Will a Rush to Elections in Egypt Undo Its Revolution?

Published on Wednesday 22nd June 2011

After street protests forced Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to step down after thirty years in power, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces took on the temporary rule of the country. If the council delivers on its promises, parliamentary elections in Egypt will be held in September of this year, followed by presidential elections a few months later. Most political forces and experts fear the new parliament would likely be composed of a narrow spectrum of parties which will shape the country’s political future in a way the protesters did not envision.As Egyptians are witnessing newfound freedom in forming political parties and getting ready for the country’s first free and fair parliamentary elections since the 1952 revolution, they are beginning to worry about what kind of political system will emerge from the ruins of the Mubarak regime. Some two dozen parties will compete to win seats but many political parties, especially newly established ones, will have no time to develop, organize campaigns and mobilize support.
No clear landscape, no clear rules
Mohammed Nosseir, a leading member of the Democratic Front Party formed in 2007, says the political roadmap is not clear.“Currently what we are receiving is different kind[s] of steps, [the] Supreme Council of the Armed Forces produces laws every now and then, but we are not aware what will happen in the future. A roadmap has not been produced yet and everyone is stuck, and this is making a big confusion for all parties and individuals who are intending to participate in the elections. There is no really clear structure yet so each one can position himself.”Nosseir says, given such a tight timeframe, there is a risk that the new parliament will end up being dominated by only few parties, including the well-organized and well-financed Muslim Brotherhood, which would likely benefit from elections being conducted sooner rather than later. He fears this will have serious implications for the new constitution as well as the shaping of Egypt’s political future.“We need a clear law to define the role of religion in politics; if they can capitalize on religious slogans or not, if they can capitalize on churches and mosques where currently the Muslim Brotherhood has been capitalizing on this to push for their own agenda.”Historically, the most politically influential groups in Egypt have been the Muslim Brotherhood and, until its recent court-ordered dissolution, Mubarak’s National Democratic Party, whose former members can now reconstitute under a different name. A push to postponeGiven the presently ill-shaped political landscape many parties are trying to push the Council of the Armed Forces to agree to postpone the parliamentary elections until a new constitution is drafted. And one widespread complaint is that the military council today issues decrees without regularly consulting with the representatives of the groups that started the revolution. Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates Bill Rugh, who visited Egypt recently, addresses this dilemma in his article – “Egypt: The Revolution is Incomplete.”“I had a conversation with Mohamed ElBaradei, who is one of the candidates for president and I asked him if he had any contacts with the generals who are setting the rules and he said no. And he said to me that the generals are not revealing their hand as to how the new political system will look, how much power the president will have. And he said how can I apply for a job if I do not know what the job description is?”George Ishaq, founder of the pro-democracy protest movement “Kifaya” predicts that the field of  presidential candidates in Egypt will likely narrow itself down to two viable candidates - Dr. Baradei and Amr Moussa.
Presidential playersMohamed ElBaradei is former director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, and Amr Moussa is the recent secretary-general of the Arab League. Analysts say ElBaradei's principal obstacle is his narrow base of support, which is attributed mostly to the fact that he had been an outsider to Egypt throughout his professional life. Observers believe that Moussa's main handicap is his previous brief association with the Mubarak regime, even though he fell out of favor and was removed from his post as foreign minister.However, both ElBaradei and Moussa are being credited with substantial international experience. According to a survey recently conducted by Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, ElBaradei is currently the most favored candidate. In that poll he is followed by Mohamed Salim Al Awa - a moderate Islamist who just announced his intention to run.Despite a seemingly open political arena Egyptians are still uneasy about the incompleteness of their revolution. Ambassador Rugh believes that continued public pressure might help shape the political roadmap of a post-revolution Egypt.“The street protesters continue to come out and make demands, especially every Friday, and they have had an influence on the military. The generals don’t have the habit of discussing their policies in advance with the public, they discuss it among themselves and then announce it. But if the people in the street are not happy with the decisions, they protest and those protests have had some influence,” says Rugh.While the final direction of Egypt’s political transition is still unknown, experts expect that if parliamentary elections are held in September, followed by presidential elections, most political forces, especially those which emerged during the revolution will not be represented in the parliament or have much say on the new constitution. That means the likely winners in the upcoming elections will be the Islamists and remnants of Mubarak’s dissolved party.

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