Egyptian Elections: Between a Rock and a Hard Place


With only a few weeks left until the run-off elections in Egypt, there are still many questions left unanswered.  Where’s the constitution? What role will the military play in the new regime? Where does the US stand? Will there be more protests?

Barbara Slavin moderated a panel of leading experts on Egypt, co-sponsored by Al-Monitor, at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on Thursday to debate these questions and what they mean for Egypt.

Despite their varying views, all three panelists seemed to agree that the choice Egyptians are left with is, for the most part, one between the lesser of two evils. On the one hand, there is the Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammad Morsi. On the other, former Mubarak player, Ahmad Shafiq.Samer Shehata, an Egypt scholar at Georgetown University, put his money on a win for Morsi, saying he could not imagine a Mubarak remnant taking power after the revolution. Michael Wahid Hanna, an analyst with the Century Foundation, appeared to lean toward Shafiq, after initially ducking the question. And Marina Ottaway, a senior associate at Carnegie, put the question to rest when she said, “It doesn’t matter who wins.”

Even if Morsi wins, she said, the bureaucracy that was in place under Mubarak is still intact. The judiciary has made all the most important political decisions since the revolution and will most likely continue to do so. “How do you decide something is unconstitutional when there is no constitution?” she asked, referring to the fact that a new constitution has yet to be drafted, leaving a vacuum for whoever takes office.

The military’s power may remain mostly unchanged as well, said Ottaway, though it could take on a new face. If Shafiq wins, the military will most likely step back into the role it played during Mubarak’s regime, behind the curtain. If Morsi wins, it will most likely inhabit a more visible role, she said. Either way, it will make sure that it satisfies four demands: immunity from prosecution; budgetary independence; a dominant role in national security decision-making and protecting its business interests, Hanna said.

As for the US’ part in all of this, all three panelists agreed that it was a good idea to stay relatively quiet. The United States is a power in decline in the region,” said Shehata, “and that’s a good thing.”

When all is said and done, Morsi is the de facto candidate for change now, which is why “lots of people are going to stay home,” said Hanna. Unless, of course, Shafiq wins, in which case those people might very well pour into the streets again.