Presidential elections are ‘disaster’ for Egypt, say reformists

By Rebecca Lowe

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Egypt’s run-off presidential election, between a Muslim Brotherhood candidate and a member of the old regime, has been described as a ‘disaster’ by reformist lawyers, politicians and activists.

The Brotherhood's Mohamed Mursi and former prime minister Ahmed Shafiq will go head-to-head on 16 and 17 June to decide who will become the country’s first leader in the post-Mubarak era. Mursi topped the poll with 24.3 per cent of the votes, while Shafiq received 23.3 per cent. Turnout was surprisingly low, at 46 per cent.

‘Both are disasters for Egypt,’ says Alaa Shalaby, secretary-general of the Arab Organisation for Human Rights, based in Cairo. ‘This is the worst dilemma Egypt could be facing right now, and many Egyptians will suffer.’

Excerpt from webcast interview with Mohamed ElBaradei (2:19)



  ‘ have to build that proper legal framework – you know, what are the core values where everybody is going to live under, or live by?'

Mohamed ElBaradei
Egyptian Nobel Peace Prize winner


‘It is a terrible situation for Egypt, especially for the revolutionaries and the civic groups,’ adds Mohamed Omran, regional program coordinator at the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Liberty, which promotes liberal politics. ‘We now have a choice between the religious fascists and the military fascists, because they have the most powerful and organised movements. It is like having a multiple choice question, but both answers are wrong.’

Left-wing Hamdeen Sabahy and moderate Islamist Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh took third and fourth place respectively. Former secretary-general of the Arab League Amr Moussa, considered the front-runner by many, polled a disappointing fifth.

Sabahy and Fotouh filed complaints about alleged electoral abuses, but these were dismissed by the electoral committee.


   ‘The rule of law, fighting corruption, delivering justice, reordering the priorities of foreign policy – these are all still absent,’

Hussein Haridy
Egypt's former assistant foreign minister 

Moussa believes there may have been ‘manipulation’, which affected his results, but stresses the need to continue the democratic process. ‘That is a question mark that must be answered,’ he says, speaking to IBA Global Insight. ‘But I don’t want this to be the main issue for discussion. The main issue is democracy and we want clear results for the next stage.’

Mursi has promised to impose sharia law in Egypt, while Shafiq, supported tacitly by the army, has stressed an end to ‘revolutionary chaos’. The controversial result has done little to bring peace and security to the fledgling democracy, which has been beset with difficulties since Hosni Mubarak was ousted on 11 February 2011.

The younger generation, largely responsible for sparking the revolution, has mounted several angry protests over the past year against the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which has held power throughout the transitional phase. Since February 2011, the army has killed up to 100 protesters, beaten hundreds more and subjected thousands to military trials. In April, SCAF was accused of influencing the courts to ban ten presidential candidates from running, including potential rivals.

After winning the parliamentary elections in January, the Brotherhood has also been strongly criticised for failing to initiate political and economic reforms. Many fear that the group wishes to dismantle the civic state and suppress personal freedoms.

For Negad El Borai, senior partner at United Group law firm, based in Cairo, it would be a ‘disaster’ if the Brotherhood won the presidency. ‘We had a similar experience with Mubarak’s NDP and we can’t allow the same mistakes to be repeated. It is not about human rights, it’s about having one party controlling everything.’

Hussein Haridy, former assistant foreign minister of Egypt, is scathing of the Brotherhood, but stresses that the country needs to find a ‘third way’ beyond the current factions. For him, the liberal and revolutionary forces have ‘utterly failed’ because they have not communicated effectively with the population. Since Mubarak fell, they have been noticeably absent from the political process, failing to win significant votes in either election.

‘The rule of law, fighting corruption, delivering justice, reordering the priorities of foreign policy – these are all still absent,’ he says. ‘The political forces haven’t changed: the Islamists on one side and the proponents of the armed forces on the other.’

Shalaby agrees: ‘We’re in this position because the political powers didn’t gather together to form a coalition and united front. There was no leadership.’

SCAF lifted a state of emergency in force throughout Mubarak's 30-year rule on 31 May and has pledged to transfer power to the new president on 1 July. The next stage in the democratic process is to form a constitutional committee, which will draw up a Constitution.

Many believe the Constitution should have come first to provide a framework of legitimacy for the elections, and fear that those in power will try to have undue influence. Nobel peace prize winner Mohamed ElBaradei, who withdrew his bid for the presidency last year, is clear on the matter. ‘We should have started with the Constitution,’ he said in a November 2011 IBA interview.  ‘You have to build that proper legal framework – you know, what are the core values where everybody is going to live under, or live by?’ [see clip above]

Moussa, however, urges people to have faith in the process. ‘The message was very clear: we want a constitutional committee that represents all walks of life. Egyptians are very worried but also very vigilant. I don’t think any credible commission will be accepted without this.’

On whether Egypt is moving in the right direction, however, Moussa is less emphatic. ‘Let us see,’ he says. ‘Let us hope for the best.’