No matter what the new constitution says about the legality of parties based on religion, the Muslim Brotherhood appears to have been drummed out of the political process for the time being. It is unlikely to participate in the parliamentary election that should take place in early 2014, as it still insists that Morsy is the duly elected president of the country and that he must be reinstated. That will leave its voters with nowhere else to turn but the Salafist parties, which will be the last players on the Egyptian political scene explicitly calling for a strong Islamic reference in government.
Salafis did not come to political participation easily. Until the overthrow of Mubarak, they had shunned political activity, concentrating instead on proselytizing and building their own community. The decision to enter the political sphere was a sudden response to the events of January 2011 -- Salafis saw an opening, and were able to take advantage of it by mobilizing their social and religious networks for political ends. Their success was startling: They went from having no political organization in January 2011 to capturing a startling 25 percent of seats in parliament by March 2012, besting secular parties that had been in existence for years.
Because the Salafis' rise was so sudden, it was not accompanied by a corresponding ideological transformation. Salafi parties had few discussions about the implications of participating in a pluralistic political system -- they simply decided that the goal of building an Islamic state, previously set aside as premature, was worth pursuing right away. The Muslim Brotherhood, by contrast, had been discussing the implications of political participation for decades and had modified its positions in response, accepting the notion of pluralism and a civil state. The transition was still incomplete and contested, but it was a start.
Differences between the Brotherhood and Salafi organizations were particularly evident in the discussions of the 2012 constitution. Salafis were uncompromising, insisting that the constitution should embody references to sharia in its Sunni interpretations, rejecting explicit references to gender equality and to hiding their end-goal of turning Egypt into an Islamic state. The Muslim Brotherhood accepted the idea of a civil state and generally showed greater flexibility.
The inclusion of Salafis as representatives of the Islamist trend would thus come at a high price for the country's new rulers. The constitution would have to include many of the same clauses concerning sharia and Islam as the state religion as the 2012 constitution -- as was already made clear in the latest constitutional proclamation. Any constitution acceptable to Salafis, moreover, would have to soft-pedal issues such as gender equality and the equality of Muslim and non-Muslim citizens -- thus raising the ire of secular forces.
But the cost to Egypt if Salafi parties joined the Muslim Brothers in shunning political participation would be just as high. At this current tumultuous moment in Egyptian politics, Islamists will not quietly withdraw from politics and concentrate solely on religious affairs. The Muslim Brotherhood is already openly calling for defiance of the regime, and the Salafis could follow suit. The Mubarak regime only managed to repress Islamists by arresting thousands of them and rigging elections -- any regime seeking to limit Islamist participation would have to do the same, and probably on an even larger scale. The exclusion of Islamists, in other words, also means the exclusion of democracy.