Egypt’s Presidential Elections: Transition to What?
Just a few days ahead of the presidential elections, Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court ruled that the Parliament must be dissolved. It also decided that the candidacy of Ahmed Shafik, who represents the Mubarak era, was valid. These decisions are broadly interpreted as a power grab attempt, if not a soft coup, by the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF). Will the presidential elections bring about further uncertainty and chaos? Is Egypt headed for a tutelage regime instead of a democratic transformation? What are the implications of the elections for the course of the Arab revolutions and the region? The SETA Foundation at Washington DC is pleased to host a panel discussion on these questions among others.
Khaled Elgindy, Visiting Fellow, The Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution
Nathan Brown, Professor of Political Science and International Affairs, George Washington University
Erol Cebeci, Executive Director, The SETA Foundation at Washington DC
Kadir Ustun, Research Director, The SETA Foundation at Washington DC
By Claire Gaut
Mr. Ustun introduced the topic, describing the SCAF’s recent dismissal of parliament and questioning what can be expected of Egypt in the future.
Dr. Brown explained that although the Mubarak regime was authoritarian, government institutions still had a great deal of autonomy despite being ultimately responsible to the president. These institutions continue to have influence in Egypt although the SCAF is trying to put them under its power. Dr. Brown also discussed possible results of the presidential elections. He said that a Shafiq presidency would be an attempt by the old state to resurrect itself in full form whereas a Morsi presidency would be an unsteady balance of power between the Muslim Brotherhood and the military. Dr. Brown maintained that the SCAF will likely allow the civilian government to handle day-to-day government affairs while the military will grant itself ultimate authority as the protector of stability. It is questionable, therefore, whether the Muslim Brotherhood would be able to work within this system.
Dr. Elgindy focused on the political transition as well as the future of Egyptian foreign policy and its relationship with the United States. He said that the uprising has not been a revolution but has instead been a transition managed by the regime with few reforms. He asserted that the most unfortunate result of the recent events has been the Egyptian peoples’ loss of faith in their institutions. He also stated that politics in Egypt remain very fractured. Compromise is possible; however, it will be difficult to overcome past conflicts. Dr. Elgindy asserted that, because of consensus, Egyptian foreign policy has largely maintained continuity. He said that the U.S. and Egypt have a mutually beneficial relationship and, though the aid is not as influential as it once was, it would be foolish for the U.S. to threaten ceasing this assistance.
Mr. Cebeci brought a Turkish perspective to the conversation, using his expertise of Turkey’s civil-military relationship to analyze the role of the military in Egypt. He said that the revolution was not a collapse of the old regime but is instead a rearrangement of existing institutions. The SCAF has taken power and is concerned only with keeping it; therefore, it cannot be trusted to manage Egypt’s transition to democracy. The most crucial factor in the transition will be the creation of a new constitution. Mr. Cebeci articulated that the military is trying to frame Egyptian politics as a choice between Islamists and security, but it is important to realize that there is a plurality of positions. The main test for Egypt’s political actors will be to put aside their disagreements and create a democratic framework within which their differences can be debated.