Election 2012: Egyptians Vote in Landmark Presidential Poll
Egyptians began voting on 23 May in the country's first free and fair presidential election.
IHS Global Insight Perspective
Egyptians are electing their first president since the fall of Hosni Mubarak in February 2011.
There is unlikely to be winner from the first round of voting, meaning a two-candidate run-off will almost certainly be required in June to choose the victor.
Historic as this election is, it is still unknown exactly what powers the new president will inherit from the country's military rulers, given continued confusion over the constitutional reform process.
"I feel freedom and for the first time, my voice and opinion really counts", 21-year-old Mounira Fawaz told reporters after voting early today (23 May), expressing the hopes and aspirations many Egyptians hold for the presidential election. The poll is the culmination of the rocky Egyptian democratic transition process that began on 11 February 2011 when former President Hosni Mubarak was ignominiously removed from office by a combination of popular protests and military pressure.
Egyptians head to the polls ahead of the election today (23 May).
The ensuing 15 months have been anything but smooth, marred by continued popular protests over the extent and motivation behind the military's hold on power and violence sparked by frustration at the stalemate and deadlock that have often blighted the transition back to civilian rule. Many Egyptians may have hoped that the parliamentary elections that took place in December and January would have helped end the fragility and restore a sense of stability to the country, but this has not been the case and this presidential poll takes place against a backdrop of a parlous economy, a society divided between secularists and Islamists and uncertainty about the future shape of the Egyptian constitutional system.
Four Candidates at the Fore
Thirteen candidates are contesting the election, representing a range of views from across the political spectrum, from former regime officials to Salafi Islamists. However, most observers are agreed that there are four main contenders: former foreign minister and former head of the Arab League, Amr Moussa; independent moderate Islamist and former leading Muslim Brotherhood member, Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh; former prime minister under Hosni Mubarak, Ahmed Shafiq; and the Muslim Brotherhood's official candidate, Mohamed Morsi. Some commentators also suggest that the left-wing independent candidate Hamdeen Sabahi is in with an outside chance of making the expected run-off in June.
Of these candidates, Moussa and Aboul Fotouh have long been seen as the most credible in the eyes of both the electorate and the military. Shafiq appears to have run a strong campaign around the idea of bringing order and stability, but as a hangover from the former regime, a victory for him is not only unlikely but also potentially highly destabilising. Meanwhile, Morsi, the Brotherhood candidate's campaign has been dogged by the feeling that he is very much a "second choice" following the barring of first choice candidate Khairat al-Shater from the election in April. Nevertheless, the Brotherhood's famed ability to mobilise their core support has put him in contention where once he might have been considered an also-ran.
Moussa is basing his appeal around projecting himself as a "safe pair of hands" who possesses the necessary diplomacy and gravitas to get the country back on its feet after a year of political and economic tumult. Certainly he appears the most "presidential" of the candidates, but he has had to fend off accusations that his election would not represent a significant enough break from the past. At 75, he is also the oldest of the contenders, and will be 80 by the time his term ends. Nevertheless, he has attracted large support from Egyptians hungry for a stability, and has probably won the support of many of the "Tahrir youth", attracted either by his avowedly secular outlook or because they see him as "the best of a bad bunch".
Aboul Fotouh possesses none of the former regime baggage that Moussa has been forced to carry around and his populist brand of moderate Islamism has seen him attract support from across the political spectrum. He performed a particular coup in April by winning the endorsement of Wael Ghonim, the unofficial "leader" of the "Tahrir youth" movement. He also has the advantage of being an Islamist that the military can probably live with as president. However, doubts remain about how moderate he really is and, if elected, whether many Egyptians would be comfortable with an Islamist president and a parliament dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood.
This issue is thrown into sharp relief in the knowledge that the process to reform the Egyptian constitution remains stillborn. The commission set up by parliament and the military to oversee the drafting of a new document was declared illegal by the courts in April and since then, parliament and the military have apparently been locked in discussions about how to reconstitute the committee. Given that this process has been overshadowed—if not completely sidelined—by the presidential election, this will likely be high up the agenda of the new president.
Complicating the issue still further is the fact that the presidential election is effectively taking place in a window of constitutional limbo. Egyptians are voting for a leader while not knowing exactly what powers he will have, either in the short-term after the 30 June deadline when the military is says it will hand power back to the civilians or in the long-term following the constitutional revision process. Doubtless this problem contributed to confusion of the estimated 40% of voters who had still not decided who to vote for on the eve of polling day.
Outlook and Implications
Given the list of pressing issues the new president will face on his first day in office—relations with parliament; the position and status of the Egyptian military going forwards; constitutional reform; kick-starting the economy; relations with Israel and the United States; the decline in Egypt's relative position in the Arab world since February 2011; the crisis in Syria; and the ongoing problems with Iran's nuclear programme—perhaps the greatest problem facing Egypt's new president will be the hopelessly unrealistic popular expectations that the election and military handover of power are likely to create. This election may well mark the end of a traumatic period in recent Egyptian history but in many ways the hard work is only just beginning.
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