Egypt's Elections: A Report from Cairo
Egyptians headed to the polls Monday in the first parliamentary elections since the ouster of former president Hosni Mubarak amid deepening divisions in society and concern about the nation's direction. Join CFR senior fellow Ed Husain, who is currently in Cairo, for an analysis of the elections and the path ahead.
TONI JOHNSON: Hello, everyone. Welcome to this Council on Foreign Relations media conference call. I'm Toni Johnson. I'm a senior writer for CFR.org, and on the line today with me is Ed Husain, a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies and writer of the blog "The Arab Street."
Ed is currently on the ground in Cairo and is here to talk to us about Egypt's elections. He's going to set the scene for us on the current situation, and I'll follow up with a few questions and then open it up to the rest of you.
ED HUSAIN: Hi, Toni.
JOHNSON: What's it -- what time is it there for you right now?
HUSAIN: It's just gone past 5:30 in the evening, so the dawn -- or the rather dusk prayer call, the adhan, has gone off, and I've just come back from near Tahrir Square.
There are young lovers who have gathered on the bridges overlooking the Nile regardless of the elections and the chaos in parts of the country. But yeah, it's the beginning of the evening.
JOHNSON: So yesterday Egyptians began casting votes for their lower house of Parliament. Can you describe what's going on? How's the voting going?
HUSAIN: The voting seems to be going peacefully, on balance. There was a scuffle yesterday in one of the more high-profile parts of Cairo, Heliopolis, where the liberal candidate Amr Hamzawy clashed with the Islamist candidate for the Freedom and Justice Party. That grabbed some headlines. There was a shootout in Assiut. But other than those two incidents, on balance, the several parts of Egypt that are voting, bearing in mind that not all of Egypt is voting at the moment, seems -- things seem to be going peacefully.
And I think it's worth contrasting this with elections in India, the world's democracy, that whenever we've had elections there -- yes, the numbers are larger, without doubt -- what we've seen is, you know, violence and mayhem break out, even killings. We haven't seen this here in Egypt despite some people expecting that polling stations would be attacked by elements of the old regime. So it's got to be said that, all things considered, thus far the first leg of the Egyptian parliamentary elections have been peaceful.
JOHNSON: So what is the -- you know, can you describe a little bit more about what the mood is in Egypt, especially in regards to the recent -- sorry, unrest that's occurred in the past week or so?
HUSAIN: There is a sense of division in the air, and the division is about the demands of some in Tahrir Square that the elections should not go ahead at this stage under the supervision of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. Others are arguing that the forthcoming Parliament, if it is indeed elected, and B, if it sits, wouldn't necessarily have much biting power because real power would continue to lie with the -- with the armed forces.
But despite demands of, you know, some who wanted to boycott the elections, it seems that those who wanted the elections to go ahead -- i.e., the Muslim Brotherhood, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, and several of the presidential candidates and, by all measures, the vast majority of the Egyptian population -- and now the fact that people are going out and voting on their feet in these huge queues that we've seen -- indicates that the momentum for the elections and wanting to put in place a political process is much stronger than those who opposed it.
And given that the momentum is so strong, the problem is that the expectations are exceptionally high in Egypt. People have been waiting for decades for this moment, months, now, after the revolution. And in a government-centric population like Egypt, where people are used to big government, the expectations that this new forthcoming Parliament will somehow form some form of authority that will then deliver on the issues that matter to Egyptians -- i.e., better jobs, high salaries, better health care, affordable housing -- you know, those expectations are really high. The question is, can a forthcoming Parliament have any form of power or influence over the leaders of government to deliver?
JOHNSON: So a lot has been made about the likely political gains of Islamist parties. What are your concerns going forward? And have you heard anything on the ground you think is significant to the situation?
HUSAIN: Well, I've been to, I think, about 20 polling stations over this last two days. And everywhere I've been, the only party that's been present on every polling station, with laptops, with guidance material for voters -- bearing in mind most voters are illiterate, most voters are voting for the first time, they need some kind of guidance as to who to vote for, what to vote for and how to vote -- all of that guidance has come, almost without exception, from the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party.
And the evidence of that is, every polling booth I've visited -- and it's not just me; I mean, several others have repeated -- reported the same thing -- that people are given small cards with the Muslim Brotherhood's insignia, or their symbol, which is the scale or a weighing device. And then, you know, illiterate voters go away thinking this is what they should vote for. And then, you know, they're asked to put a cross in a certain place, and they go off and many of them do that. More literate, more complicated voters would ask questions. And even if they were to ask questions, you know, in some constituencies, 120 candidates are standing. The only candidates who have people meeting and greeting and campaigning at the very last minute just outside the polling stations are people from the Muslim Brotherhood.
So there is a -- you know, there's a real presence by the Muslim Brotherhood on the ground. They were the people who turned up in heavy and large numbers last Tuesday, then abandoned it on Wednesday. And they're the people who -- I think when the average Egyptian voter goes into the polling booth to vote, he or she will either automatically vote for the Muslim Brotherhood or will make a conscious attempt not to vote for the Muslim Brotherhood. You know, it's not going in thinking, I'm going to vote for the leftists or the secularists or the -- it's voting to say, I'm not going to vote for the Muslim Brotherhood; I'm going to vote for someone else. It's either an anti-Brotherhood vote or a pro-Brotherhood vote.
And you know, it -- the presence of the Muslim Brotherhood is ubiquitous. And I'm not saying it's a negative thing; it's just they're everywhere. And they seem to be, in their demeanor, people who want to see themselves as a government-in-waiting.
JOHNSON: So part of the unrest that had kicked off about 10 days ago or so had to do with the announcement of the supra- constitutional principles that would, you know, place a significant amount of power with the military's ruling council in terms of the constitutional reform process. I mean, well, what are your thoughts, and how is that playing out in the -- in the discussions that you've had in the last couple of days?
HUSAIN: Well, I think the most recent batch of protests, or protesters, rightly congratulate themselves on the fact that they got the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, or SCAF, to bring the elections forward by a year. So the presidential elections -- I think now they're scheduled to be had by June of next year. So they congratulate themselves on that fact.
They also congratulate themselves on the fact that the SCAF in its own way abandoned the three or four suggestions it made: the supra-constitutional principles of not being accountable to a civilian government in terms of their budget; and having control over the constitutional -- constitution-writing process; and having overall say on the content of the constitution; and giving the parliamentarians, you know, only 20 seats out of a hundred, where the 80 others would be -- would be military people. So for all of those things, they conceded ground.
But the problem with the demands of the protesters is that it's -- you know, for all of the noise about egalitarianism and for all the noise about this is a mass movement, there is no leadership; there is nobody to talk to. And it's led to a real lack of coherence of thought. So, yes, the army has given way because of, you know, 30- plus people dying in the last seven days, but that's no way of bargaining and discussing and negotiating with the armed forces that are in control of the country.
As a result -- as a result of the lack of leadership, we still have people in Tahrir Square -- and I've visited the place three times over the last two days -- who are still demanding that not only SCAF, you know, stand down immediately, but the -- but the elections be cancelled.
And I'm sorry to say what I'm increasingly observing here is the emergence of a real far-left, communist, almost anarchist type tendency to protest for the sake of protesting against whoever appears to be in power.
And I'll finish this answer with this note: I was in Tahrir last night for about 25 minutes, and I tweeted this, so those of you who follow me on Twitter, I hope you'll forgive me for repeating this. In 25 minutes I saw six -- seven scuffles break out between different revolutionary groups demanding different things, one turning against neighbors who complained about Tahrir Square being occupied, another turning against businesspeople who complained about the stench in Tahrir Square.
So the point I'm trying to make is that there's no coherence; there's no leadership; it's -- the whole thing is chaotic in Tahrir Square. But there's a real fear that if after the elections secular extremist parties don't recognize the legitimacy of the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist parties coming to power, Tahrir Square might come alive again as a place for mobilizing against the new lower house of the Parliament.
JOHNSON: Well, on that note, I think it's time to open it up to questions. Can I have my first question, please?
OPERATOR: Yes, ma'am. (Gives queueing instructions.) And hold just one moment while we wait for questions to come in.
And our first question will come from Peter Green with Bloomberg News.
QUESTIONER: Ed, thanks for that very interesting view of what's going on there. Two questions, if I may. The first is if the Muslim Brotherhood Freedom and Justice Party does become the largest party in Parliament, what are they likely to do, in your view?
And you mentioned earlier that people have great expectations. Will they actually be able to follow through on what it is they'd like to do?
And then the second question, if you want to get to it, is, what are the policy options here for the U.S.? What can we do at this point? Thanks.
HUSAIN: Peter, thank you.
On what the Muslim Brotherhood will do, this is my second visit to Egypt since the revolution, and on both visits and in between I've been in touch with, met with and been in constant contact with, you know, various leaders of the three main factions of the Muslim Brotherhood here. And it should be said they are -- they are not a monolithic movement. And the main driving force within the Muslim Brotherhood on the ideas front, the policy front, the fundraising front, as well as what's going on now, the impressive, slick campaign that they've put out -- you know, they're coherent with their messaging, they've got the resources and the networks to mobilize people to vote for them -- the faction driving all of that is the faction led by the deputy leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, a man by the name of Khairat al-Shater. Khairat al-Shater was a prisoner for more than 10 years here. He's a multimillionaire. He's -- you know, he's a banker. He sits on various bank boards.
The point I'm trying to make is that he understands liberal economics. He understands capitalism. He was educated in Britain. And he's not a man who's cut off from the rest of the world like some of the other, older leaders from the Muslim Brotherhood in the past, such Medhi Akef.
Rumor has it that they've been in touch with, you know, one of the five major accountancy companies in the West to help them understand not just the needs of the Egyptian economy but to help to devise policy mechanisms in how to alleviate poverty here. They've been in regular contact with not just the Turks, but also the Qataris in order to both, you know, learn from as well as borrow from governments in order to help alleviate the economic mess that they will inherit here.
But more importantly, I think the Muslim Brotherhood or the Freedom and the Justice Party seems to be the only party -- bar the NDP, the National Democratic Party and its personnel, who are now, you know, persona non grata, rightfully -- the brotherhood -- and you know, I'm a critic of the brotherhood; therefore, I say this hesitantly -- they're the only force out there who, A, have a manifesto; B, have some kind of vision as to what they want to bring about here; and C, have the mechanisms to do so. And they've illustrated the seriousness by the contact with other governments, by hiring, you know, multinational corporations to advise them on what to do.
And the last point I'd make on this is, they've got the money and the professional willingness to try to develop an Egypt that's free from corruption and nepotism. The vast majority of their leadership is dominated by people from, you know, engineering, medical and other professional backgrounds. So they are by -- you know, they're by nature, almost, technocrats who are given to managing large institutions, and they're looking forward to -- from what I gather from meeting them and talking to them -- to being in positions of power.
And the impression I get from the voters here is, you know, one voter said to me at a polling booth yesterday that they'd vote for religious people -- i.e., the Muslim Brotherhood and its offshoots -- because they think that they fear God and they'd be less likely to be corrupt, where the secular -- the secular parties, they think, would become more corrupt. That's -- so that's just some background as to what I'm seeing and hearing here.
On your second point, about the U.S. and U.S. policy options, I mean, I can only thank God that we're not -- when I say "we", the United States isn't where it was, you know, six months ago, when Hillary Clinton came to town and refused to meet members of the Muslim Brotherhood for domestic political considerations.
In other words, if she were to run for president in -- you know, next year or year after, she'd have blowback from the domestic, you know, voter constituency that might see it as brotherhood, therefore Hamas.
So the U.S. isn't there, but the U.S. -- the feeling I'm kind of getting from other embassies is the U.S. is now in open dialogue with and open engagement with the Muslim Brotherhood. But the question is, what does that mean? Is it going to be love-bombing the Muslim Brotherhood and embracing them, which I don't think is healthy? What the brotherhood, I think, would wish for is construction engagement, a free-trade agreement, which has been touted previously, but the downside is there is this very strong presence in Washington, D.C., especially in Congress, that would not want to deal with the Muslim Brotherhood being in some form of government here.
JOHNSON: Thank you. Can I have my next question, please?
OPERATOR: Yes. Our next question comes from Stewart Ain with the New York Jewish Week.
QUESTIONER: Yes. Israel is watching with concern what's happening in Egypt. And I was wondering if you could shed some light on how you think this is going to play out in terms of Israeli-Egyptian relations.
HUSAIN: You know, lots of nasty things have happened over the last three months on that front -- the attack on the Israeli embassy, the departure of the Israeli ambassador, and the general anti-Israeli sentiment in the air here. But the tendency to then put the blame on the Muslim Brotherhood for that, I think, is unfair, because with all of its problems, the Muslim Brotherhood is no more anti-Israel than the average Egyptian or the average Arab in this part of the world.
So bearing that in mind, there doesn't seem to be any huge appetite to want to nullify the Camp David agreement or want to go to war with Israel.
Are they people who want to recognize Israel's existence as Jewish state? By and large, the sentiment is no. Do they want to therefore confront Israel? Again the answer is no. Do they want to, you know, improve the relations with Israel? Again the answer is no. So I think that on balance, it's maintaining the status quo, getting around it without making it the central issue for themselves.
And the beauty of Tahrir Square was that it was focused on domestic internal considerations. And I think the challenge is, with the State Department increasingly being more involved with the Muslim Brotherhood and others, is to want to continue to focus on domestic considerations and not regional ones.
And my last point on this would be the onus is also, you know, on the current Israeli government not to up the ante in the rhetoric and not to put on display the sort of arrogance we saw over -- the lack of a desire to want to apologize to Turkey, for example. I think that kind of grandstanding, that kind of sort of sentimental approach to foreign policy only helps exacerbate, you know, another sentimental population, which is an Egyptian population that feels, rightly or wrongly, that, you know, it's been humiliated by Israel at wars in the past and its attitude towards Gaza now.
So the roundabout answer, I suppose, is that right now things seem to be healthy. You know, there is no desire to want to nullify the Camp David agreement, and that can only be a good thing.
QUESTIONER: And I believe the ambassador has returned to Cairo, correct -- Israeli ambassador?
HUSAIN: I can't -- I can't confirm or nullify that. Sorry, I don't know the answer to that.
QUESTIONER: OK. Thank you.
JOHNSON: Thank you. Can I have the next question, please?
OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Oren Kessler with The Jerusalem Post.
QUESTIONER: Hi. We've been hearing quite a bit over the past week about a supposed tacit alliance between the SCAF, the army, and the Muslim Brotherhood. Can you comment a bit on the scope of that relationship and whether you think it exists, and if so, the sort of depth of that relationship?
HUSAIN: Well, I mean, if any of us were SCAF, God forbid, I think if you were going to make phone calls to major political brokers and people who can mobilize, you know, a million people in Tahrir at the top of a hat, then that first phone call would go to the Muslim Brotherhood. And given that, you know, the armed -- not the armed forces, but the former regime was led by Mubarak and -- you know, a military man, and also Sadat a military man, and Nasser before him a military man, and they all have clamped down on the Muslim Brotherhood repeatedly, the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood is now prepared not just to talk to and be in constructive dialogue with the SCAF, from the SCAF's point of view, is a bonus.
So from the SCAF's point of view, what they're controlling essentially is the largest political mobilized force in the country that can appear at Tahrir Square, that can mobilize across the country independent of modern technology. This is not an organization that depends on Facebook or Twitter; this is an organization that depends on the word of mouth, from wives talking to wives, sisters to sisters, brothers to brothers and the family structure that they've set up over the last 82 years, internal political family structure.
So purely from SCAF's, you know, pragmatic point of view, it has been in touch with the Muslim Brotherhood. The Muslim Brotherhood will not confirm this, but they have cut a deal with the SCAF in order to be a force that (contests ?) elections. And -- I mean, this is just anecdotal evidence of what I've seen at polling stations -- every time I've seen voters come up to army people outside polling stations and asked questions, they've -- and I'm not suggesting there's conspiracy here, but they've always -- every time I've seen this, what happens is the army person will then ask people to go and consult the Muslim Brotherhood volunteers.
It might be that the brotherhood's volunteers are the only volunteers that are there -- you know, civilians who are there that can be addressed by voters. But that's just, you know, a bird's eye view of what's going on outside polling stations. But has the SCAF been speaking to the Muslim Brotherhood? Of course, they have. The newly appointed prime minister has been speaking to the Muslim Brotherhood. But beyond that, I mean, I can't -- I can't confirm or deny any of the details, other than the manifestations of those conversations in the political developments that we're seeing.
JOHNSON: OK. Can I have the next question, please?
OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Anisa Mehdi with Whetstone Productions.
QUESTIONER: Hi. Good morning. I was encouraged by your response to Peter (sp) on the U.S. potential response -- possibly constructive engagement; perhaps a free trade agreement if -- even if Muslim Brotherhood representation is -- takes the majority. But I'm also remembering 2006, when Hamas was voted a majority party in the Palestinian Authority, and there was a very strong negative reaction from the United States and Israel, withdrawing support and money.
Is -- so two parts to this question. One, is that at all possible, in terms of U.S. reaction, if this were to happen in Egypt? And number two, is there any talk on the -- on the streets in Cairo, fear that the United States might react as -- as ferocious or vicious or solidly as it did with the Hamas election?
HUSAIN: That's -- I mean, on the -- if I -- if I take your last point first, interestingly, there's a -- there's a lot of suspicion here in Cairo about foreigners, full stop. And as someone who's visited Cairo repeatedly for the last 10 years -- I've come here at least twice a year -- and, you know, I'm someone who has brown skin, incidentally, and I'm someone who speaks Arabic, and yet I'm not Egyptian.
And every time I've spoken with them -- and I've, you know, sometimes gone out with friends from, you know, various embassies who aren't of my skin color, who happen to be white -- I've detected for the first time here in Cairo a really strong sense of xenophobia, of dislike for, quote/unquote, "foreign interference," "foreigners meddling in domestic affairs."
A lot of that's come -- a lot of that comes from, I'm sorry to say, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces as well as other political forces in the country, including the Muslim Brotherhood, who've repeatedly blamed, you know, quote/unquote, "the invisible hand of foreign agents" for stirring trouble here in the U.S. -- sorry, in the -- in Egypt. I met with a television presenter from Channel 1, the government station here, yesterday, and he suggested that somehow the U.S. and Israel had triggered off Tahrir Square protests and were now trying to impose Mohamed ElBaradei as a presidential candidate on the country.
So there is a lot of conspiracy theory out there, and there is a lot of animosity towards the U.S. on the streets here, not against the U.S. for what the U.S. is, but a fear that somehow the U.S. is trying to control events here, which flies in the face of logic simply because Baradei was, you know, the man who stopped Israel wanting to attack Iran. That argument gets lost because of Baradei's reports saying that Iran necessarily didn't have nuclear weapons. But -- so therefore, how is it that Baradei is Israel's man or the U.S. man here? So when that kind of argument goes forward, they're not able to respond, but the feeling is somehow, you know, he is the U.S. candidate here.
So there is that level of animosity towards the U.S. that exists. But that's not just the U.S.; foreigners in general, you know, there's a sense of animosity there.
Now, you hit on something that's really important: Can the U.S. cut off aid? And my concern is, yes, it can, and my worry is that it might, because of several reasons.
One, it's (in the gift ?) of Congress to cut it off, and sadly there is a mindset and an advocacy around Congress that flies in the face of facts. So the Muslim Brotherhood has been portrayed as a monolithic movement. The diverse strands of thought within the Muslim Brotherhood are not understood by, you know, most people on the Hill. Worse, it's quite easy actually to build up a case against the Muslim Brotherhood, to say that they were people who supported the Nazis in the 1930s. It's a fact that because the Nazis were seen to be anti- British and because the Nazis were persecuting the Jewish people, that Palestinians and Arabs did in fact support the Nazis, but then lots of non-Muslim Brotherhood Arabs also supported the Germans, but that gets lost.
So it's easy to build up an argument and say, the brotherhood supported Hamas; the brotherhood supported the Nazis; the brotherhood was a terrorist organization throughout the 1940s and -- (inaudible) -- the brotherhood is an anti-U.S. organization; why should U.S. taxpayers fund the Muslim Brotherhood, which may form a substantial part of the -- of the new government?
So that -- those are the kind of arguments that are going to be thrown in the public space in the U.S., and my fear is it's going to be difficult to add caveat, nuance and balanced thinking amidst that storm that might hit the U.S. public space on the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.
JOHNSON: I'm just going to interject here. I have a question.
You spoke about the sentiment surrounding ElBaradei. Can you just talk a little about the presidential candidates and what their chances are and sort of what the differing views about them are?
HUSAIN: You know, the presidential candidates here are of a different generation.
HUSAIN: You know, the presidential candidates here are of a different generation. The revolution was led by people in their 20s and their 30s. The presidential candidate Amr Moussa is in his 70s. Mohamed ElBaradei, with all respect -- again, of an older generation. Abdel Fotouh, who broke away from the Muslim Brotherhood to become a presidential candidate again -- you know, they are not the kind of people that Tahrir Square wanted to put into the public space as presidential candidates.
Different people have a preference for the various candidates, but the sad reality is that none of the candidates are really Egypt's best. They're not people in their 40s, nor are they people in their 50s who have something solid to offer that's different from the past, that inspires a new generation of people in Tahrir Square and around the country. They don't speak to a new generation of Egyptians; they speak the language of the old regime; they speak the language of, you know, the grandparents' generation, essentially. These are not the kind of people that Tahrir Square wanted to propel into political power.
And I think that's a legacy of the Mubarak regime, of a dictatorship that lasted for so many decades, that it hasn't produced talent that can come forth and articulate the vision of a younger generation of people who essentially toppled the old regime. And as such, what we're looking at, basically, are people who are third-rate candidates, the vast majority of them. And Amr Moussa is probably by far the worst. And I say this based on hearing the man speak and having met him that it just seems to be a preparation to be a yes-man, a candidate for the sake of being a candidate and a desire to be, you know, Egypt's first political officeholder, president that was -- that was voted for by the vast majority of people.
So the bottom line is, there's a real dearth of quality candidates who understand the needs of Egyptians and who understand what it is that the Egyptian population wanted to get rid of in the old regime.
JOHNSON: Thanks. Can I have the next question, please?
OPERATOR: Yes. Our next question comes from Garrett Mitchell with The Mitchell Report.
QUESTIONER: Thank you, Ed, and thanks so much for this report. It's very interesting.
A two-part question, the first of which really relates to the question that was just asked and I -- about the leadership and the three candidates for president. As you may know, Shibley Telhami has just completed his 2011 Arab opinion -- public opinion poll, and in it there were -- there were three Egypt-related questions that I thought were relevant here and I'd just love to get your perspective on it.
One question was -- of Egyptians was, which leader would you like Egypt's next president to look like? And by a margin of 3 to 1, it was Erdogan. When the question was, which political system would you like to see Egypt adopt, by a factor of 4 to 1 it was Turkey. And then when they were asked about the votes for the -- where they would favor -- who they would favor for president, the numbers were as low as 17 percent and as high as 19 percent for all three of the presidential candidates.
And it leads me to question whether in your -- as someone who's visited frequently and who is watching this voting unfold, do you get any on-the-ground sense of a -- the presence of Turkey, of Erdogan? Is it -- is it something people talk about?
You've said that they -- that clearly, these three -- these three candidates for president don't light anybody's fire. I'm just wondering whether you hear names of individuals or countries, et cetera, who are sort of lighting fire and who seem to be the model -- you know, the way in Tiananmen Square they were all ostensibly, you know, talking about Thomas Jefferson, et cetera.
HUSAIN: (Chuckles.) You know, directly -- the answer to that question is that nobody would directly here talk about Jefferson or Obama. But, I mean, an interesting observation is, when you get off the plane here on Terminal One, the first thing you read as you come out is a huge advert. And the advert is a quote from President Obama, saying, you know, his last response to Tahrir Square, where: The Egyptian people have inspired us, and we must teach our young people to become like them -- in other words, you know, freedom- seeking democrats and so on. So that quote from President Obama is the first thing that meets your eye when you get off Egypt Air and come into Terminal One.
What that tells me is that, you know, they are looking towards people like Obama to inspire a generation of people. Now, the fact that they want a republican system, the fact that they want four-year terms here, you know, those just didn't get plucked from the air. They were plucked from, you know, the U.S. model that's replicated here and the fact that the vast majority of Egyptians speak, you know, English in an American accent, and McDonald's is very popular and Hollywood remains popular, jeans, baseball caps -- and I could go on to illustrate U.S. cultural soft power here in America (sic): the fact that the vast majority of them want to go and study in the U.S. if given the opportunity.
Now, it's not admitted directly that they would want to emulate more the U.S., but that's the sort of an unspoken assumption there in the air. And therefore, no one's come out in the public domain and openly said, we want someone like Obama, or we want someone like France's president, or, God forbid, elsewhere.
But what the problem is there's -- in the absence of naming anything, I can't then suggest that they would want to name Erdogan -- I hear what you're saying on the poll, but today the Muslim Brotherhood, for example, released a statement -- and I don't know the full details; I saw it on my Twitter feed -- in which they were very critical, or at least they were -- someone from the Muslim Brotherhood was responding. I mean, it may not have been an official response, but saying that the Turkish model allowed for homosexuality and alcohol to be in the public space. And this particular person from the brotherhood didn't think that was a good model. Now, that's just one individual's response, and the only time Erdogan has appeared in the discussion here for the last sort of 24 hours.
The last point I'd make on Erdogan is, the party that directly speaks about Erdogan and the Turkish AK Party is what's called the Hizb al-Wasat here, led by -- led by Abdulla al-Mahdi. Hizb al-Wasat is a breakaway from the Muslim Brotherhood, and they've openly said that they want to embrace the Turkish model.
With the exception of Hizb al-Wasat, that again is a soft Islamist party contesting elections -- and I've met several of the voters who look to Turkey for inspiration -- the others haven't.
And the last point I'd make on this is the last big presence of the Turkish model plus Erdogan was about four weeks ago when Erdogan -- or five weeks ago when Erdogan visited here. Interestingly, he spoke about the need for secularism in Egypt at a Muslim Brotherhood -- not Muslim Brotherhood meeting, but lots of Brotherhood members were there. And his argument was that this model of a secular public space helps minorities as well as the majority to secure religious freedom. There was a huge backlash from the Muslim Brotherhood to Erdogan, and since then they've been saying we don't want a Turkish model; we want an Egyptian model.
And that's just rhetoric in the public here. I suppose when they do come to power that they will be in touch with their Islamist brethren in Turkey, who've more or less been able to steer Turkey to a place that's far more respectable and presentable to the rest of the world, of a -- of a post-Islamist model of government that arguably works.
JOHNSON: Great. Can I have the next question, please?
OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Rula Jebreal with Newsweek.
QUESTIONER: Hello. Good morning. My question is all of these protesters in Tahrir Square are protesting about something that we don't hear talking about anymore, which is the supraconstitutional principles that the military council wanted to actually impose on the next -- on the next elected Parliament. What happened to that issue? And are the military council still insisting on these supraconstitutional principles?
HUSAIN: The -- there's no discussion of them in the public space. I think the assumption is that the SCAF have somehow conceded ground on this, and it's up for discussion and negotiation when the Parliament or if the Parliament convenes. The point you raise was something that was raised by several liberal commentators here last night, but there's no confirmation in the air. The principles -- the underlying problem in the principle is this -- and this problem doesn't go away even if the SCAF were to abandon these principles.
And the underlying problem is that Egypt's military cadets are not taught what American military cadets were -- are taught in West Point. And the gentleman early spoke about West -- about Jefferson, and it was Jefferson who imbued that spirit of the triumph of liberalism over militarism, I think in 1821 when West Point was founded, that essentially, the military will always be subordinate to a civilian government. Here in Egypt, it seems to me much like in Pakistan or also in Turkey in the recent past. That principle of being subordinate to a civilian government has not been understood by SCAF, and therefore these, you know, supraconstitutional principles or whatever demands they will make down the road will continue to be made in some shape or form.
I think the last point I'd make on this is SCAF isn't in a hurry to give up its privileges vis-a-vis covering its military budget, not being open to public scrutiny, not being subordinate to a military -- to a civilian government simply because that's how it's been doing business for the last 60 years and also because the SCAF, much like the Pakistani army, has a huge involvement in the Egyptian economy. I don't know the details of that involvement, but I think following the money here is an interesting way of looking at why the SCAF would not want to give up its controls over its own budget and not be exposed to civilian scrutiny.
QUESTIONER: Sorry, I have another question. It's about the Brotherhood. Al-Arian, the head of the Muslim Brotherhood, in 2006 was in Jordan, and he was at a conference between moderate Muslims. And when he was asked the question, will you -- if you will one day be in power, will you relinquish power in case you will be not elected anymore, he -- it took him 25 minutes to answer this question, and he answered in a noncoherent way. He said that they are sent by God, and he's -- you know, it's God's will if they will be re-elected or not. So he was vague about it. Do you think what happened with Hamas and Fatah might happen actually within the Egyptian system?
HUSAIN: Good question, and I'll just slightly reverse back to what I said previously in terms of there are several strands within the Muslim Brotherhood.
And you're absolutely; Essam al-Arian still remains one of its two spokespersons here in public.
With all respect to Arian, he is not, essentially, the guy who is controlling the mechanisms as well as the messaging of the Muslim -- he's a spokesperson, but the real powerhouse here is Khairat al- Shater.
I can't guarantee that the Muslim Brotherhood will want to call free and fair elections again, because we don't know what the future holds. But what I can say, based on my meetings with them -- that they are, for all intents and purposes, people who want to hold elections on a regular basis, because they know how they suffered as a result of not having elections.
But the real guarantee is the fact that the people of Egypt are no longer under the control of fear. That fear factor is broken. And if the Muslim Brotherhood or any party thinks that they can rule for more than four years, eight years, 12 years without holding regular free and fair elections, then they've got another thing coming, because the spirit of Tahrir Square, with all of its problems, is alive, and the Egyptians will return, you know, to that revolutionary spirit of bringing down governments.
And I just don't buy the argument put forward by some of our friends here that somehow the brotherhood is looking for one election one time only. I think they -- we will see what we saw in Turkey. We will see what we saw -- I mean, I suppose Turkey is the only, you know, example that can be given that the Islamist parties have gone to the people again and again, and I think the brotherhood will go to elections again. I don't think -- and you know, al-Arian in 2006 is not Arian in 2011. I mean, they are in alliance now, part of the electoral bloc. The Muslim Brotherhood is in alliance with Hizb Al- Wasat, which is a liberal secularist left-wing party.
So at the risk of sounding optimistic, I think we can trust the brotherhood to be in power for four years and then hold free and fair elections. The downside is, they probably will win the second round too. But we'll have to wait and see.
JOHNSON: Thank you.
Can I have the next question, please?
OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Judy Miller with Council on Foreign Relations.
QUESTIONER: Hi, Ed. I'm very glad you're over there, and thank you for this excellent report.
But I wondered if you could -- and I'm sorry; I came in a few minutes late. But I wonder if you could address the role of the Christians and the Christian party, the Suwaris (sp) party and what is likely to happen to them if the brotherhood get a plurality or a majority of seats.
And secondly, if you could just talk about the reasons you think that the secular forces of Egypt have not been able -- you know, who were able to topple a dictator have not been able to put together a coalition to effectively challenge the brotherhood.
HUSAIN: Thanks, Judith.
I mean, on the question of the Christian minority, I went to a Coptic church today. I went to an evangelical church today. I was in Shubra yesterday, where the large Christian-dominated part of Cairo is, with this very view of -- you know, that somehow just because there are elections doesn't mean we're going to have democracy in Egypt -- my view is that a key test of democracy is how a government treats minorities but also how government treats women. And my discussions with voters as well as church leaders in Shubra indicated, you know, two things -- I think it's a mixed picture -- one, the religious leaders -- the Christian religious leaders seem worried about not just the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood but the rise of people on the right of the Muslim Brotherhood, i.e., Salafi organizations, and the noise coming out of some Salafi leaders about special taxation for Christian minorities in response for -- in response to the state providing them with defense. And this is an old Islamic argument of (dhimmi ?) status, where Christians are essentially a protected minority. Well, that basically means a second-class status.
Now those concerns have been raised. Mohammed Hasan (sp), who is a Salafi preacher, has spoken about this more than once on Friday prayers. Good news is, Hasan (sp) is on the right of the Muslim Brotherhood in a Salafi movement called Hizb al-Nour (sp), and there's no serious chance of them being in government, although, if the brotherhood performs poorly, they may be in some kind of coalition. That's a nightmare scenario. I don't think it's, you know, immediately in the cards. But that's the worst case and, you know, the worst arguments and the worst fears, I think, of some of the people in Shobra.
Now the good news is this: that the Muslim Brotherhood has not just been campaigning in Shobra, but when I was there yesterday I met Christians who voted for the Muslim Brotherhood because -- get this -- the Muslim Brotherhood has Christian Coptic candidates running in Christian parts of Cairo.
Now with all of its problems, this doesn't necessarily send out a negative message.
Others would be more cynical and say they're playing a game. But whatever the politics, that's the reality on the ground out in Christian-dominated Shubra, which is, you know, a large part of Cairo.
Now, today when I met the evangelical guys, the pastor in the church was telling me there's so much uncertainty in relation to the future, anything could happen. So there is some fear -- and justifiably so, given what happened. But, you know, the -- I mean, the -- I mean, you get the picture from, you know, the kind of conversation and the kinds of discussions people are having.
In terms of the secular forces here, you know, the secular forces don't even call themselves secular, because "secularism" is a dirty word in the Arab Muslim political context. They call themselves liberals. Now, the liberal forces here haven't been as organized, for all kinds of reasons. One is the short time of space that they've had between the revolution and now. I don't buy that argument, because the Wafd Party has been around for as long as the Muslim Brotherhood, if not longer. So their cause, their messaging, their leadership, their thought coherence has not been as strong as the Muslim Brotherhood; not for longevity purposes, but I think for other reasons. And those include, the brotherhood has been preparing for this day for several years now, if not decades; and they haven't been.
Secondly, the older generation of the liberal/secular forces have more or less benefited under the crony capitalism of Mubarak and, you know, didn't necessarily see this coming.
Thirdly, the younger generation of liberals -- Twitter people, Facebookers -- who led this revolution, are more or less focused in the -- in the urban parts of the country, and don't have the syndicates, the trade unions, the mosque networks that the brotherhood and others have.
Fourthly, that it's -- they just don't have the financial muscle that the brotherhood has. The Muslim Brotherhood's members give 10 percent of their monthly income to the brotherhood. We're talking in -- you know, millions of dollars that are coming into the Muslim Brotherhood from within its organization. The liberals just aren't -- can't compete with that muscle.
And the fifth reason would be, you know, the younger Egyptians who led the -- you know, the so-called "leaderless revolution," just don't have a leader through -- to which they can look to, to mobilize them, to organize them, to bring them together as a political force. Time will tell whether the next four years they mobilize themselves or not. But every indication so far is that there's huge amounts of in- fighting, competing visions, competing leadership. And the only coherence they have at the moment is that they're all anti-Muslim Brotherhood and, I'm sorry, that's not a strong enough platform on which to call people: that, you know, we're all against the Muslim Brotherhood. It's just -- it just doesn't attract voters, and this is not an attractive enough message.
QUESTIONER: Thanks, Ed.
JOHNSON: Thanks. Can I have the next question, please?
OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Nathan Skinner, with StrategicRISK. (Pause.) Mr. Skinner, your line is open. (Pause.) Mr. Skinner, if you'd like to ask your question, please go ahead. (Pause.)
Our next question comes from Rula, with Newsweek.
QUESTIONER: Yes, I just wanted to ask if the brotherhood during the campaign were talking about women, and what is their women's right and involvement in politics? And how -- what is the percent of their -- you know, how many women they have as candidates, if they had any?
HUSAIN: Yeah, I mean, I can't give precise numbers, but I know that in comparison to every other political party that's running candidates, the Muslim Brotherhood has the largest number of female candidates. But that doesn't mean that somehow they understand the meaning of equal status for women. I'm sorry to say, just having a lot of female candidates doesn't give you the answer, point one.
Point two is, when I drove in from the airport to Tahrir Square, en route, I saw 67 campaign posters with, you know, men on them -- male campaign posters, or posters for male candidates -- before I saw the 68th candidate (sic), on which there was a female candidate. So it's not just the Muslim Brotherhood; the vast majority of political players or political parties in this country seem to be, you know, running male candidates than they are running female candidates.
Most of the volunteers that were outside the polling stations were Muslim Brotherhood's male members, and not female members. The brotherhood is flawed because internally it still doesn't recognize women as full members, as it does its male members.
Officially you can't be a Muslim Brotherhood member -- or a female member; you can be a member or a part of a separate organization, which is for Muslim sisters. So, internally for the last 80-plus years the Muslim Brotherhood has been backward, I will even say sexist, in its approach towards -- attitudes towards women.
The current -- (inaudible) -- or the current leader of the brotherhood, Mohammed Badia, is a stalwart conservative of the old school who's repeatedly blocked women from coming into the Muslim Brotherhood. So its internal democratic process is flawed; and to hope, therefore, that it will somehow extend, you know, more rights to women in Egypt I think is being too hopeful. But will it -- will it in any way want to curb back some of rights that Muslim women in Egypt, however minimal, enjoy, such as working, at the moment, having a free salary, driving, I don't think the brotherhood is going to go down that route.
What the brotherhood will do -- unconsciously, I think, and this is not an intentional policy on their part -- unconsciously they will raise this game of being, you know, more Muslim than Muslim. In other words, women who are veiled will somehow be seen to be more pious and noble than women who aren't veiled. They may not institute it as legal policy, but the emergence of that kind of Muslim right wing in the public space means that, you know, a certain message is given out.
They've gone out of their way repeatedly to say that, you know, they're not going to impose hijab as state law or the veil as state law, but I still worry about how much tolerance they will extend, how much acceptance they will extend to, you know, the night life enjoyed by many women here in Cairo or the tourism industry that's here. Maybe not for religious reasons but purely for pragmatic, economic reasons, they may turn a blind eye to it, much like the Tunisians or the Turks or -- (inaudible ?) Islamist parties. But again, time will tell.
QUESTIONER: Sorry, And what about the economic muscle that you were talking about? And they're very strong socially, especially in health care and universities and everywhere, and that was one of the reasons their platform was enormous in Egypt. Is that they think they won and they might continue winning, or because Egyptians who, you know, are liberal, seeing their televisions and seeing the way they -- actually they always culturally (conduct Arab world ?) -- are their mindsets changed or something; you know, culturally switched?
HUSAIN: No, I mean I think it's worth remembering -- and I may be wrong on this, but the Muslim Brotherhood will not outright win these elections. The Muslim Brotherhood will most likely win 40 percent at tops, maybe a little more, but most of the estimates are around sort of the 30, 35 percent mark. Again, we might be wrong, but nobody's predicting a 70, 80-percent Muslim Brotherhood win. Again, the time will tell.
But I think it's worth bearing in mind that there are other options for Egyptians. The other options just aren't strong enough, politically well-messaged enough or religiously attractive enough or -- you know, there is a feeling in the air that this is the Muslim Brotherhood's moment, that they've been waiting for this for 80 years, they've been imprisoned, they've been killed, they've been tortured, and yet they continued to oppose the previous regime.
And lots of people who are here in Egypt who are religious, or many of the people who are illiterate, or many of the people, as you say, recipients of the Muslim Brotherhood's health care or its banking programs or its schooling programs or its free distribution of food during the Muslim ceremonies -- you know, recipients of all of these over the last 15 years would think, if the brotherhood has done this for us while it's out of government, you know, provided us with social services, just imagine what it will do when it's in government. So there is some of that.
But added to all of that is the brotherhood's basic political ability to mobilize, message and network among voters and be present on the ground repeatedly, and pretend as though -- (inaudible) -- that's attractive to the average Egyptian voter, and they're just not seeing anybody else do that. My doorman here in the apartment that I'm staying will vote for the Muslim Brotherhood. I talked to nine taxi drivers yesterday. Four of them said they would vote for the Muslim Brotherhood. And these are just ordinary Egyptians; we're not talking about the elite. And I think the vast majority of ordinary Egyptians look at the brotherhood and think, give these guys a chance. I think that's where it's heading.
JOHNSON: Thank you, Ed.
Is there another question?
OPERATOR: Yes, ma'am. We have another question from Garrett Mitchell with The Mitchell Report.
QUESTIONER: Ed, thanks again. Just a quick question. To what extent and in what ways are the -- is social media, the social networking media, playing a role now?
I mean, we -- it was obviously a huge factor early in the so-called Arab Spring. Is it still operating at that level of intensity? What can you tell us about that?
HUSAIN: That's a really good question, Garrett, because it brings -- to the point about the mobilizing ability of the social media activists. Yes, they were instrumental in developing Facebook pages and utilizing Twitter for the -- for the revolution. But I think we'd be mistaken if we think that Joe Blog Egyptian, as it were, out there, A, has Internet access, and B, even knows about Twitter or Facebook.
Eighty percent of Egyptians don't have Internet access in this country. The Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist parties -- Hizb al-Nour, the Salafis -- reach parts of Egypt that the urban elite liberal secular Twitterati and Facebookers simply don't reach. Yes, they were successful, rightly, to overthrow the previous government, but their outreach into those remotes part -- remote parts of Egypt just doesn't exist. And that's just an ugly fact.
And they know that. I was with about 12 of the sort of Twitter- liberal elite leaders last night, and they were -- they were making this very same complaint that, you know, they used Twitter as a tool, and they used Facebook as a tool to overthrow the government, but it's not necessarily a tool through which to send out political messages to farmers, to teachers, to other people in parts of the country. You know, taxi drivers just don't have that access.
So Twitter is still being used as a message by almost every political player in Egypt, but it reaches a very small, educated, upper-class part of Egypt and doesn't necessarily reach the doorman, the taxi driver, the farmer, the schoolteacher in rural parts of Egypt. And they're the people that are important in numbers terms, and they're the people who are Egypt's electorate.
JOHNSON: Thanks. Is there another question?
OPERATOR: There are no further questions at this time, so I'll turn things back to you for closing remarks.
JOHNSON: OK, well, I'd like to thank everyone for joining us for this Council on Foreign Relations media conference call. These were all excellent questions. And I'd like to extend a special thanks to Ed for calling in from Cairo. And I invite you all to read or continue to read his blog.
This concludes this conference call. Thanks very much.
OPERATOR: Thank you. You may now disconnect your line.
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THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT.
Shibley Telhami and film director Soraya Umewaka discuss the film Tomorrow We Will See, which follows a new generation of artists and designers living in Beirut.
Shibley Telhami and film director Soraya Umewaka discuss the film Tomorrow We Will See, which follows a new generation of artists and designers living in Beirut.
The film follows a new generation of artists and designers living in Beirut and deals with the themes of national identity, freedom of thought and post-conflict civil society development.