POMED Notes: “Egyptian Elections, Round One”
On Thursday, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and Al-Monitor hosted a discussion titled “Egyptian Elections, Round One.” The event featured Michael Wahid Hanna, a fellow at the Century Foundation; Samer Shehata, a professor of comparative and Middle East politics and U.S. policy toward the Middle East at Georgetown University; and Marina Ottaway, a Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Barbara Slavin, Washington correspondent for Al-Monitor, moderated the discussion.
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Hanna began by highlighting what he saw as deficiencies in the first round of elections. He asserted that the elections were not fully fair and free, but nevertheless, there was no massive, systemic, “Mubarak-style” fraud. The state media remains a propaganda outlet for the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF), and the state bureaucracy is still pervasive, an example being the politicized disqualification of presidential candidates. However, in the future the state will not be one of limitless powers, as in the past, he said. Hanna also stated his belief that there has indeed been a popular backlash against both the Muslim Brotherhood, and the revolutionaries associated with Tahrir Square. In the contest between Ahmed Shafiq and Mohamed Morsi, Egypt is now left with the most polarizing, divisive choice in candidates possible, he said.
Hanna contended that being on the “right side” of history now means being against military rule, even though the military remains popular in many sectors of Egyptian society. Crucially, he stated, core demands of the revolution remain unrealized. Hanna also asserted that the U.S. can no longer view Egypt as its client state.
Shehata spoke next, and in response to the moderator’s question of for whom a secular liberal in Egypt should or would vote, Shehata characterized the contest between Morsi vs. Shafiq as one of bad vs. worse. Additionally, he said, it is a misrepresentation to classify Shafiq as a secular liberal, because his outlook cannot be considered liberal in the real sense of the word. A “perception of lawlessness” drove many Egyptians to vote for Shafiq, who has waved off the “nonsense” of protestors and made statements to the effect that he can and will reassert order “within twenty-four hours.” Because of Shafiq’s tainted background, Shehata was more hopeful for a Morsi win, with the added condition of further struggle beyond the election. Despite the shortcomings of the elections, Shehata said, they were not so great that they greatly affected the outcome of the first round, and turnout was generally low, anyway. Looking to the second round, much depends on what narrative Egyptians buy into, either one of an Islamic state vs. non-Islamic state, or revolution vs. counterrevolution. If and when Morsi does win, the Muslim Brotherhood will have a historic opportunity to be more inclusive, and if it is not, it will end up weaker for it.
Ottaway spoke last, and contended that whoever wins the presidential election is irrelevant, as the more important battles will take place outside of the elections, i.e. those between SCAF and the elective institutions, or, alternatively phrased as between the “deep state” and other groups seeking change. She added that the courts are highly politicized; the head of the Supreme Constitutional Court of Egypt is also the head of elections; and there still is no constitution that defines what the president’s powers will be. Ottaway also stated that the revolution has failed to generate any new, fresh secular politicians.
In response to the moderator’s question of what the U.S. can or should do now, Shehata answered that President Obama cannot do much because American power in the region is declining and Ottaway stated that the U.S. should say as little as possible. An audience member raised the possibility of a truth and reconciliation commission, to which Shehata answered that there indeed have not been enough prosecutions of former regime figures, but the Muslim Brotherhood would probably allow SCAF to exit power “safely” in the event of having the power to do so. Hanna remarked that many “crony-capitalists” have been jailed, but police who killed protestors have gone unprosecuted; also, the period of accountability would essentially have to reach all the way back to 1952. There was a general consensus among the speakers that Egypt is in for at least a few years of political instability, and more surprises are inevitable.