-Farah El Barnachawy
It has been nearly three months since Egypt experienced what has been termed a free and fair election for the first time in its electoral history. Egyptian citizens took to the polls, and for the very first time made their own choice; a very novel and historic moment for many. The race to the presidential election was unpredictable to say the least. Those expected to take the lead such as AbdelMonem, Abu El Futooh and Amr Moussa, did not make the running, and Egypt was left to choose between Ahmad Shafiq and Mohamed Morsi. This was a very interesting outcome and one that left many on the fence with respect to candidate choice. For some, Shafiq was a representation of the old regime and was believed to be anathema to the revolutionary goals. For others, Morsi came off as the change that needed to happen in Egyptian politics in order to keep the revolution alive. Skepticism swept across the nation as the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) delayed announcing the results. Mohamed Morsi’s triumph, although by a minimal difference, came as a surprise to many; mainly to the secular factions of society. Rumors that the Muslim Brotherhood had threatened to overthrow Shafiq in the event that he won the election lead SCAF to assume back door negotiation, hence the delay in the announcement argued Robert Fisk shortly thereafter.
For the Muslim Brotherhood, this is more than just a dream come true. Since inception they have experienced nothing but repression by each regime and have suddenly found themselves on the forefront of the Egyptian political scene. The uncertainty of what the Muslim Brotherhood would do with this newfound power raises many questions; will they moderate like much of what academia preaches? Or will they go on a power trip and try to cling on to power by dispersing members of their Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) to retain power among them?
So far, it is too early to tell. However, much has happened in the last three months that may give an idea of what direction Egyptian politics will take. Morsi swore in his new cabinet where he appointed four cabinet seats to FJP members; these include crucial posts such as education and key information minister, which essentially oversees state media. The cabinet includes two women, one of which is Copt and in charge of the Ministry of Scientific Research; a post that falls a tad short of that of Vice-President. The female appointments have given Egyptian women reason to worry as they were faced with an empty promise and nothing more than what they had in the Mubarak era.
Egypt also witnessed yet another sectarian confrontation in July in the Giza village of Dahshur where a Copt launderer was accused of burning a Muslim resident’s shirt while ironing it. This quickly spiraled out of control and escalated into a sectarian confrontation where Molotov cocktails entered into the equation and many homes were burnt. Mohamed Moaz, walking in the vicinity of the events, was struck and died shortly thereafter at the hospital thereby leading to a full-blown sectarian attack on Coptic homes. Many Copts were forced to flee the village as security forces stood and watched without taking action. What was impressive however, were news reports on Egyptian satellite television Al Masreya showing Morsi in Luxor greeting tourists in an effort to announce that the tourism industry was picking up and it was safe to travel to Egypt. To be fair, there was a five-minute report on the Dahshur events, with a meager presidential statement brushing off what was clearly a problem along sectarian lines. Copts are not happy, to say the least; the Dahshur events have made them feel unprotected and isolated as those responsible to provide them with basic protection have failed to do so.
Recent events in Sinai on the Rafah border that left 16 Egyptian soldiers dead raised skepticism about the security forces’ ability to combat growing militancy in the region. The gunmen hijacked two army vehicles and used them to cross into Israel. It is believed that it was an Islamist plot but it is unclear whether Egyptian or Palestinian Islamists carried it out. This specific event is just one amongst daily smuggling of weapons and arms through the Rafah border. It will be interesting to see how Morsi will handle the situation; will he choose to protect Egypt’s national sovereignty through the defense of its clearly delineated geographic borders? Will he denounce the works of fellow Islamists? But most importantly he may need to consider how his choice will impact the peaceful political relations between Israel and Egypt. It is a tough conundrum for Morsi where ideology and political reality come into play in a contradicting manner.
On the foreign policy front Morsi has been working on his ties with Iran through presidential visits. Qatar offered Egypt a 2 billion dollar loan. It has also come up with an economic plan to invest 18 billion dollars in Egypt over the next five years. This raises doubt amongst Egyptians with respect to Qatar’s motives; either Qatar has adopted an altruistic attitude vis-à-vis Egypt, and the rest of the Arab world for that matter, or it has its eyes set on the profits that the Suez Canal produces. Most importantly and to be a little positive, Morsi has recently taken a trip to China, which can potentially help kick start relations and subsequently give the Egyptian economy the push that it needs.
Three months in and Morsi already has a lot of issues to tackle. It is too soon to judge his competence and his intentions for that matter. Will he be working for Egypt or will he be working towards achieving the goals of the Muslim Brotherhood? There is no doubt that there is a conflict of interest at play, which has indeed been substantiated by recent events in Egypt.
(Featured photo by Mr. Theklan)