Egypt’s Electoral Unrest

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Although el-Katani was not seriously hurt in the attack, it was just one of dozens of violent clashes between MB members and government forces that resulted in over 1200 arrests.

While the MB cited these incidents as proof the government was “sending a message that there will be no election,” those notions were quickly countered by Interior Minister Habib el-Adly, who said the MB was deliberately provoking confrontations in order to “try to implement their agenda, which violates the interests of the state.”

Charges of electoral transgressions against the Egyptian government have long been voiced, with accusations ranging from ballot stuffing to vote rigging, to use of outdated voter rolls.

Despite government assurances of electoral compliance in this election, many Egyptians are doubtful. According to one analyst, Amr Hamzawy, the government’s actions have been proof-positive that it has no intention of opening up the political system and that “NDP will continue its dominance over the legislative process.”

The result has been to create what critics call a “culture of despair’ among the Egyptian people, which makes a great deal of sense given the populace has been under the despotic rule of the same man and party for close to 30 years.

However, there are optimists who believe that international scrutiny of the 2010 election may actually hasten democratic reforms in Egypt.

Saad Eddin Ibrahim, an Egyptian-American democracy activist, says, “Egypt is the biggest Arab country in the Middle East. It is the center of the Arab world. It has always led culturally and politically and if the election is carried out freely and fairly, Egypt can hope to lead the democratic transformation of the region.”

However, what type of transformation that entails ultimately hinges on the fate of Mubarak and the man who succeeds him. While speculation has centered on Mubarak’s youngest son Gamal as the most likely candidate, others discount it, noting the angry protests that erupted when news of his rumored succession first surfaced.

Even Gamal himself, a forty six year old investment banker, has seemed to rule out a presidential run, stating unequivocally, “Despite what people think, I have no personal ambition.”

Of course, in the murky world of Egyptian politics, nobody beyond Mubarak’s inner circle really has a clear sense of who will succeed him or what that process will even look like.

So, without a named successor, fears have begun to ratchet up that once Mubarak’s death comes and no clear successor is forthcoming, political chaos will soon follow. Such an upheaval would have enormous consequences far beyond Egypt’s own borders.

Since the Camp David accords of 1979, the security of the region has rested on Egypt’s willingness to maintain peaceful relations with Israel. In exchange, the Egyptian military has been the recipient of over $40 billion dollars in US aid. However, the aid has depended on Egypt’s promise not to utilize its military in regional affairs, but limit its role to protecting the regime and its own borders. Any electoral gains by the viciously anti-Israel MB threaten the delicate political landscape of the entire region.

Some believe that the rise of the MB to full power is still far-off down the road. They argue that the MB is just marking time, content to use the following years to increase its power to that of the NDP, meanwhile spreading its Islamist message and working its vast social network of charities. According to one former Bush official, the MB thinks that “in 10 or 15 years, they will own Egypt.”

While the MB’s ascendency is uncertain at this time, it’s very clear that Egypt now stands at a political crossroads: a growing Islamist movement, an intractable authoritarian regime, and a large segment of reform-minded secularists are all jockeying to determine what road to take.

Frank Crimi is a freelance writer living in San Diego, California. You can read more of Frank’s work at his blog, www.writingwithoutanet.com or contact him at frankcrimi@sbcglobal.net.

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  • USMCSniper

    Fauzi Najjac: The intellectual crisis agitating muslim minds today centers on the relationship between modern Muslims and their past. For the last two centuries, Muslims have found themselves caught up between authenticity (attachment to their values and culture) and modernity. They view most Western ideas, ideologies and institutions as a threat to Islamic law, values and culture. Among these foreign imports, secularism seems to represent the greatest danger. As separation of religion and state, secularism was first championed by Christian immigrants who were Syrians, who had found refuge from Ottoman rule in British-occupied Egypt. The recent Islamic resurgence with its call for "return to Islam" or "Islam is the solution," has rekindled the debate between secularists and Islamists, giving it an urgency and intensity previously unknown. Capitalizing on the failure of the various political and economic systems to solve society's problems, Islamists have, one may say, encapsulated the Muslim world's problems into a struggle between religious and secular forces.

  • Moheb Zaki

    The Muslim Brothers won 20% of the Parliamentary seats in the 2005 elections, but their influence on the regime's policies was absolutely nil—just as was the case of the opposition in all previous parliaments since the incumbent regime always ensured that it enjoyed at least 75% of the parliamentary seats. Despite this chronic marginalization of the opposion the regime this time was unwilling to countenance any significant presence of the opposition—be it Islamic or secular—since the new parliament will play a crucial role in the the upcoming presidential elections to be held next year—in which president Mubarak is expected to seek another term despite his age and frail health. It will even play a more decisive role in case Mr Mubarak does not complete his full term