from Markets and Democracy in the 21st Century

How to Read Egypt’s Elections

Egypt’s next president is likely to be a member of the Muslim Brotherhood or a Mubarak-era figure. Either way, U.S. ties are likely to cool, says CFR’s Steven A. Cook.

May 25, 2012

To help readers better understand the nuances of foreign policy, CFR staff writers and Consulting Editor Bernard Gwertzman conduct in-depth interviews with a wide range of international experts, as well as newsmakers.

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Elections and Voting

While votes are still being counted in the first round of Egypt’s first free presidential race, it looks as though the runoff will be between an enemy of ousted President Hosni Mubarak’s old regime and a staunch member of that regime, says CFR Egypt expert Steven A. Cook. Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi will likely face Ahmed Shafiq, Mubarak’s last prime minister. No matter who wins the election, Cook says, Egyptian-U.S. relations are going to be cooler than they were under Mubarak. As for the role of women moving forward, "women will likely continue to be, even under the Brotherhood, integral in public and economic life of the country," says Cook.

The first round of the presidential elections has concluded. The top two of the thirteen candidates will be in a runoff in about a month. Do we know who the two leading candidates are?

We know that Mohamed Morsi, the candidate from the Freedom and Justice Party, the party of the Muslim Brotherhood, has garnered around 28 percent of the vote. Ahmed Shafiq, who was an air force commander, Hosni Mubarak’s last prime minister, and the first post-Mubarak prime minister, will face Morsi in the runoff to be held June 16-17.

The conventional wisdom going into the race was that the two leading candidates who had a televised debate, Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, and Amr Moussa,a former Mubarak foreign minister and later head of the Arab League, would be the ones who would end up in the runoff. Amr Moussa trailed all the other leading candidates with an unoficial result of 11 or 12 percent of the vote, and Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh is trailing everyone and is unlikely to get into the runoff.

Most everyone expected Moussa to be in the runoff. What about Morsi? He is always described as American educated. Does that make him pro-American?

No. If there is a President Morsi, it’s unlikely you are going to see a continuation of the same kind of relationship with the United States as existed under Mubarak. I don’t think that that’s because of Morsi. No matter who is the next president, there’s going to be a more difficult relationship with the United States going forward. It’s just a function of Egyptian politics. Although people have been discussing the pragmatism of the Muslim Brotherhood, it would be politically unpragmatic of them to embrace the United States after so many years of criticizing the U.S.-Egyptian relationship. They may in the short run be willing to work with the United States, because Egypt is in a particularly bad economic situation, but it doesn’t augur well for the United States.

Is the main criticism of the United States its support of Israel?

That’s one of the major issues--Israel is profoundly unpopular in Egypt across the political spectrum--but at the same time it’s more broadly about the Brotherhood and the history of the Brotherhood and its critical view of the role of foreign powers in Egypt and its effort, despite having an actual pan-Islamist view, to hold itself out as a bunch of good nationalists. And they have taken a dim view of the strategic relationship since its inception, and have used the U.S.-Egypt relationship as a way of trying to undermine the previous regime.

What about Shafiq?

Shafiq ran on an unabashed platform of essentially restoring the old order. He has said that he wants to crush the revolution and get rid of the dark forces, which must mean the Islamists. It’s abundantly clear that there are a lot of people that have grown weary of the uprising and the so-called revolution and have decided that the strongman option would be a good one. Even though the remnants of the old regime got wiped out in the parliamentary election, many people have come to the conclusion that this uprising has not achieved what they want. The numbers voting for him suggest that those people have grown quite weary of the uprising and that there is a core of support for the old regime.

I gather the Coptic Christians in Egypt have decided more or less to support Shafiq in this election to best protect them. Does Washington have a favorite?

I don’t think so. There was an idea that perhaps Moussa or Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh might actually win. They were the two that had debated, and people were taking their cues from the fact that this debate was between ostensibly the two leading candidates. But the alleged two leading candidates aren’t getting into the runoff. Still, I don’t think that Washington has any preference, and if it does, it is certainly not broadcasting it to the world. The United States hopes to be able to work with whoever is the next president, but it is going to be hard.

Let’s assume that Mr. Morsi wins in the runoff. Should we be concerned about having the Muslim Brotherhood in the presidency and also running the parliament? Will Egypt become a rigid Islamist state?

It’s abundantly clear that there are a lot of people that have grown weary of the uprising and the so-called revolution and have decided that the strongman option would be a good one.

If the Brotherhood controls parliament and the presidency, they will seek to make changes. Morsi has, for example, declared that he will implement Islamic law. It is unclear what exactly that means given varying interpretations of Islamic law, but it would be a departure even though the Egyptian constitution identifies "Islamic jurisprudence" as the basis of Egyptian law. Anwar Sadat made that change. The call for the implementation of Islamic law is nothing new for the Brotherhood. There is also an aspect to this call that would fall into the realm of "politicking." In the People’s Assembly, the Brotherhood confronts the Salifists of the al-Nour Party, which is challenging the Brotherhood over who actually speaks for Islam in Egypt. It is for these reasons that a new constitution, which was supposed to be in place by the time of the presidential election, is so important.

Many women were involved in the revolution last January. Where do they stand? Are they being left out here without a candidate?

We shouldn’t think of Egyptian women as a monolithic group. There are obviously women in Egypt who have voted for the Brotherhood; there are also women who are greatly opposed and no doubt voted for someone like Ahmed Shafiq to hold the line against what they perceive to be, or what they fear will be, a rollback of women’s rights. What we do know is that women will likely continue to be, even under the Brotherhood, integral in [the] public and economic life of the country. I don’t see how anybody can roll that back. You can count on Egyptian women fighting any effort to do that.


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