A new phenomenon unknown to Egyptians occurred this week in the arid North African nation – their first free election. As the streets of Cairo are littered with campaign posters showing the faces of Egypt’s political future, it seems strange to recall that only a year ago these same streets were besieged by anti-Mubarak protestors in the wake of the Arab Spring. Apart from the romanticism associated with openly defying Mubarak’s repressive regime, the reality of this pivotal election is evident through the large number of Egyptians who suffer from an economy at standstill, deteriorating internal security, and an anxious Coptic Christian population fearing persecution from the Sunni majority. With Egyptians casting their first ballots last week, the impending results will dramatically shift the status-quo within a state marred by instability and uncertainty
That said, the results recently announced by the Presidential Election Commission from the first round of elections on May 24 show that Egypt will need to decide between Ahmed Shafik, the former Prime Minister under Mubarak, or the Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi. Amid the turmoil of the election process – which featured stories of voter irregularity and cases of fraud – initial results gave 26.48% of the vote to Morsi, with Shafik close behind at 24.74%, and Pan-Arab Nasserist candidate Hamdeen Sabahi in third with 20%. Interestingly, voter enthusiasm has actually dropped in this preliminary round, with a turnout of around 43%, possibly due to fatigue or dissatisfaction with the candidates. The runoff election is scheduled for June 16, and has significant ramifications, determining whether Egyptians will change course choosing an Islamist future under Morsi, or will go back to the future by electing a figure of the past with Safik. For Egyptians, the question is now what exactly are the platforms of these candidates, and more importantly, what will their presidency mean for Egypt’s future.
With the potential of the Muslim Brotherhood to control both the presidency and the parliament, the immediate consequences will reverberate in many ways in Egypt. In an interesting turnaround, many of the young, more liberal Egyptians who led the Tahrir Square protests may again take to the streets in protest of the encroaching influence of Sharia law. Moreover, a Muslim Brotherhood victory will also dismay Coptic Christians, who have been in growing conflict with a government that is less attuned to their interests. Morsi has already given assurances that he will not enforce any form of traditional Islamic dress on women, citing more pressing concerns such as maintaining good relations with the military in the hopes of establishing a return to rule of law. In the international sphere, the prospect of a Morsi government will, in most respects, not lead to a drastic shift in Egyptian foreign policy since the newly elected government is dependent not only on international aid, but also on the international community’s informal declaration of legitimacy. The potential for a return to hostilities with Israel, or cutting off military support with the U.S, is unlikely as Egypt wants to maintain international legitimacy. As well, the possibility of a Shifik victory will also yield some interesting results. Besides the fact that Shafik may not be allowed to register as a candidate due to his past involvement with the Old regime, the outcome of his presidency will indeed have effects on the domestic political situation in Egypt. As mentioned before, a return to a lighter form of Mubarak’s policies will likely breathe a sigh of relief upon the Coptic Christian population, who remained protected under Mubarak rule.
However, a Shafik victory could also lead to greater political turmoil with a split in offices between the Muslim Brotherhood-controlled parliament and the Shafik presidency. A Shafik victory does have certain benefits, though, such as already strong relations with many military leaders, and a greater willingness on his part to refuse pressure from religious factions within the parliament. The Egyptian revolution was primarily led by mostly liberal Egyptians, and accordingly the reality is that a Shafik victory may feel more like a revolution betrayed due to his prior involvement in Mubarak’s administration. In an interesting parallel to Iran in 1979, the liberal and more moderate Egyptians may be faced with a similar choice between the authoritarian elements of the past or an Islamic future under the Brotherhood. With the runoff election looming in the next few weeks, the outcome of the election will undoubtedly serve as an example for other Arab states struggling with “what to do after” now that they have successfully achieved revolution.
– Cody Levine
Featured Photo Credit: Ahmed Abd El-fatah.