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One problem, however, is the size of Morsy's mandate: just over half the votes in an election for which less than half the country showed up to cast ballots. That may account for some of the pragmatic and cautious words coming from both Morsy and the Brotherhood. And indeed, pliancy may be the best policy in dealing with the generals--for now. Morsy and the Muslim Brotherhood are well aware of the limits on the presidency and the need for a protracted struggle for civilian rule. "President-elect Morsy is pushing back already," wrote Steven Cook of the Council on Foreign Relations. "While paying homage to the Egyptian armed forces, his camp has already declared that they do not recognize the dissolution of the parliament or the legality of the military's decree." But, he noted, while "the Brotherhood has the symbolic advantage, it does not have the means to impose its will on the officers."
Changing that arrangement will require a broad consensus among opposition groups, which is why Morsy is reaching out, at least rhetorically, to rebuild the bridges with rival opposition groups that the Brotherhood had burned in recent months. The generals have already had plenty of help from opposition forces, who failed to forge a common outlook and strategy for a democratic transformation in Egypt and ended up perennially at odds with one another, allowing SCAF to take a dominant position. Morsy and his movement's only hope of tipping the balance lies in establishing a government that represents a democratic consensus far broader than what the Brotherhood has attempted. To the extent that they can re-establish the main political dividing line in Egypt as being between military rule and civilian democracy rather than between Islamists and secular democrats, they have a fighting chance of making progress in rolling back the authoritarian post-Mubarak state.
The original version of this story said that the army refused to fire on demonstrators in January 2011. That fact has never been clearly established. Egypt's top generals have denied receiving orders from then President Mubarak to shoot at the protesters.