Discussion Papers

No.811 Egypt’s Subverted Transition: State Institutions against the Muslim Brotherhood

by Housam Darwisheh

February 2021


Most scholars have attributed the Muslim Brotherhood’s (MB) brief and disastrous stay in power after the January 2011 uprising in Egypt to the MB’s political decisions, behavior and tactics. There is general academic agreement that President Muhammad Morsi’s government fell because of its failure to govern democratically, competently, and inclusively. To curb an escalation of conflict between the Morsi government and a growing opposition, therefore, the military had to overthrow the former on July 3, 2013. Such an interpretation of post-uprising Egyptian politics places primary responsibility on the MB for Egypt’s thwarted democratic transition. A variation of that interpretation links the MB’s ouster to the character of political Islam, its incompatibility with secular democracy, and the necessity of religious “reformation” to precede democratization in the Middle East. This essay argues, however, that the MB’s rule was short-lived because of three main factors: (1) the failure of the 2011 uprising to curb the power of Egypt’s key state institutions, mainly the military, police, and judiciary; (2) political polarization that drove an electorally defeated secular opposition to support military intervention against Morsi’s government; and (3) the inability of the MB-controlled elected Parliament and Presidency to impose their authority on unelected institutions in pursuit of major structural reform. In the end Egypt’s entrenched state derailed the post-Mubarak transition to restore authoritarian rule.

Keywords: Egypt, Muslim Brotherhood, state institutions, polarization

JEL classification: D72, D73

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