Since the military coup of July 3, 2013, guns and batons have, broadly speaking, taken the place of open debate and elections in deciding the political future of Egypt. How can the political struggle be understood with regard to the shape and content of the reformed post-Mubarak state that took place during the period of relative free debate and of tentative steps towards a democratic system between February 11, 2011 and July 3, 2013. In light of the deepening polarization between the Muslim Brothers and the more secular political tendencies that characterized the period, the conflict is often portrayed by the media and by some researchers as between a project of Islamization and a secularist agenda. To what extent does this hold true? In this article I will argue (1) that what took place was rather a power struggle involving competing elites as well as what is sometimes termed the ‘deep state’, i.e., the entrenched power holders from Mubarak’s time, especially in the military, the police and the judiciary; and (2) to the extent that secularization was at stake, in some important aspects Islamists turned out to be, if anything, more secularizing than their secularist competitors. What follows is nothing near a full treatment of the transitional period. Neither is it a formal study of constitutional issues, although it does dwell on some important aspects of the new constitution finalized in 2012. The primary interest here is what the struggle over the new constitution, and more broadly over the path to be followed in the transition process, can tell us about the main forces at work at the heart of the intense political conflict that developed.

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