"Why should they just be the lucky ones…to form the constitution?" said Shadi Al Ghazali Harb, a senior member in the Revolutionary Youth Coalition, which took shape during the nearly three-week uprising this year.
It's rare that one line summarized so much so effectively, but the above quote from Shadi Al Ghazali Harb is remarkable.
As he sees it, Islamist forces were "lucky" enough to be well organized at the time that Mubarak fell, and will thus have an outsized influence on the transitional institutions that will shape Egypt's future.
In that, he seems to echo the general feelings of our state department and many other Western Polyannas. The "Arab Spring" could go either way; it's just a question of who gets "lucky."
Unfortunately, there is a deep problem with this analysis. It ignores the decades of Islamist investment in building Egyptian institutions. The Muslim Brotherhood has been active since the 1920s; various other groups have been similarly active for decades. Islamism has become an important social and professional force throughout Egypt, as well as a critical part of the political underground.
Meanwhile, liberals have invested fairly little in Egypt. The money derived from liberal sources has had few strings attached, and was rarely used to develop liberal institutions or to punish illiberal behavior. Egypt today may boast hundreds of thousands of foreign-educated liberals, but that still represents less than 1% of the population and zero popular, effective organizations. There is not a liberal name on the planet who could draw the type of adoring crowds that flocked to see the Islamist al-Qaradawi.
So there you have it: Islamists have spent decades investing in the development of Egyptian institutions and a full-blown anti-establishment counterculture. Liberals have been working there for several months. And the Islamists are likely to prevail because they are "lucky."