The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

On Dan Brumberg's Egypt essay

Dan Brumberg has an essay in The Atlantic about Egypt's transition. It's a good read and has some very perceptive insights. But it also has a couple of flaws I see as fundamental.

One is about his retelling of what only recently became known as the "Constitution First" camp, and which is already receding after this week's protests, where many activists with impeccable democratic credentials told me the whole Constitution First affair was now over and that revolutionary forces accepted the sequencing of the transition. He writes that story as if there was a camp calling itself constitution first back in February, which is not true, even if there were those that proposed (such as ElBaradei) the creation of a constitutional assembly before elections. Nor does he touch upon the undemocratic nature of ElBaradei (and others') proposal for a constituent assembly or even a transitional presidential council whose members would be appointed, or self-selected, rather than elected.

The second is related, in that Brumberg seems to have identified good guys (liberals) and bad guys (the military, former NDP officials, most Islamists) in his narrative of the transition. This is evident in that he gives (good) advice to what he calls the Constitution First Camp (which, again, may hardly be a relevant name anymore). But is he not too concerned about which camp Americans would like to see "win" here? If there is a clean election in the fall, and Islamists do well, why would that be undemocratic? Like it or not we are in the logic of electoral democracy here, and if the process is irreproachable one should accept the outcome. We continue to see the dangers of not taking this approach in Palestine, where the international community decided that global standards for electoral democracy did not apply to Hamas.