Elections in Egypt

Adam Shatz writes: During the long, bewildering week in which Egyptians waited for the results of their presidential election to be announced, I took a train from Cairo to Alexandria. The Muslim Brotherhood had declared that its candidate, Mohamed Morsi, had defeated Ahmed Shafiq, Mubarak’s last prime minister, by a million votes. The Brothers had collected signed tallies from all 16,000 polling stations, and their counts were said to be meticulous. (It turned out they were off by only 0.06 per cent.) But Shafiq had declared victory too, and in the last week of the campaign looked eerily confident, as if he knew the elections had been rigged in his favour. The longer people were forced to wait, the more they began to worry – or hope – that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces would try to pass Shafiq off as the winner. Until 24 June, when Morsi’s victory was announced by the electoral commission, nothing was certain, even whether the former president was alive or dead. As the train reached the station at Alexandria, my fixer, Magdy, got a call from his boss, a reporter for the Telegraph, to say that Mubarak had died. ‘I guess he couldn’t bear to see Mohamed Morsi sitting in his chair,’ Magdy said. By the time we got to the hotel, CNN was reporting that Mubarak was in a critical condition, maybe on life support. ‘They’re playing with us,’ Magdy said.

On 14 June, two days before the election, the revolution’s most concrete achievement – a freely elected parliament, dominated by Islamists – had been dissolved by the Supreme Constitutional Court, a body of judges appointed by Mubarak. The court’s argument was that because members of political parties had run for the third of the seats reserved for independents, the entire parliament was illegal. With parliament dissolved, the SCAF was ruling by decree. The timing of the decision and the speed with which it was implemented led many Egyptians to see it as another power grab by the army. This perception was reinforced when, on the last day of voting, the SCAF – advised by the same judges who had dissolved parliament – passed a series of constitutional amendments, as if it were taking out an insurance policy in the event of a Morsi victory. Thanks to these amendments, the SCAF now has the right to dissolve the constituent assembly which was formed to draft a new constitution, and whose future is already uncertain since it was chosen by an ‘illegal’ parliament. It also has the right to veto any article in the new constitution that is held to violate the revolution’s goals. The presidency meanwhile has been stripped of many of its powers, including the power to declare war.

This wasn’t a military coup, as some claimed: the coup had already taken place on 11 February 2011, when the SCAF took control and the revolutionaries agreed to give it a chance, a decision many came to regret. But this ‘judicial coup’, as some had it, hardly inspired confidence that a handover to a civilian government would take place by 1 July, as the SCAF had promised. ‘We’d be outraged if we weren’t so exhausted,’ the human rights activist Hossam Bahgat tweeted. Some of my friends warned that the army, with the support of the feloul – remnants of the old regime – might try to put an end to the democratic process, as the Algerian generals did in 1992, sparking a decade-long war. The Egyptians were too tired to fight a civil war, but they already seemed to be choosing sides on the basis of whom they feared more, the army or the Brothers. [Continue reading…]

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