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Abdelbari ATWAN
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'A Regime Friendly to Both Egyptians and The West: Is it Possible?'

08 Haziran 2012 Cuma

The brave souls who led the Egypt’s revolution against Hosni Mubarak and his regime wanted democracy at any cost. Nobody could ever have predicted the bitter irony that is the Presidential run-off set for 16-17 June.

Ex-President Mubarak used to frighten the population with the threat – ‘it’s either us or the Moslem Brotherhood’. Now, through the democratic process, that is exactly what Egypt’s fifty million voters are being offered.

To explain, the only remaining, post-Arab Spring candidates for President are Mohammad Mursi, 60, the Chair of the Moslem Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) and 71-year-old Ahmed Shafiq, Mubarak’s former Prime Minister and Minister of aviation who the former dictator used to fondly call ‘my third son’.

Neither appears likely, at first glance, to satisfy the youthful Egyptian people’s demands for peaceful change, moderation and new beginnings.

It is an electoral impasse for the Egyptian people. And yet the outcome of this election will determine not only the identity of Egypt, but the whole Arab region.

The FJP’s (second choice candidate, Mursi, received the most votes (24.3%) in the first round. Mursi was educated in the US and lived in California for more than a decade. He says he wants an inclusive government but many fear that his long-term goal will be to impose Shari’a and turn Egypt into an Islamic state.

Since the combined Islamist political forces of the FJP and the Salafist al-Nour already dominate parliament and the Shura council, many – myself included – feel that Mursi should step aside and allow the candidate who came in third –  Hamdeen Sabahy – to run for President. In fact, the FJP initially said they would not field a candidate for the Presidency in the interest of more widespread national representation. It is a shame they reversed this decision.

Sabahy, 57, is the leader of the left-wing, Nasserite, Dignity Party whose policies are more akin to those of the secular liberals who drove the revolution. Mursi offered Sabahy the post of vice-president in his putative cabinet. Sabahy declined, declaring that he would not work with either candidate to support a religion-based autocratic regime or a reproduction of the old one. Having secured nearly as many votes as the Mursi and Shafiq with 20.4%, Sabahy may be inclined to wait for his next electoral opportunity. 

It was astonishing that Shafiq received 23.3% of the votes, and reveals the deep-rooted continuation of the ‘Mubarak tendency’ both within elements of the population and the pillars of the state – ‘Mubarakites’ are still in control of the nation’s military, security and the press, despite the revolution.

The three-way split at the top between Islamists, socialists and adherents of the former regime reflects the general political pattern which is emerging across the region, and the difficulty of forming a truly representative government.

Turnout in the primary elections was low – only 50% choose to participate – and of those who did vote, 12.4 million Egyptians did not vote for either Mursi or Shafiq in the first round. These will be the ‘kingmakers’ but who can blame them if they are disillusioned with the political process when it has brought them what many perceive as a ‘lesser of two evils’ scenario?

The next Egyptian President will be the single most important figure in the region. Egypt is the major driving force in the Arab world, and its influence will be crucial in developing and reshaping the Arab world’s post-revolutionary landscape. Egyptian foreign policy will set the tone for relations with Iran and Turkey, with Israel and the West.

The West is mindful of the importance of a friendly regime in Egypt and views the prospect of a Moslem Brotherhood-dominated government with alarm. It has a number of instruments at its disposal with which it can attempt to influence political outcomes, including aid and investment.

In addition, as the writers of an August 2011 US Army report, The Arab Spring and the Future of U.S. Interests and Cooperative Security in the Arab World put it, the Egyptian military would always ‘seek to retain strong U.S. ties since the capabilities of their forces would rapidly deteriorate in quality and effectiveness without U.S. military aid’

The role of the Egyptian military in the forthcoming months worries me greatly; there are many echoes of Algeria past and present. Egypt risks a military take-over in either Presidential scenario - if Shafiq wins, we will see a civilian head on the existing ruling military junta (as is the case with President Abdelaziz Bouteflika in present day Algeria); if Morsi wins, Egypt could face a military coup to prevent his accession to the presidency, just as happened after the victory of the Algerian Front Islamique de Salut (FIS) in the elections of 1991.

The next two weeks may be volatile as people express their fears and anxieties that their revolution has been snatched from them or that it has brought no real changes. The violent attack on Shafiq’s headquarters which was ransacked by hundreds of protestors could be a foretaste of more violence to come.

The Egyptian people want, and deserve, a president like Lula da Silva, who turned Brazil from a poor, destitute and indebted country, to the sixth largest economic power in the world in less than ten years.

Or a president like Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose remarkable democratic and economic achievements have made his country's economy the 17th best in the world, even though it has few natural resources such oil or gas; the Turkish people have a strong will and, having put an end to military rule, now have a strong government which acts in the national interest and independently of superpower interference.

We have to hope that Egypt's new President, whoever it is that wins, will free Egypt from its current slavery to American financial aid, which is less useful than crumbs. It is a shame to give up Egypt's sovereignty and its independent will for $1.25bn, mostly wasted on ineffective US military equipment at the behest of Israel. 

We must also hope that Egypt's new President will champion democracy and lead the country into a happier future. He has to take the side of more than 40 million Egyptians who live below the poverty line and the 60 percent who are under 30 years-old and hope for employment and basic social provisions. We hope that he will always remain conscious that he reached his position thanks to the youth who led the revolution and who represent all Egyptians in their suffering and aspirations. The Arab world must hold him to this promise.