Hussein Ibish sees the workings of a master plot, not quite the same as a the plot of a mastermind, in Morsi’s Egyptian maneuvers. Yet the strengths of Ibish’s critique undermine themselves: The picture of Egypt that emerges – of the real Egypt rather than the Egypt of liberal aspirations – is of a nation dominated by non-liberal forces, a nation in which primary negotiations are effectively two-sided, between the nationalist-military “deep state” and well-organized Islamist populists. To the precise extent that conditions in Egypt make Morsi’s actions effective, and the liberal response less so, we know that the real rather than imaginary space for a liberal Egypt remains constricted.
Ibish provides a politically insuperable rationale for the victorious coalition – “the men with the guns” joined with those who have an interest and ability to “govern… Egypt directly” – even as he disapproves of it. Though his analysis of the draft constitution – that it “could hardly be worse from any perspective” – is not universally shared, even stipulating to that judgment leaves us, or rather the Egyptians, in the same place: A country seeking a foundation built from the materials at hand, which are largely, though not completely and simply, the same materials from which the hated prior government was built. Put differently, from the perspective of actual formation and consolidation or re-foundation of a state – the task of the moment – the liberal vantage point does not represent and apparently is not close to representing an actual, as in really implementable, alternative.
In such a situation, a rational objective for the liberal in Egypt might therefore be defined as demonstration of his or her irreplaceable importance and value to an emerging order defined largely on non-liberal, if not absolutely anti-liberal, terms.