Commentary

Looking Ahead to the Egyptian Presidential Elections

Middle East In Focus

Middle East In Focus

With the Egyptian presidential elections scheduled to take place in less than three weeks, the attention of the media and policy-makers has once again turned toward Cairo’s fractious political landscape. Even after nearly a dozen presidential candidates were disqualified for various reasons, by the last count there are still at least another 13 candidates in the race. Of them, two candidates Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, the Islamist candidate, and former Arab League chief Amr Moussa are seen to be the most viable. While much can change in the weeks to come, clearly these elections are bound to be consequential for Egypt’s anything-but-assured democratic transition and for the region as a whole.

In one of this week’s editorials, the Saudi Gazette editorial board highlights what it sees as a horse race between Fotouh and Moussa, and it also cautions against high expectations for whoever wins: “Ordinary Egyptians from all parts of the political spectrum share the belief that their voices are still not being heard. They are suspicious that the generals may still seek to hang on to the levers of power and block the growth of genuine democracy….Expectations of fundamental change are high, but with limited funds at its disposal, the new government will be restricted in job creation by way of infrastructural development that would be the classic means of an economic kick-start. The next Egyptian administration will need to plan for the inevitable disappointments by ensuring that those who participate so enthusiastically in the coming votes, understand that many great difficulties lie ahead and that Egypt’s many profound challenges cannot be slowed overnight.”

The Khaleej Times editorial agrees: “Egypt is seized with a parallel decorum of governance. The newly elected parliament and the military junta are in a crisscross and nobody knows what the format of decision-making would be if this dual-track complicity goes on…. This is a moment of leadership for the parliament and all the political parties to rally behind the cause of empowering the public institutions and ensure that the army conceded power to the people. The strategy should be one of dialogue, compassion and non-violence. At a time when the focus is on presidential duel, the stakes should not be raised so high that it gets to undermine the fundamental objective of change. A deal is in need of being stuck between the parliament and the military. It’s high for the ruling junta to call it a day and bow down in humility.”

The National comments on potentially damaging political posturing ahead of the elections: “Egypt's Islamist-dominated parliament has, in theory, earned the right to make demands….But in practice, Sunday's decision to boycott the People's Assembly for a week — in protest of the military government's continued grip on power — demonstrates a political brinkmanship that an Egypt in transition can ill afford... [T]he Brotherhood is positioning for long-term influence relative to the military, which makes political sense, but as a governing force, it needs some patience in dealing with the country's problems…. For their part, Islamist parties must recognize that the military will have a seat at the table, in some role or another. SCAF's (Supreme Council of the Armed Forces) decision yesterday to reshuffle members of the cabinet to reduce tensions is a sign that the generals understand their delicate position. There are more conflicts to come, but this interim period is not the time to start a fight.”

Others in the media have focused on the regional implications of the Egyptian elections. Earlier today, Gulf News’ Marwan Kabalan suggested, “Just like its revolution last year, the election in Egypt on May 23-24 is likely to have tremendous impact on Arab domestic politics as well as on the political landscape of the region….Given this long history of influence on fellow Arab countries, it would not be a far-fetched prediction that if the Islamists…rule in Egypt, most, in not all, of the Arab world would come under Islamist rule…. The question that is being frequently asked is: would the arrival of the Islamists to power in Egypt lead to a new line up in the region?... For Israel, the vital question is: Would the Camp David Accords and the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty be affected by the ascendance of new political elite in Cairo?”

In an article for the Bitter Lemons website, Sadegh Zibakalam expresses some optimism as he discusses the current developments in Egypt within the framework of the Arab Spring: “Democracy is slowly rising in the Arab world for the first time in its history. And if history is anything to go by, democracy will solve many historical conflicts in the region — both domestic as well as between states — in much the same the way it did in Europe and elsewhere...The Islam that has emerged in the Arab spring is more inclined towards a Turkish than an Iranian model. It is true that the Islamists in Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt have emerged as the biggest winners in free and fair elections. But it is also true that the Islam they broadly represent is a moderate Islam. It is neither anti-western nor anti-American. It is not even explicitly anti-Israel…. In fact, the Arab spring has for the first time created a realistic prospect for peace between the Arabs and Israel.”

There are signs that things are beginning to change, starting with the media. As Maurice Chammah writes on The Daily Star: “Egypt’s state press is changing, slowly…. Critics have focused more on the overhaul of state television than on that of print outlets. But print media is also changing. The Journalists’ Syndicate (print journalists) has been increasingly critical of the regime since its last polls, and state newspaper coverage of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has grown more cautiously critical….Before the Egyptian uprising, the allegiance of state media was clear...Furthermore, while state journalists no longer strictly follow the government’s narrative, reporters for state papers have spent decades practicing a form of journalism that supports the policies of the country’s leaders. However, Al-Akhbar’s recent exceptions to this rule and the new confidence of the journalists’ syndicate suggest some small — but significant — beginnings of change in the state press.”


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