What Lies Ahead in Egypt?

By: Fernando Perez

WEA-RLC Research and Analysis Report - 7/2012

Tens of thousands of Egyptians are once again converging on Cairo’s Tahrir Square following the decision of the military generals to postpone the results of the runoff presidential election that were expected on June 21. The protests are also against the military council’s move to strip the president’s office of its most important powers.

Meanwhile, the two presidential candidates, former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq and leader of Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party Mohammed Morsi, are both claiming victory. Morsi, who Christians fear will marginalize the minority, seems more likely to win initially according to media reports, but some claim Shafiq is using back room deals to ensure his victory.

However, just as the votes were being counted on June 17, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which has been ruling the country since the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak, announced amendments to the interim constitution, granting key powers to itself.

The amended constitution says the armed forces will have absolute authority to run its affairs, independent of the new president. It states that the elected head of government can decide to go to war only if the SCAF approves it. It has also returned legislative powers to the generals until fresh parliamentary elections are held – a court ordered parliament dissolved last week. In addition, the generals will now maintain authority over the drafting of a new constitution.

Many fear that Morsi’s victory would increase the dominance of the Muslim Brotherhood over all branches of the state. Some even dread the possibility of an Islamist hijack of the revolution – as happened in Iran – and think it would be difficult to remove the Islamists from power if they establish control over all state institutions.

However, the generals’ move to grab power was apparently to pre-empt efforts by the Muslim Brotherhood to diminish the military’s role in the country once the Islamist group comes to power. For, the enmity between the military – which has huge business interests and has ruled the country for six decades – and the Muslim Brotherhood dates back to the early 1950s when army officers overthrew the monarchy in a coup.

The military has pledged to transfer power to the winner by the end of June, but the new president is expected to be in office only for a few months. A call for fresh presidential election might follow the drafting and implementation of the new constitution.

If the election results are shown in favor of Shafiq – especially after the power grab by the military council – a deadly confrontation between supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood as well as revolutionary forces and the military might ensue. It could also lead to targeting of Christians due to the perception that all Copts voted for Shafiq, one of Mubarak’s most trusted men and who pledged to give Christians the place they deserve as equal citizens in the country.

Egyptians will now tend to be more receptive of Morsi winning the election, but they are clearly disillusioned with the election per se.

In the first round of the presidential election held in May, Morsi and Shafiq got only about a quarter of the vote each. Despite the two candidates having the backing of their respective powerful organizations with strong political and social networks, none was able to secure the threshold of over 50 percent votes to win. On the other hand, secular candidate Hamdeen Sabahi got 21.6 percent of the vote with little organizational support. He also won in Alexandria, which is seen as a Muslim Brotherhood stronghold.

The notion that Shafiq secure the second position mainly with the support of Copts, who account for about 10 percent of Egypt’s population, is flawed. While many Copts saw Shafiq as a candidate who had the clout to take on Morsi, the bulk of his votes in the first round came from predominantly rural provinces where few Copts live.

What the first round of elections actually showed was well articulated by commentator Hani Shukrallah in an analysis that appeared in the local ahramonline newspaper. “The electoral triumph of the Mubarak regime on one hand and that of its no less authoritarian historical antagonist, the Brotherhood, on the other, heralds not their ascent but their decline,” he wrote. “It is not a new dawn of the Muslim Brotherhood that we are witnessing, nor is it a revival of the semi-secular police state à la Mubarak, Gaddafi et al, but rather the twilight of both.”

Neither Shafiq nor Morsi represent the will of the country’s revolutionary forces, which are in majority. One can now only hope and pray for peace until fresh elections – both the upcoming parliamentary election and the expected presidential election after the promulgation of the new constitution – are held, if all goes well.

It’s time the international community helped strengthen the genuine revolutionary forces to be an alternative to Islamism and autocracy. That’s the only way to secure the future of not only the Christians, but also of the majority of Egyptians who have seen their friends and relatives die in the struggle to seek change.