A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Egypt's Election Mess Stays Messy: Now What?

Despite rumors and speculation that one or more of the candidates excluded from Egypt's election campaign over the weekend would be reinstated on appeal, the Elections Committee has reaffirmed the ban on all ten, including the "big three" of Khairat al-Shater Hazem Abu Isma‘il, and ‘Omar Suleiman.

The Arabist has responded with a "thank God" reaction which I understand (each of the three, he feels, is a destabilizing factor), but am not sure that knocking out the three front runners is going to convince anyone that democracy is taking hold. In fact, Hazem Abu Isma‘il's supporters have already been taking to the streets, and that's likely to continue. The Muslim Brotherhood had a backup candidate in place, Muhammad Morsi, who may not be as divisive within the Brotherhood ranks as Shater. Suleiman was a late starter, and there are allegations the security services were rallying support for him. So while the candidacies may be destabilizing, depriving these constituencies of their candidates will be equally so, I should think.

In a recent piece, Nathan Brown referred to the present increasingly murky mess as "Egypt's Transition Imbroglio." He noted:
There are, to be sure, some rules. In the seven weeks following former President Hosni Mubarak's forced departure last year, a series of policy statements by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), a set of constitutional amendments developed by an ad hoc committee appointed by the SCAF and approved in a referendum, and a "constitutional declaration" drafted secretly and proclaimed by the SCAF collectively laid out a set of procedures for rebuilding the Egyptian political order. Those procedures have largely been followed. But they have led Egypt into a state of complete confusion.
Indeed. "Imbroglio" is much too mild: the situation is currently [fouled] up beyond all recognition.Ten of the 20-odd candidates for President have been disqualified. Perhaps more critically, the Constitutional Assembly has been suspended by the courts, while SCAF and Field Marshal Tantawi are now saying that the constitution must be in place for SCAF to hand over power to the elected President on June 30, which is only a month and a half away and with no constitution-writing body in being. Is that an implied threat to stay in power on the part of the military? It sounds like one to me, raising the possibility that the return to the barracks will be postponed even further.

Brown adds, "But if the word 'process' has any meaning left, it cannot be applied to Egyptian politics today." His article carefully traces how the present mess evolved, for those who came in late.

While, like The Arabist, I wasn't eager to see either a Muslim Brotherhood candidate win or ‘Omar Suleiman return, and Hazem Abu Isma‘il would be arguably worse than either, the mass disqualifications here are reminiscent of the Mubarak era, where the rules were constantly manipulated to produce the desired results. Some have suspected all along that the Egyptian Establishment (though that itself seems fragmented these days) had decided on Amr Moussa as the next President: but he would not get there without clearing aside these other "front-runners" (if, in fact, that's what they were). Abdel-Mouneim Abu'l-Futuh, who has appeal to both liberals and Islamists, is probably the other major alternative to Moussa, assuming the disqualifications stand.

From the beginning, many objected to the idea of holding Presidential elections before writing the new Constitution. Or perhaps have a weak (but civilian) interim Presidency like Tunisia has, while the constitution is written. But it's too late for that now (or is it?). The next few weeks will be turbulent. Will they also be violent?

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