Elections the start of Egypt’s democracy



“Most of the candidates are from the previous regime we rebelled against. The ideal candidate doesn’t exist at the moment.”

Those are the words of Kamilla, a tour guide from Cairo whom I spoke with in March of this year. It appears that those words rang true for the culmination of the Presidential elections this weekend. The run off between the final two Presidential nominees, the former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik and Mohammad Mursi, will take place with the decision having a very powerful effect on the future of Egypt.

Boxed into this position, the Egyptian voter has a difficult choice. There is the possible continuation of the previous regime’s ideals with Shafik, something they vigorously fought against in the revolution of January 2011, or the more radical Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood party, who most importantly would like to make the country an Islamist state.

Shafik has the advantage of previous experience running a government, which at this point in time is something that Egypt needs. Political uncertainty has affected the domestic economy – the vastly smaller numbers of tourists proceed with armed guards, building projects are left unfinished and there is a small element of lawlessness.

Despite the interim military rule, it is very difficult for small courts or the police to function effectively when there is an absence of a valid constitution or sound politics – last week the Parliament was ordered to be dissolved by the Egyptian Supreme Court. The diplomatic past of former Prime Minister Shafik is something that Mohammad Mursi lacks.

Some on the ground are wary of the link a Mursi presidency will create between the country’s religion and constitution, with around 20 per cent of the population Christian. The country has developed its links within the North African region and beyond whilst keeping religion and politics separate.

There are fears that such a move would harm the country’s international relations, especially as the Muslim Brotherhood are one of the most radical parties that took part in the elections. The party takes an antiquated view of women in society, and has a violent history. President Mubarak did not make enemies of the West, but members of the Muslim Brotherhood make no secret of doing this through their preferred foreign policy.

However, the image portrayed by the party in the election has been less extreme, basing their project for a new Egypt on successful Turkish blueprints. Nevertheless, elements of its shady past have not disappeared overnight.

Whatever the final result of the election, the immediate consequences could be further instability – the possibility of more iconic protests is high if Shafik is victorious, whilst Mursi’s chances of a secure government could be affected by the fact the army maintains the right to imprison revolutionary Islamists in military courts.

In essence, social turmoil could follow from one result, whilst continued political turmoil could amount from the other.

I recall asking Kamilla whether she would vote in the elections. “Yes, I will cast my vote, I wish to do that” she replied, “but now I do not know who I will vote for”. The dilemma she had in March has not been made any easier.

There is, however, no doubt the Egyptian population would like to fulfil their duty and elect a new president, although it appears the result will not draw a line under the uncertainty they have lived with since 2011.

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