Showdown in Egypt

The tentative progress toward democracy in Egypt since the January 2011 revolution appears to be coming apart at the seams. The Constitutional Court just ruled unconstitutional a law that might have disqualified the candidacy of Ahmed Shafik, who made it to the 2nd round of the presidential election process (which takes place this weekend). Shafik was Mubarak’s last prime minister and a former military man. He is a representative of the old regime who has been quoted as saying “Egypt needs a strong state” and “Egyptians are an obedient people.” If Shafik wins, those who opposed the dictatorship will take to the streets.

At the same time, the Court, which is packed with Mubarak appointees, ruled that one third of the winners in the previously elected parliament were invalid and have decreed that the parliamentary elections must be rerun. Islamist parties won two third of the seats the first time around, so this ruling is a direct attack on the Muslim Brotherhood and similar parties. The second effort to seat a Constitutional Assembly has also failed. When and whether a new assembly will be created to write a new constitution and how the members of that assembly will be selected is up in the air. 

This all comes on the heels of the trial which tossed out corruption cases against Mubarak and his sons, cleared six security officials of guilt in the slaying of demonstrators and convicted Mubarak and his former interior minister on charges that must believe will be overturned on appeal. 

The military has now imposed martial law ahead of the upcoming elections. It seems likely that, if the elections are conducted freely, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate will win. Yet without a constitution, the president’s powers are undefined and he will rule, at least for a time, without a parliament in place. 

While cloaked under the guise of legal rulings, there is a three way struggle taking place among the stakeholders of the old regime (especially the army, the judiciary, the bureaucracy, the Coptic Christians and the business people who benefitted from tied to the state), the Islamists (which include not only the Brotherhood, but also the Al-Nour party – and smaller groups – which is Salafi – more conservative than the Brotherhood and competes with the Brotherhood for the allegiance of the religious voters) and the myriad of secularists, moderate Muslims, intellectuals and many of the young people who spearheaded the street protests that brought down Mubarak. The old regime stalwarts and the Brotherhood are the two strongest groups, with others often confused about who to support. 

Unless various groups – especially the Mubarak loyalists – step back from the brink and seek some compromises on process, there is a risk that Egypt could descend into long-term conflict and turmoil, with democracy increasingly a mirage.


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