by Dr Elizabeth Iskander
Voting has begun in Egypt for the first post-Mubarak president. Voting will take place over two days and follows weeks of expatriate voting around the world. The results of the expat vote have been mixed and the election appears to be open, with opinion polls showing massively disparate results.
The main candidates appear to be the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi; the former Brotherhood member and the candidate endorsed by the Salafist parties, Abdul Min’im Abul Fotouh; former foreign minister and secretary-general of the Arab League Amr Moussa; Ahmed Shafik, an army man appointed as prime minister by Mubarak in 2011 to try to divert the uprising; and the Nasserist candidate Hamdeen Sabahi.
Anecdotal evidence from contacts on the ground suggests that some of those who led the uprising in 2011 are boycotting the process, which they see as a pointless exercise because they view the candidates as unrepresentative of the aspirations of the uprising. al-Sharouk news has reported that Mohammed ElBaradei has left Egypt to underline his boycott and to distance himself from this election process.
For Copts-Egypt’s largest Christian group- the choice is complex. The pro-revolution youth feel they have to settle for either Hamdeen Sabahi or Khalid Ali because to vote for an Islamist or a figure from Mubarak’s era is an anathema. Many others seeking to follow the lead of their church hierarchy or who prefer not to break the link with the former regime, which had a strong relationship with Pope Shenouda III, will support Amr Moussa or Ahmed Shafik.
Undoubtedly the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) would prefer the return of Ahmed Shafik to government as the next president. The fact that he was allowed to run, despite a law being passed that should have prevented his candidacy, indicates he has high level support. However, strategically the SCAF may place their weight behind Amr Moussa. The SCAF appear to be already taking steps to secure their position in the event of the victory of a non-SCAF candidate. A victory for either Mohammed Morsi or Abul Fotouh would be particularly problematic for the SCAF, especially after their power struggle with the Brotherhood that was initiated when the two blocs failed to reach a consensus over the choice of presidential candidates.
The expectations are that there will be no outright winner after this first round of voting. This requires one candidate to win more than 50% of the vote. A second round would be held in June between the two top ranking candidates. Once the voting process has ended, the SCAF are expected to hand over power by the end of June. But they will not do this without first securing their position.
The SCAF are already drafting a constitutional declaration. After the breakdown of the constitutional drafting process in March, the decision was taken to go ahead with the presidential elections without a constitution in place. This means that the powers of the president are not yet defined. It is unclear how much the scope of the president’s powers, virtually unlimited under Mubarak, will be restricted under the new constitution.
Egyptian commentator Mina Monir suggests that the shape of the new SCAF declaration will depend on the victor. In the event of an Islamist victory-Morsi or Abul Fotouh-the SCAF will seek to limit that role of the president and perhaps attempt to dissolve parliament using an earlier court decision that ruled the parliamentary elections invalid.
In the event of a Moussa or Shafik victory it is likely that the SCAF will support broader powers for the president so that the office can act as a balance to the Islamist-dominated parliament. This indicates that it is not elections alone that will shape Egypt’s political future but also whether the SCAF can implement their will through a new declaration before withdrawing, publically at least, from power.