Published today in the Caledonian Mercury – www.caledonianmercury.com
After months of uncertainty, Egypt stands on the brink of a new dawn: but judging by recent developments, quite what the future will hold for the turbulent nation remains far from clear.
Firstly, there was President Hosni Mubarak’s dramatic resignation in February last year, bringing to an end his thirty years as the country’s leader (which followed the assassination of President Sadat in 1981). There then followed in August his conviction by an ordinary Egyptian criminal court for failing to prevent the killing of protesters during the popular uprising which brought down his regime. He was immediately sentenced to life imprisonment, and continues to serve that sentence in an Egyptian prison: however as this goes to press the 84 year old has been transferred to a military hospital in a critical condition.
After his resignation, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (‘SCAF’) became the de facto government; and in a statement issued at that time declared that it would both facilitate a transition to democracy and thereafter respect the will of the people as spoken through free and open elections. That is something that has never happened since the founding of the Arab Republic of Egypt in 1953.
In recent months Egypt has quickly had to get to grips with elections for both the presidency and also the parliament – which was dissolved at the same time as President Mubarak’s resignation. There have been many arguments about the right of those associated with Mubarak’s regime to stand in the elections and the country has become more openly divided on religious lines, with violent clashes involving Muslim and Coptic Christian communities.
Between November 2011 and January 2012 elections were held for 498 seats in the parliament’s lower house, the People’s Assembly (an additional 10 seats were filled by SCAF appointed candidates). The result gave the Democratic Alliance, which is dominated by the Freedom & Justice Party (founded by the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt) 235 seats. The second largest party, the Islamist Bloc, gained 121 seats, with a spectrum of liberal parties thereafter gaining less than 100.
Elections to the upper house, the Shura Council, took place in January and February 2012 and the Democratic Alliance and Islamist Bloc took the lion’s share with 150 of the 180 seats, with liberals again making up the remainder.
With the parliamentary elections complete, the focus then turned to the presidential campaign and ultimately last week’s run off between President Mubarak’s ex-Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik (who has a military background similar to ex-Presidents Mubarak, Sadat and even Nasser before him) and Mohamed Morsi, chairman of the Freedom & Justice Party. Again, as this goes to press, the result of the election is too close to call, with both candidates claiming victory [Mohamed Morsi has, amid dramatic scenes, now been proclaimed President]. Whoever wins, SCAF has vowed to hand control to the newly elected president on 30 June, but whether this will happen is far from clear; and veteran Middle East analyst Charles Holmes has written that it doesn’t really matter who the next president of Egypt is: that both are ghosts of the past, embedded in a clash between ‘military and mosque’.
The most significant development of all, however, was Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court decision of 14 June that the elections to the People’s Assembly were unlawful, a step which led SCAF to dissolve Parliament. This has led to an outcry, mainly by the Muslim Brotherhood, which has the greatest to lose from fresh elections, and accusations that SCAF is engineering a coup d’Etat. On the other hand, SCAF claims simply to be upholding its duty to govern in accordance with the rule of law.
In short, Egypt’s future remains as unpredictable as at any time since the first shoots of the Arab Spring; and the real issue, its foundering economy, remains adrift in the political storm.
Stephen O’Rourke, June 2012