Egypt at a Crossroads: The Presidential Elections and Their Aftermath

Article excerpt

Egypt is the central country of the Arab world. The political and cultural influence that Egypt has exercised on its Arab neighborhood in modern times has been immense. Although the current movement of Arab revolutions broke out first in Tunisia, it was the Egyptian revolution which captured the world's imagination and gave "the Arab spring" its name. But Egypt's transition to democracy has been slow and tortuous, complicated by a conflict over the country's soul between the forces of change and the military-judiciary bureaucracy complex. The election of a new president, the first to be chosen in a relatively free election since the founding of the republic, is no doubt a major step forward in the process of democratization.

The second and final round of the election was conducted on June 16 and 17 between the two front runners in the first round: Dr. Muhammad Mursi of the Freedom and Justice Party (the political arm of the Muslim Brothers), and former Air Force general Ahmed Shafiq, the last prime minister of the deposed Mubarak's regime. At dawn on Monday, June 18, Mursi's campaign headquarters announced his victory, relying on results from local voting centers. However, Shafiq's spokespersons refused to admit defeat. Although official results were not declared until June 24, they were to confirm the results that had been announced previously, showing that Mursi was able to beat his rival by 880,000 votes.

More than 50 percent of eligible voters (about 26 out of 51 million) voted in the second round, far exceeding the 40 percent in the first round. While the considerable rise in the turn out indicates that Egyptians had yet to show signs of electoral exhaustion, it also shows the intensity of the competition. Yet even before the president was to assume his responsibilities, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) had taken several measures to insure they keep their heavy-handed role in shaping the country's future, diminishing Egyptians' hopes that the presidential elections would finally conclude the long process of transforming authority.

This is an examination into the presidential election and its results, the challenges that continue to face the process of democratization in Egypt, and the ongoing confrontation between the SCAF and the political forces expected to back the new president, especially the Muslim Brothers.

The First Round

The first round of the presidential election was conducted on May 23 and 24, following electoral campaigns that lasted for a full year in the case of candidates Amr Musa and Abdel Mun'im Abul-Futuh, and a mere month in the case of Muhammad Mursi. While only five of the nine candidates, Abdel Mun'im AbulFutuh, Muhammad Mursi, Amr Musa, Hamdayn Sabbahi and Ahmad Shafiq, were considered serious and competitive, the large number of candidates precluded any one of them from crossing the 50 percent threshold required to win. Surprisingly, Ahmad Shafiq (who was widely described as a candidate of the old regime) and Muhammad Mursi (the Muslim Brothers candidate) were the two frontrunners and made it to the final round, thus turning the election into another episode in the historical war between the old regime and the Muslim Brothers.

Mursi had the highest number of votes in the first round, with slightly less than a quarter of votes and about 200,000 votes more than Shafiq's. The Nasserite candidate Hamdayn Sabbahi came in third place with a fifth of the votes, while the independent Islamist Abul-Futuh came fourth, followed by Amr Musa, a former foreign minister and the former secretary-general of the Arab League. Of the six major governorates, Mursi won in Giza and Buhayra; Shafiq in Sharqia and Daqahlia; while Sabbahi achieved a great victory in both of Cairo and Alexandria. Generally, Mursi was strongest in Upper Egypt, while Shafiq and Sabbahi were the favorites in Cairo and the Delta governorates. Ultimately, what contributed to Mursi's victory was the substantial share of votes he received in most of Egypt's 27 governorates, including those where he did not win outright. …