoned a more centrist path and earlier promises to widely share power, including breaking a pledge that it would not field a presidential candidate. Rather, they embarked on a grasp for power, and increasingly employed conservative rhetoric in an effort to solidify the support of its traditional base as the Salafists rose in prominence. Several disagreements arose between the Brothers and other forces, ranging from the March 2011 constitutional amendments referendum to the Brotherhood's recent efforts to dominate the constitutional assembly. These controversies, in addition to a deep ideological divide, laid the foundation of the revolutionaries' growing distrust of the Brotherhood and its candidate.