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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Egypt’s hard transition

After glorious and inspiring January 25 Revolution, which brought so much hopes and expectations to Egyptians, the country is facing a really hard transitional period. The reasons of those difficulties are very different and require deep analysis, but the most obvious cause could be the lack of unity within the revolutionary forces. Lack of that unity, which made Egyptians to finally go out from their homes in January 2011 and to make their voices heard after long years of oppression and silence.

When the revolutionaries finally got the victory in that uprising and Egypt’s long standing President Hosni Mubarak stepped down, there was the smell of euphoria and happiness in the air, but the most important thing: There was hope that Egypt will change and the people will finally get their rights and the possibility of better life. But something somehow went wrong, and the transitional period became the real test and even threat to the Revolution and to its goals. The biggest mistake was maybe was to give all the power at that time to the Military – to SCAF (Supreme Council of the Armed Forces), which actually represented the same forces as there were under Mubarak’s rule. Many of the demands of Revolution weren’t delivered, the transition was artificially prolonged using the hard situation within the country, security vacuum and emergency law, under which Egypt was during Mubarak’s long rule. In other words: only the leader of regime was deposed, but not the regime itself. And on this stage lack of unity within the revolutionary and liberal forces and their inability or unwillingness to negotiate with SCAF and Muslim Brotherhood to achieve the goals of Revolution led to the situation, when the people started to feel that Revolution was simply hijacked and the results of it were stolen and used by different political forces for their own interests, but not for the interests of the country. That became more obvious after Parliamentary elections.

The Constitutional Referendum in March 2011 cancelled the current 1971 Constitution, the Parliament elections brought Islamists to power and left the liberal forces behind, the attempts to create Constitutional Assembly failed cause of interference of Islamist dominated parliament and refusal of liberal forces to work together with Muslim Brotherhood under such circumstances.

Egypt is facing now the growing problems in a lot of aspects, such as unemployment, education and health systems problems, poverty. The situation only deteriorates, and the current Parliament led by Islamist forces became unable to resolve any of those problems, preferring to discuss such issues as ban of pornography, female genital mutilation, separate education programs for boys and girls, possible ban of alcohol etc. and to measure the level of religiosity and piety of each other manipulating the society’s mind with religion’s issues, instead of working on the really actual and deep problems which Egypt has now. This led to dissatisfaction with the policies of Muslim Brotherhood, and the earlier trusted power started to lose its support among the simple Egyptians, who voted for Islamist parties in Parliament elections hoping for positive changes which their ruling could bring. But it didn’t happen, and the Presidential elections, which took place on 23 and 24 May 2012 and gathered almost 50% of eligible voters in Egypt at the hundreds of polling stations nationwide and abroad, showed the decline of Muslim Brotherhood’s popularity. If the Parliamentary elections showed the firm victory of Islamist forces with the results of near 70%, the Presidential elections represented the decline of their popularity with almost 50% of votes. And this is very important sign for Egyptian transition.
Despite the fact that Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate Mohamed Morsi won the majority of votes, the gap between him and Ahmed Shafiq, Mubarak’s last Prime Minister and ex-chief of Egypt’s Air Forces, is not that big. A huge amount of votes went surprisingly to the independent Nasserist candidate Hamdeen Sabbahy and to moderate Islamist Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, who was running independent too, followed by Amr Moussa, former Foreign Minister of Egypt.

Those developments are very important and significant for current stage of Egypt’s transition to democracy, because it signalizes the changes within the political forces and in the society itself. But nothing goes easy, and Egypt stepped into the stage of historical Presidential elections very divided and worried. If the main issue during the January 25 Revolution was the struggle between the revolutionary forces (uniting liberals and Islamists) seeking the changes and downfall of corrupt regime on the one side and the Mubarak’s oppressive regime itself on the opposite side, today the picture is different and very complicated.

The main players are now Islamist powers vs. secular forces, but those secular forces are divided too and include the so called “feloul” or the remnants of the previous, Mubarak’s regime, and independent forces with different political programs and agendas, like the very popular in Egypt leftist powers, for example. And we cannot underestimate the great role of SCAF too, and their role in the current events could be considered as the decisive one. During the whole period of Egypt’s long and still continuing transition SCAF remained in power and was controlling all the processes in the country. The current situation with Egypt’s new Constitution, which isn’t written yet, shows the wish of generals to keep some of their privileges and powers in the future too, and the country could be still ruled by the Military from behind the curtain, even if the power will be transferred to civilian rule. Under those circumstances Egypt stepped into the stage of Presidential elections without Constitution, when the people are choosing their new leader, but there is actually no state document declaring the future President’s powers and duties. There is even no clear vision of how the new political system in Egypt will be. This all leaves a lot of possibilities for SCAF to control the political situation in Egypt even after transferring the powers to civilian rule in the end of June as it was promised.

But despite this, the Presidential elections are very important for Egypt now, and the people, the citizens of Egypt should take all the responsibilities while choosing their next leader, even if his powers aren’t clear yet. The first round of the elections brought a lot of surprises and unexpected results. First of all, none of the presidential polls conducted earlier by different organizations were right, and the candidates claiming to be the frontrunners in those polls took less votes than it was expected. Amr Moussa, who was considered to be the first, came only the fifth, and another possible presidential contender in run offs, Abdel Moneim Abouel Fotouh, who was unbelievably popular, came only the fourth. Hamdeen Sabbahy took surprisingly the third place and is enjoying now the wide support of Egyptians, but no one could even imagine such a success for his campaign. But the main result of the first round of Egypt’s Presidential elections is that the frontrunners are the representatives of the two completely different and even opposite forces: the first is Mohamed Morsi, backed by Muslim Brotherhood, and the second is Ahmed Shafiq, Mubarak’s last Prime Minister. Those results became unexpected for many, and they actually showed once again that Egyptians became completely unpredictable when it is about political situation in the country. After the official results of the first round of Presidential elections were declared by SPEC (Supreme Presidential Elections Council) , there were a lot of dissatisfaction and disagreement among the candidates and between the voters as well. 

Egyptians came protesting in the streets demanding the review of the election’s results, some of the candidates sent the appeals to SPEC claiming there was fraud and a lot of violations during the process, and there were the new calls for the so called “disenfranchisement law” (disqualification of the persons, who had occupied the high ruling  positions during 10 years of Mubarak’s rule before his leaving the office in February 2011), and this law should hit Ahmed Shafiq and prevent him from taking part in the presidential run offs and allow Mohamed Morsi to face Hamdeen Sabbahy instead of Shafiq. There were even the calls to Mohamed Morsi to withdraw from the presidential race in favor of the revolutionary candidate Sabbahy. But all the appeals were rejected by SPEC, disqualification of Ahmed Shafiq at this stage is nearly impossible, and there are no doubts that Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi won’t withdraw. So, despite the huge protests, the run offs will be between Ahmed Shafiq and Mohamed Morsi, and this situation could be really very difficult for a lot of Egyptian revolutionaries.

Mohamed Morsi

Mohamed Morsi represents the Islamist forces, and his political project named “The Renaissance” has the Islamic background, and this is the main fear for the most people seeing Egypt as a secular state and for Egyptian Christians as well. That’s why Ahmed Shafiq’s winning card is the view of Egypt as a secular state and the opposing of Islamist forces, which already took the main powers in the parliament and are trying to have the bigger impact on writing the new Constitution of Egypt. So the Presidential elections turned to the struggle between the Islamist and secular forces, but for many Egyptians Ahmed Shafiq is the extension of Mubarak’s regime, of the regime with which the people were fighting during the revolution. And now this regime has all the chances to come back to power, and the results of January 25 Revolution seem to be completely lost, and it looks for many like Egypt made a few steps back again. But from another hand, the victory of Morsi will lead to Islamist domination on all the levels of power and to the possible turning Egypt into the religious state, and that wasn’t for sure the goal of revolution too. So this all causes frustration, and many Egyptians are undecided now to whom they have to give their votes during the run offs in June, and some of them are very serious about boycotting those elections, because no one of the candidates represents them. And this choice might be really hard one.

The presidential contenders in turn are trying now to attract the more support is possible now, trying to negotiate with another political forces and presidential candidates and delivering to the people the new promises about the future of Egypt under their possible rule.

Ahmed Shafiq is talking about restoring the security and improvement of economical and social situation in the country, creating the new jobs, reforming education etc., and all of those directions are really very important now for Egypt. But the most important message he is trying to deliver to his voters is the secular nature of Egypt and the equal rights for all the groups of Egyptian citizens. So this can attract a lot of secular forces and voters seeking secular, non-religious Egypt. On the other hand, in spite of being associated with Mubarak’s regime Ahmed Shafiq is very unlikely ready to impose this regime again and to come back to its tactics, cause he might understand it very well: either he will try to restore Egypt and to bring stability to the country or he could face another Tahrir Square, because Egyptians are very unlikely to be silent again. So all of that makes the fears of coming back to Mubarak’s times less in case of Ahmed Shafiq’s win the Presidential race.

Ahmed Shafiq

Mohamed Morsi, in his turn, is trying to attract the voters by delivering the message of Egypt as a moderate state with Islamic background. His pledges are connected to the promise to protect the rights of pro-democracy protesters, who mostly see the Muslim Brotherhood as the betrayers of the revolution. He promises also the full rights for Christians and women in the country and plans to appoint Christians as presidential advisers and maybe even as a Vice-President. The women’s rights must be protected, and the women will have the ability to choose their job in any sphere they wish and to take an active part in a social life of the country. Also Morsi claims there will be no attempts to impose the Islamic dress-code on the women, and the question of hijab will remain the personal matter. Islamist candidate praises also the military generals who took over after Mubarak, he acknowledges their mistakes made during the transitional period but praises the positive steps, such as the elections were held under the security of army and police and went smooth. Morsi is ready to create a broad coalition government from different political forces and promises that the Egypt’s new Constitution would be written by a panel representative of the whole nation. And all those messages could attract a lot of voters too, because they represent the moderate Islamist program.

The main question now is where the votes given to Hamdeen Sabbahy, Abdel Moneim Abouel Fotouh, Amr Moussa and other candidates of the first round of elections will go to during the run offs in June. One can try to predict, that the most of Morsi’s supporters from the first stage of elections could stay with him at the second one too, and the voices for another Islamist candidates could go for him either. Most of Christians could give their votes to Ahmed Shafiq cause of the fears of Islamic state, and the supporters of secular forces will possibly cast their ballots for Shafiq too, as the opposition to the religious state in Egypt. The most important is how the voices for Hamdeen Sabbahy could be distributed in the run offs. And of course there is another possible scenario: Some people will probably boycott the elections, as they don’t see the choice they could make. But making the prognoses and trying to predict the results of the elections in Egypt is very difficult, and the previous results showed already that Egyptians are unpredictable, so the best option is to wait for the elections.

Hamdeen Sabbahy

But whatever the candidate will win the presidential race, he will face a lot of difficulties in his ruling, because Egypt is facing now growing problems in economic, social sectors, health and educational systems, there is a security vacuum in the country, the situation with unemployment doesn’t change and is only getting worse, the numbers of people living below the poverty line are still huge. And all of those tasks must be resolved by the next president, or he could face another wave of protests. The situation is complicated with the absence of the Constitution and determined duties and powers of the future president. But in any case there is a hope that those elections will finally bring some positive changes to Egyptians, and the country will head to the better future and development of all the fields of life. The most important thing for the Egyptians now is to consolidate on this hard stage and to unite for the achieving of the common goals – better future, higher standards of life and the delivering of the Revolution’s demands.

For those purposes Egyptians have to think carefully before voting in the elections, and if there were two possible ways of choosing the candidate in the first round – either listening to their  heart, or voting strategically, – on this second stage there should be the only one option: to think carefully and to analyze and to vote only strategically. And the most important thing: They all have to be responsible for the decisions we make and to always remember about it, especially in such important times like in today’s Egypt.