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Egyptians finished two days of voting on Sunday, the first relatively free election for president in their history. But indications are that only about 15% of Egypt’s 50 million eligible voters bothered to cast ballots. The low turnout was a direct result of a Supreme Court decision on Thursday that dissolved the Islamist-dominated parliament and struck down a law that would have prevented former Mubarak-era prime Minister, Ahmed Shafiq, from running for president. The twin blows caught the Muslim Brotherhood flat footed as the military moved incredibly swiftly to seize legislative power and will now issue a “constitutional declaration” that defines the powers of the president in the absence of a new constitution. This forces the Muslim Brotherhood to make a choice: Either deal with the military on power sharing or take to the streets and put pressure on the generals to give in to their demands.
While many Egyptians were angry at the “soft coup” pulled off by the military, the actions of the court and military council had the effect of generating enormous cynicism among the population, which now sees the revolution as being overturned by the old regime. We have no choice at all,” said Eid Muhamed, who works in a tea house in Cairo. “Both of them are awful,” he added.
This belief is widespread across Egypt and no doubt contributed to the ennui that has gripped the electorate. Egypt’s political culture, which already sees a “hidden hand” that manipulates events so that they redound in favor of the rich and powerful, seems vindicated in that belief with the actions of the military and especially their allies in the courts. Most judges are Mubarak-era holdovers who are vehemently opposed to democratic change. Ahmed al-Zend, head of the influential Judges Club, representing most of Egypt’s jurists, denounced the parliament and threatened to overturn legislation passed by the elected body. “From this day forward, judges will have a say in determining the future of this country and its fate. We will not leave it to you to do with what you want.”
Some observers wonder whether the Muslim Brotherhood didn’t blow their chance at presiding over a transition to democracy in Egypt. Although there is no evidence, it was widely believed that the Brotherhood’s presidential candidate, Mohammed Morsi, struck a deal with the military on the election. Regardless of whether that’s true, many Egyptians believe that the Muslim Brotherhood overreached and tried to acquire too much power, too quickly. The resulting backlash hurt Morsi’s vote total in the first round of presidential voting last month, and may have affected the sympathy of voters who look upon the court’s action in dissolving parliament not as unfavorably as one might expect.
What then, do the Egyptian people want, if not a transition to democracy? The political chaos and demonstrations of the previous 16 months have not worn well on most ordinary Egyptians who have seen food become scarce, the economy near collapse, and their personal security threatened by gangs of thugs who have taken advantage of the lapse in police protection to terrify neighborhoods. “We have no security. Every day there are attacks against people in the neighborhood, and there are absolutely no police, no one to turn to for help,” said Hajja Fatma, a woman from a poor Cairo neighborhood. “They hurt old people, rob homes, and kidnap children for ransom. Allah, Allah, we need order,” she added.
Many observers are saying that the military council ruling Egypt has already won the presidential race. That’s because no matter who is elected, they will have to serve under a parliament elected by rules set down by the military, act under a constitution that will be drawn up by an assembly that will probably be appointed by the military, and would likely be constrained to act by laws approved by the military.
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