Elections in Egypt

Author: Kelly Payne, Visiting Fellow, Yale University

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The current presidential elections in Egypt come after nearly a year and a half of hard-fought political struggle. Looking back at pre-revolution Egypt reveals the improbable odds this country has overcome on its path to democracy. Egypt's former president of thirty years, Hosni Mubarak assumed power in 1981 following the assassination of Anwar El Sadat. He ruled under emergency law, which allowed for expanded policing powers, suspended constitutional rights, and legalized censorship. Under his control, the people of Egypt endured decades of political repression, fixed elections, rampant corruption, and economic woes

It was January 25, 2011 when, emboldened by Tunisian uprisings, Egyptian opposition groups planned a day of protest against police abuses. News of the planned protest spread quickly among youth through social media. Although the government shut down internet and mobile telephone services, the primary means of mobilization, the protests continued to swell. On February 11, 2011, history was made: Vice President Suleiman announced that Mubarak had resigned, and that the Supreme Council of Egyptian Armed Forces would assume leadership of the country. They pledged to rule for six months, or until a transition could be completed, and immediately moved to dissolve parliament and suspend the constitution

Although the pace of reform was slow, and many wondered whether the military would indeed cede its power, continued protests led to the establishment of the democratic electoral process. The Muslim Brotherhood formed the Freedom and Justice Party, which merged with 40 other parties to create a short-lived coalition entitled the Democratic Alliance. The Egyptian Bloc formed in response, consisting of liberal, secular, and center-left parties. The Democratic Alliance, however, imploded after just three weeks. Among the many parties and coalitions subsequently formed were the liberal New Wafd party and the Salafi Al-Nour party. New Wafd ran an independent candidate list, while Al-Nour united with several other parties to form the Islamist bloc

Voting for the People's Assembly took place in three stages between November 28, 2011 and January 11, 2012. The Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice party came out ahead, receiving 37.5% of the vote, which was followed by 27.8% for the Islamist Bloc, and 9.2% for New Wafd. The Shura council elections were also held in three stages between January 29th and February 22nd. The Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party received a clear majority with 58.33% of seats, followed by 25% for Al-Nour and 7.78% for New Wafd. With their landslide victory, the Brotherhood's FJP formed a coalition with the Al-Nour party to secure a parliamentary majority

The new Egyptian constitution, which was scheduled to be completed prior to the presidential election, was halted in the drafting process. A 100-member assembly, half of whose members were sitting MPs, was appointed in April 2012 by the parliament. Widespread complaints quickly ensued concerning the representation of women, youth, and minorities in the assembly. Liberal and secular parties withdrew their participation over concerns about the role of Islam in the constitution. The Administrative Court ruled to suspend the process on April 10,, 2012

Despite the inability to produce a constitutional draft outlining presidential powers, the presidential election process continued. A law was passed on April 12, 2012 by the Egyptian parliament prohibiting former high-ranking officials in the Mubarak administration from running in elections for 10 years. On April 14th, 10 of the 23 registered candidates were disqualified by the Supreme Presidential Electoral Commission

Five front-runners soon emerged in the Presidential contest: Mohamed Mursi of the Freedom and Justice Party, Ahmed Shafik, Hamdeen Sabbahi of the Dignity party, Abdel Moneim Abul Fotouh, and Amr Moussa. Each of these candidates possesses a unique political background and a distinct vision for post-revolution Egypt

Mohamed Mursi is a former engineering professor at Zagazig University who served in Parliament from 1995 to 2005. He is a long-time Muslim Brotherhood party man, serving in their Guidance Office and becoming the first president of their Freedom and Justice Party in 2011. After the Brotherhood's first presidential candidate, Khairat El-Shater was barred from the election (election rules require that all candidates have not been imprisoned for the past six years, while El-Shater was only released in March 2011), the FJP chose to back Mursi with their considerable resources. He is known for hard-line conservative stances on social issues and for political pragmatism. In the first round of the election, he was the highest vote-getter, receiving 24.78% of the vote

Candidate Ahmed Shafik is a former member of the Egyptian Air Force, and served as the Minister of Civil Aviation for Mubarak from 2002 to 2011. In an attempt to placate the Egyptian people after the initial uprisings in February 2011, Mubarak appointed him Prime Minister. His name was actually floated during the last years of the Mubarak administration as a possible successor, painting him as a true Mubarak-regime insider. He presided over the government during the Battle of the Camel, in which the crowds of protesters in Tahrir were attacked by men riding horses and camels and brandishing weapons. He was removed from his post as Prime Minister by the military council following a confrontation with author and activist Alaa El-Aswani on a live talk show in which he appeared to be out of touch with the day-to-day realities of the Egyptian people. On the campaign trail, he has insinuated that he is the candidate endorsed by the ruling military council, and preaches a message of order and security within 30 days of being elected. He received the second-highest portion of the vote in the first-round elections with 23.66%. He will advance to a runoff election against Mursi on June 16-17, 2012

A third candidate, Hamdeen Sabbahi is a Nasserist and long-time political dissident who is famous for confronting Al-Sadat while serving as the head of Cairo University students' union. In 2000, he was elected to Parliament, and in 2004 he helped found the grassroots movement Kefaya which advocated against the continuation of Mubarak's presidency and attempts to groom his son Gamal to succeed him. Sabbahi has also been a long-time critic of the United States and Israel, and believes in providing material assistance to the Palestinian resistance. In 2010, he helped to found the National Assembly for Change along with Mohamed ElBaradei, which sought constitutional reform and social justice. He was an enthusiastic supporter of the revolution from its outset, and even sustained minor injuries while taking part in anti-regime demonstrations. Sabbahi has also been a fierce critic of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which has ruled since Mubarak's ouster. He is a secular figure, and targeted his campaign at the working class with a message of social equity. He received the third-highest share of the vote, 20.72%

The candidate Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh is a moderate, and heads the Arab Medical Union. He is also a long-time political dissident, and was jailed once during the Sadat administration, and twice under Mubarak. He served on the Guidance Bureau of the Muslim Brotherhood from 1987 to 2009, where he acted as a liberal voice. Despite active membership in the Brotherhood, he was forced to leave after declaring his presidential candidacy (at this time the Brotherhood had pledged not to monopolize the new political scene by offering a presidential candidate). He has been a popular figure among youth, pledging to appoint a young Vice President and to fill half of administrative posts with people under age 45. He received the fourth-highest share of the vote, 17.47%

Candidate Amr Moussa is a well-known politician and a career diplomat. He served as Mubarak's foreign minister from 1991 to 2001, and in 2001 he became secretary-general of the Arab League, where he remained until 2011. He was an initially cautious supporter of the revolution, but is experienced in diplomacy and has strong relationships with the leaders of the Arab world. He received 11.13% of the vote

The choice that the Egyptian people are faced with in the presidential election runoff is between Mursi the conservative Islamist, and Shafik, the Mubarak devotee. Neither enjoys the support of the young revolutionaries. In fact, with such a low election turnout (43%), neither enjoys much support at all. Mursi received 5.7 million votes, and Shafik 5.5 million, small numbers in a county of 50 million. Soon after the results of the election were announced, several thousand protestors filled Tahrir square to protest against Shafik, chanting, "Where is the revolution?" Others set his campaign headquarters in Cairo ablaze

The Shafik coalition consists of elite businessmen, former military officers, members of the Coptic Christian minority, and cosmopolitans that are vigilant against the pious intolerance of the Brotherhood. Fears of lawlessness and an Islamist takeover are the glue that binds this disparate coalition. It remains to be seen whether his law and order approach can defeat the Brotherhood's massive political machine. It is now the age-old question between secularism and an Islamic state in an election dominated by the old-guard political powerhouses. In the choice between a Mubarek crony and his long-standing opposition group, the voices of the new revolutionaries are seldom found. Egypt stands at a crossroads, and June 17th will decide the type of state it will become, or else, it is back to Tahrir

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