All’s not over Dina Ezzat

by Jun 28, 2012All Articles

Any hopes that presidential elections would lead to a political breakthrough are fast dwindling, writes Dina Ezzat
On Tuesday evening, less than 48 hours before the announcement of the results of the second round of the presidential elections, ousted president Hosni Mubarak was transferred from Tora prison to the Maadi Military Hospital. The former autocrat had spent just 18 days in prison after receiving a 25-year sentence for failing to intervene and prevent the murder of close to 1,000 peaceful protesters.
Mubarak’s health has been the subject of endless speculations. Military medical sources insist the widespread perception that Mubarak had been moved in order to be made more comfortable is wrong.
“He is really ill. I don’t know about SCAF and any deal. All I can say is that he is ill,” said one doctor.
The dramatic announcement — the state-owned Middle East News Agency (MENA), which enjoys close ties with the authorities, originally reported that Mubarak was “clinically dead” — was viewed by many as an attempt to distract attention from the presidential elections.
Many activists fear there is growing evidence that Ahmed Shafik, a retired military general and a close associate of Mubarak, will be declared the new president of Egypt. He came second in the first round of the presidential elections, despite low ratings in most opinion polls, making it to the run-offs with Mohamed Mursi, leader of the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood.
On Monday Mursi’s campaign announced that the Brotherhood candidate had won. Within hours Shafik’s camp was predicting its own candidate’s victory. By Tuesday afternoon the claims had hardened. Shafik’s campaign said he had secured 51 per cent of the vote, while Mursi was claiming to have won 52.5 per cent.
“We are confident that Mohamed Mursi is the next president of Egypt. This is not wishful thinking but based on tallies of the official count lists,” said Brotherhood leader Essam El-Erian.
On Tuesday morning Mursi’s campaign provided journalists attending a press briefing with a compilation of vote counts from polling stations across Egypt. Shafik’s campaign insisted the figures were inaccurate, but offered no documentation to back up their assertion.
“It is the task of the Presidential Elections Commission [PEC] to compile the votes. It is not our job, and it is not the job of the other campaign,” said Ahmed Sarhan, spokesman for the Shafik campaign.
Sarhan is notorious for having announced “the revolution has ended” when the results of the first round were made public, though not officially declared. And an end to the revolution is what many activists fear should Shafik become president. That fear has been fanned by the addendum to last year’s Constitutional Declaration, issued by SCAF before polls closed, co-opting to the military executive and legislative powers, and following a 14 June Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) ruling dissolving parliament.
“We have been caught in a circle of political instability over the past week and now face a SCAF-orchestrated coup against the 25 January Revolution,” says Amin Iskandar, a representative of the Karama Party in the now dissolved People’s Assembly.
Iskandar, though critical of the weak parliamentary performance of the FJP and Nour, believes the dissolution of parliament, and by extension the constitution drafting committee it had selected, are the real harbingers of “political turmoil”.
“Immediately following the revolution SCAF chose to cooperate with the Muslim Brotherhood because it believed the Brotherhood could influence public opinion in its favour. Now SCAF is turning against the Brotherhood, confident of its own ability to sway public opinion and of its control over the institutions of state, including promulgating legislation,” says Iskandar.
On Monday SCAF held a press conference at which Mamdouh Shahin defended the addendum to the constitutional declaration as an attempt to strike a balance between the powers of the president and SCAF pending the election of a new parliament and the drafting of a new constitution.
“We are heading towards a collision between the two sides. A confrontation between the state and political Islam is being orchestrated,” argues Iskandar. “It is not about Mursi and Shafik but about what SCAF wants.”
Activists Mohamed Waked and Mohamed Sarhan, one a liberal, the other an Islamist, agree. The upcoming confrontation, they say, might undermine political stability for some time to come.
Neither rules out the possibility of interference in the voting process.
“If it is announced that Shafik has won what this means is that even with the complementary constitutional declaration drastically undermining the presidential role in place, the military still cannot stomach a civilian at the head of the executive,” says Waked said.
But how easy would it be to influence the outcome of the vote?
“I am not saying it’s impossible, but it would be very difficult,” a source close to PEC told Al-Ahram Weekly.
It is Mursi, not Shafik, who is likely to be announced the winner, says the source. “The figures put online by the Muslim Brotherhood are compatible with what we have.”
Other official sources speak of possible re-counts and investigations into the way pressure was applied on voters at some polling stations to cast their ballot in favour of Mursi. Whoever is announced to have won, says political analyst Hassan Abu Taleb, will face serious challenges in promoting stability.
“The first month will not be easy, that’s for certain, but what I find more worrying are the prospects for the months that follow.”
The Muslim Brotherhood, says Abu Taleb, is unlikely to have the stomach for a full scale confrontation with SCAF though the generals appear determined to strip the organisation of its political gains “through a legal approach”. Abu Taleb pays little heed to alarmist warnings of bloody conflict. What does concern him are the possible consequences of continuing instability on the process of drafting the constitution and on the economy.
In the 18 months since Mubarak stepped down rating agencies have downgraded Egypt on three separate occasions. Economists warn of the spectre of bankruptcy, and foreign diplomats say they are increasingly concerned over the economic impact of increased political stability.
“The more unstable Egypt becomes the more difficult it is for us to offer loans on reasonable terms,” says one diplomat from a leading donor state.
Egyptian diplomats overseas say they have had to field many questions over the second round of presidential elections.
“I hear indirect criticism of the management of the electoral process,” says one, “together with suggestions that there might be a last minute intervention to give Shafik a push. I tell them it would be very difficult for anyone to do that now”.
Egyptian diplomats who spoke to the Weekly say what donor states are looking for now is stability and a credible democratic process. Whether the president is Islamist or not is the least of their concerns. It is a line echoed by Western diplomats in Cairo who say what counts is stability and a commitment by Egypt to honour its international treaties.
In the words of one: “If Mursi is president and Egypt is moving forward it is much better for us than if any of Mubarak’s friends is president and Egypt is stuck. It is when Egypt is unstable that we have to worry.”
According to the same source, the Muslim Brotherhood has been busy offering assurances to concerned capitals. “They are well aware that people are concerned and they are trying to dispel these concerns,” he added.
As supporters of Shafik and Mursi each celebrate their self-declared victories, others have been stocking up foodstuffs and medication in anticipation of a possible showdown between the two sides.
Rumours of curfews and shortages abound. “It is psychological warfare,” says human rights activist Ahmed Ragheb. “It is the sort of thing we saw in the early days of the revolution. People shouldn’t take the scare mongering too seriously.”
What does worry Ragheb, regardless of who becomes president, is the fate of the demands voiced by the revolution. In the midst of any showdown over who controls the state calls for social justice are likely to be the first casualty. (see pp.2-5)
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