Day: June 15, 2012
Not surprisingly, the Egyptian Supreme Constitutional Court decided yesterday that Ahmed Shafiq, a former Air Force general and prime minister under Hosni Mubarak, could run in the second round of the presidential election to be held this week. It would have been astonishing if the court had ruled out one of the two leading figures from the first round–the one favored by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF)–just two days before the second round.
More surprisingly, the Court also dissolved the parliament elected last winter, on grounds that the election law discriminated against independents by restricting their candidacies to one-third of the seats. The SCAF has arrogated legislative power to itself.
The double-barreled decisions of the Egyptian Supreme Constitutional Court have obscure legal bases, but their political intent is clear: to weaken the tightening grip of the Muslim Brotherhood on power and increase the odds that the SCAF can continue to control the Egyptian state. My guess is the effort will fail.
Holding my nose, I had previously opted for Shafiq as preferable to the Muslim Brotherhood (MB)’s Mohammed Morsi in the presidential contest. This was due to the circumstances, not the man or his program. The Egyptian electorate is split between those who fear the Islamicization of the state and those who fear restoration of the Mubarak regime, albeit under a new leader. In my view, it is important that both perspectives be represented once the military steps back from power and a new constitution is prepared.
The circumstances have changed. With the parliament clearly in Islamist hands, it made sense for Shafiq to become president, for the sake of balance and full representation. With the parliament now again up for grabs, my guess is that Egyptians, seeing the Court decisions as military manipulation, will elect Morsi to the presidency. Call it a retaliatory vote if you like, as NPR did this morning. Many of the younger, more secular revolutionaries were still on the fence. These decisions will push them over. A vote for Morsi is now clearly a vote against the military.
If Shafiq nevertheless wins, he will be hobbled from the first by doubts about his legitimacy. The first round of the elections appears to have been reasonably free and fair. But will the military allow that performance to be repeated? And if they do will the public be convinced that the military did not have its thumb on the scale? Will his strong law and order stance be challenged in the streets? How will he, and the SCAF that stands behind him, react? Is Egypt’s democratic transition in serious danger?
It is hard for me to picture a new parliamentary election that doesn’t produce a strong Muslim Brotherhood showing. It may not be as strong as their 48% of the seats won by the MB’s Freedom and Justice party in the last polls, but it is still likely to be the plurality. Will the military permit it to happen? I have no idea, but their performance to date suggests a determination to hold on to power that is profoundly anti-democratic.
Egypt has made a thorough hash of its transition. #fail is the contemporary way of putting it.
PS: if you think I’m being harsh, read Marc Lynch.