POMED Notes: “Egypt’s Presidential Election: Transition to What?”
On Thursday, the SETA Foundation for Political, Economic, and Social Research hosted an event entitled “Egypt’s Presidential Election: Transition to What?” The event’s panel featured Khaled Elgindy, Visiting Fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution; Nathan Brown, professor of Political Science and International Affairs at George Washington University and non-resident Senior Associate at the Middle East Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; and Erol Cebeci, the Executive Director at the SETA Foundation at Washington DC. The event was moderated by Kadir Ustan, Research Director at the SETA Foundation.
For full event notes, continue reading below or click here for the PDF version.
Nathan Brown noted that the nature of the political system under Mubarak still has implications for Egypt today. In the past the Egyptian state was composed of a number of small fiefdoms, each controlled by a single figure, with all lines of authority running to the president. Today Egypt’s institutions remain, while the revolution has removed the president, and with it the power binding the institutions together. Today’s chaotic environment comes from a state apparatus that still exists, but operates with no established rules of the game. Egypt now faces two enormous uncertainties: the outcome of the presidential election, and the writing of a new constitution. Brown sees two possible outcomes. If Shafiq should win, this would represent an attempt by the old state apparatus to resurrect itself in its full form. A Morsi win, however, would result in an extremely unsteady balance, with a Muslim Brotherhood president with extremely limited power in a system hardwired for a powerful president. These two sides would then pull Egypt in very different directions. This would result in an edgy day-to-day politics between the SCAF and the Brotherhood – not a healthy environment for a long-term political system.
Khaled Elgindy believes that the events of the last few weeks amount to a naked power-grab by the SCAF, and despite the uncertainty, it has been a “clarifying moment.” The SCAF is clearly not capable, Elgindy argued, of playing midwife to a true democratic transition. The events in Egypt do not represent an actual revolution, but a managed transition. Elgindy feels that the Egyptian people suffer from protest fatigue, but also from election fatigue. “The most tragic outcome,” he argued, “is a loss in faith of their own institutions, even those they had faith in before January 25.” Egypt’s foreign policy in recent months has seen a good deal of continuity by design. This has been a relief for the U.S. and others, but it also means that the hope that Egypt will resume the role of Arab leadership will have to wait. The latest events, Elgindy noted, will put the onus on the U.S. He believes the U.S. to be aware of and content with a regime managed transition, and concluded that “a real dismantling of the regime is more than the administration is prepared to countenance.”
In Erol Cebeci’s judgment, the SCAF does not consider the revolution as a collapse of the existing system, but rather a recalibration. So far, the Muslim Brotherhood has chosen to accommodate rather than confront the SCAF’s moves. However, Cebeci noted, this environment can change and the military can adapt a more inclusive language. “As civilian forces ask more questions, the SCAF will have a harder time preserving the status quo,” he argued. Cebeci expressed concerns that Egypt is choosing to follow the worst of the Turkish models, and sees several major issues confronting Egypt in the future. First, the military is unlikely to stop meddling in politics, and can steer the judiciary in directions of its choosing. Secondly, the positions taken by outside actors will be likely to matter more than a democratic transition. The most important factor will be in securing a truly democratic constitution. Cebeci argued that as analysts we must overcome the duality between Islamists and secularists. It does an injustice to the plurality of positions and the reality of the Egyptian public. We need to secure a constitutional framework in which these differences can be debated.