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Islamist, not airforce officer

by Ronald Meinardus

Opinion

In June, Egyptians for the first time elected a president with democratic legitimacy

In June, Egyptians for the first time elected a president with democratic legitimacy

Egypt’s first president with democratic legitimacy is Mohammed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Election Commission declared him the victor on 24 June, one week after the run-off election. Before the event, however, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) made sure it would stay in charge of important government matters. By Ronald Meinardus

In Egypt, the presidential elections were not the first cases of democratic voting since Hosni Mubarak fell. There was a constitutional referendum last year, which was followed by parliamentary elections this year. Election observers did not report many blemishes this time. They agree that the elections were generally free and fair. For a nation that is used to electoral fraud being part of the political system, this was a giant step forward. Even after the run-off, the streets stayed calm.

That was not necessarily to be expected given the utter political confusion that preceded the voting. Egyptians witnessed how their national fate was determined not by an election, but by an arrangement of the military with the higher judiciary. The SCAF, which has been running the country since Mubarak was ousted, made sure it stayed in control of a large chunk of state power before transferring the rest of state power to an elected head of state.

Two days before the run-off election, the Supreme Constitutional Court retro-actively declared unconstitutional parts of the law for the parliamentary elections, and the SCAF soon after dissolved the parliament. That was a heavy blow to the Muslim Brothers who had dominated both chambers, and had used such influence in attempts to control the drafting of the new constitution. Mismanagement of this sensitive process cost them a lot of popular trust.

Shortly before the poll stations closed, moreover, the SCAF announced a new, far-reaching decree. It gives the armed forces legislative powers and limits the president’s influence to non-military affairs. Moreover, the SCAF reserved itself a role in drafting the new constitution. Some people began to speak of “military dictatorship”.

In any case, the new president’s powers will be drastically curtailed right from the start. He must, nonetheless, rise to daunting challenges. Egypt is struggling with serious problems, and public finance is a mess. The SCAF will happily let the president take decisions that are as necessary as they are unpopular.

The two candidates in the run-off election reveal how elite Egypt is split into two camps. Mursi’s opponents call him a stooge of the Muslim Brothers. The other candidate was Ahmad Shafik, Mubarak’s last prime minister and a former air force general. Many consider him a SCAF puppet. The truth is that two kinds of elite are struggling for dominance. The first kind is represented by the Muslims Brothers and includes aspiring people who have been marginalised and suppressed for decades and finally want to have a say in public life. The other elite group is made up of members of the ancien regime and enjoys military backing.

Liberal and progressive forces hardly played a role in the presidential elections. The reason is that they did not agree on a single candidate. Doing so would have mattered very much, because the election law pits the two best-placed candidates against one another in the run-off.

In the eyes of many Egyptians, the run-off ultimately amounted to a choice between the devil and the deep blue sea. Many boycotted the polls or made their votes invalid. The majority of the first-hour revolutionaries is fundamentally disappointed. “We’d be outraged if we weren’t so exhausted,” says Hossam Baghat, a prominent human rights lawyer. Like many of his political companions he seems close to burning out. He is certainly not the only person who does not find Morsi’s victory satisfying. The upside, however, is that the SCAF is not the only power in the state of Egypt.