Jul 3rd 2012

Egypt's Elections:Lessons and the Way Forward

by James J. Zogby

Dr. James J. Zogby is the President of Arab American Institute

Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) Chair Farouk Sultan's nearly interminable announcement of the outcome of Egypt's presidential election tested his nation's patience. Twitter commentary on his speech's almost mind-numbing detail, while hilarious, masked an underlying nervousness that this was but an effort to wear everyone down preparing the ground for the announcement that the winner was, in fact, General Ahmed Shafik. The speech was an over-wrought defense of the work of the Court. It was also a testy rebuttal of earlier attacks delivered by the Muslim Brotherhood. And it was boring. At one point, I thought that decades from now, we might forget who won the election, but we would never forget Farouk Sultan's speech.

In hindsight, I believe there might have been a logic to Sultan's endless detail. This was, after all, Egypt's first truly democratically contested presidential election. And so his report of incorrect counts, faulty ballots, etc, could be seen as a reminder of the fact that in a democracy elections are always messy affairs. As the old adage goes "elections are like sausage-making. You don't want to see how they're made, but they taste delicious.” We don't see the mess in a landslide, but in close contests, the errors born of petty (and not so petty) corruption and human error become all too evident—remember Florida's "hanging chads" in 2000, or Ohio's Diebold machine malfunctions in 2004.

This was, by any measure, a close contest. Here, too, the SCC's report was a useful reminder of the deep, nationwide divisions in the Egyptian electorate. In the end, one-half of eligible Egyptians voted, and little more than one-half of them chose Mohammed Morsi to lead them. And it is important to note that not all of Morsi's votes came from supporters of the Brotherhood—many came from those who were quite simply voting against Shafik and the military. So too, many of those who voted for Shafik, were in fact casting a vote against the Brotherhood.

Even those wary of a Muslim Brotherhood win, must acknowledge that history has been made in this openly competitive contest. President-elect Morsi will now occupy the seat once held by Nasser, Sadat, and Mubarak—but with a difference. If this is to work, there can be no new Pharaoh, nor will the Generals be able to exercise unfettered control—by themselves, or through a surrogate. Morsi now has a mandate to govern. But he would be wise to proceed with caution.

There are two essential components to making a democracy work—both involving a recognition of the reality of divisions in society. The losing side, despite their bitter disappointment, must accept the legitimacy of the outcome, and the winning side must accept the reality and legitimate rights of the losing side.

These are the hard tests of democracy and real challenges lay ahead. If we look closely at this election, and indeed everything that has transpired since February of 2011, we can see that Egypt's nascent democracy is still a work in progress. There are clearly two poles in the contest for power—and an emergent third pole in the making.

On the one side there is the Muslim Brotherhood, a powerful national movement, an effective provider of services, and a now proven vote-getter. On the other side is the Supreme Council for the Armed Forces (SCAF) and the elements of Egyptian society they represent. They too have demonstrated that they have supporters and have the capacity to organize. The revolutionary youth remain a potent force, but have recognized their electoral limitations and have embarked on a five-year organizing plan.

In any case, the shape of Egypt's new democracy will be determined by the interplay between these poles—with no one group being able to claim it represents all Egyptians, or even all those who voted for them in the last election (democracy being a fickle mistress). It is advisable, therefore, that both sides approach this next stage with a degree of humility and that neither side over-reach—as they unfortunately have in the recent past.

The Muslim Brotherhood set off alarm bells when they tried to exercise too much control, too soon, in Parliament and in the selection of the body that was to write the new Constitution. They then compounded their over-reach when they broke their earlier pledge not to field a presidential candidate and were seen as trying to control everything. This was seen as a step too far. One party control can be a problem in an established and divided democracy, like the United States. How much more so, in an emergent democracy.

For its part, the SCAF created deep concern when, in reaction to the Brotherhood's over-reach, they suspended Parliament and then issued the Supplementary Constitutional Decrees stripping the powers of the presidency and establishing their role as final arbiters of the Constitution.

At this point after the election, the two main established poles of power in Egypt are what they have been all along—the Brotherhood and the SCAF. The military will seek to maintain as much control as they can, while President Morsi will make a determined effort to wrest as much control as he can. The two groupings will continue to test each other, and the interplay will determine whether or not Egypt moves forward. The test of wills that will now occur will shape the future of Egypt's democracy.

But the real test for the new President and the SCAF will be their ability to perform. The public will have limited patience with their contest for power. At the end of the day our polls show that a majority of Egyptians could care less about which group rules. Uppermost on their minds are jobs, improved health care, better education, and a government that can deliver services without corruption. This is the real work of democracy, and, in this context, the election and its outcome mark not the end of a process, but its beginning.

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Sep 29th 2022
EXTRACTS "Ever since she became a prominent political figure 12 years ago, Truss has been a shapeshifter. She started as a Liberal Democrat before becoming a Conservative, and she voted to remain in the European Union before championing Brexit. As a minister, it is hard to think of anything she accomplished. She signed a few EU trade deals as Secretary of State for International Trade, but most of those were rollovers." --- "But if until recently it seemed that Truss was driven solely by political ambition, her government’s 'mini-budget' proposal sheds light on her deeper ideological affinities."
Sep 20th 2022
EXTRACT: "Russia’s focus on Ukraine and Putin’s choice to frame this as a civilisational struggle with the west has created opportunities for China to enhance its influence elsewhere – at Russia’s expense."
Sep 20th 2022
EXTRACTS: ”The Ukrainian army is making spectacular advances,” --- “…the European Union has fully mobilized to confront the energy crisis.” ---- “we are helping our partners in the Global South to handle the fallout from Russia’s brutal aggression and cynical weaponization of energy and food.” ---- “In short: the overall strategy is working. We must continue to support Ukraine, pressure Russia with sanctions, and help our global partners in a spirit of solidarity.”
Sep 8th 2022
EXTRACT: "In 1950, a team of sociologists, including the philosopher Theodor Adorno, conducted an empirical study, later published as The Authoritarian Personality, which ....... “If a potentially fascistic individual exists, what, precisely, is he like? What goes to make up antidemocratic thought? What are the organizing forces within the person?... what have been the determinants and what is the course of his development?”
Aug 29th 2022
EXTRACT: "Russian aggression certainly poses a threat; but it is a familiar one that we know how to deal with. Rising temperatures, dry riverbeds, parched landscapes, falling crop yields, acute energy shortages, and disruptions to industrial production are something else."
Aug 25th 2022
EXTRACTS: "As the revolutionary founder of a new Chinese state, Mao emphasized ideology over development. For Deng and his successors, it was the opposite: De-emphasis of ideology was viewed as necessary to boost economic growth through market-based 'reform and opening up.' Then came Xi. Initially, there was hope that his so-called 'Third Plenum Reforms' of 2013 would usher in a new era of strong economic performance. But the new ideological campaigns carried out under the general rubric of Xi Jinping Thought, including a regulatory clampdown on once-dynamic Internet platform companies and associated restrictions on online gaming, music, and private tutoring, as well as a zero-COVID policy that has led to never-ending lockdowns, have all but dashed those hopes." ----- "With the upcoming 20th Party Congress likely to usher in an unprecedented third five-year term for Xi, there is good reason to believe that China’s growth sacrifice has only just begun."
Aug 23rd 2022
EXTRACTS: "Less widely noted, however, is that the prices of many commodities fell this summer. The price of oil decreased by about 30% between early June and mid-August. The politically sensitive price of gasoline in the United States fell by 20% over the same period, from $5 per gallon to $4 per gallon. The overall index fell 12%." ---- "There are two macroeconomic reasons to think that commodity prices in general will fall further. The level of economic activity is a self-evidently important determinant of demand for commodities and therefore of their prices. Less obviously, the real interest rate is another key factor. And the current outlook for both global growth and real interest rates suggests a downward path for commodity prices."
Aug 22nd 2022
EXTRACT: "How Trump planned to use the classified documents remains a question that investigators presumably have made a high priority. Depending on the answer and the resulting charges, if any, one thing is certain: Trump will play hardball, including by amplifying his claims of victimhood at the hands of the fictional Deep State, and denying any wrongdoing in purloining the documents. His lies and hyperbole, however, don’t preclude seeking a plea deal. In his previous tangles with the law, such as his Trump University scam, he agreed to compensate the victims (in that case $25 million) after his prevarications were exhausted."
Aug 21st 2022
"On one side, there is the foreign secretary, Liz Truss, for whom all but the most partisan Tory would struggle to count many successes during her lengthy cabinet career." ---- "Rishi Sunak, whose proposed policies appear more attuned to the imperative of tackling inflation and the hardship it is causing. But on the big issues of the past few years, Sunak has been wrong. He backed Brexit from the beginning, denies the damage it is doing, and enthusiastically supported Johnson’s bid for the premiership." ---- " Which of these two can offer honesty to the British people, who deserve to be treated like grown-ups? To paraphrase the US Democratic politician Adlai Stevenson, the average man and woman are better than average."
Aug 10th 2022
EXTRACT: "Central banks are thus locked in a “debt trap”: any attempt to normalize monetary policy will cause debt-servicing burdens to spike, leading to massive insolvencies, cascading financial crises, and fallout in the real economy. ---- With governments unable to reduce high debts and deficits by spending less or raising revenues, those that can borrow in their own currency will increasingly resort to the “inflation tax”: relying on unexpected price growth to wipe out long-term nominal liabilities at fixed rates."
Jul 29th 2022
EXTRACT: ".... the likelihood is that Biden, who spent his life as a senator, played a central behind-the-scenes role in turning Manchin around and keeping the Democratic Party Senators together on this pared-down version of Build Back Better. Biden’s legislative accomplishments, not to mention his administrative ones, will likely end up being very impressive for the first two years of his presidency. ------ In matters of climate, every ton of CO2 you don’t put into the atmosphere is a decrease in how hard life will be for our grandchildren. They will have reason to be grateful to President Biden and the Democratic Party if this bill becomes law."
Jul 29th 2022
EXTRACTS: "Right-wing media outlets including Fox News, One America News (OAN), Newsmax, and talk radio are grossly abusing the right to free speech and are causing profound, if not irreparable damage to our country at home and abroad. They have been engaged in these deliberate practices of spreading poisonous misinformation all in the name of free speech." ---- "A team at MIT, analyzing propaganda techniques in the news, underscores the use of logical fallacies – such as strawmen (the misrepresentation of the other’s position), red herrings (the provision of irrelevancies), false dichotomies (offering two alternatives as the only possibilities), and whataboutism (a diversionary tactic to avoid directly addressing an issue). ---- Whataboutism is worth considering more closely because it is becoming ubiquitous among Republicans – perhaps this is not surprising given that it is certainly Trump’s “favorite dodge.” It is one of the fundamental rules by which he operates: when you are criticized, say that someone else is worse. In an interview with Trump, Bill O’Reilly states the obvious fact that “Putin is a killer,” and who can forget Trump’s response: “There are a lot of killers. You got a lot of killers. What, you think our country is so innocent?” That is classic whataboutism. And it is also of course all over Fox News’ most popular line-up."
Jul 24th 2022
EXTRACTS: "For three hours, against the unequivocal advice of his counsel, friends, and family, Trump purposefully and steadfastly declined to give the mob he had summoned any signal to disperse, to exit the building peacefully, or to simply cease threatening the life of his vice president or other members of Congress." ------ "Trump is corrupt to the core, a traitor who deserves nothing but contempt and to spend the rest of his life behind bars because he remains a menace to this country and an existential threat to our democratic institutions."
Jul 21st 2022
EXTRACT: "For some countries, diasporas also are not new. Just ask the Russians. For three-quarters of a century, Stalin’s NKVD and its successor, the KGB, kept close tabs on expatriate Russians, constantly worrying about the threat they might pose. And now, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s security service, the FSB, is continuing the tradition. According to recent FSB estimates, almost four million Russians left the country in the first three months of this year. Obviously, FSB statistics are hard to verify. But the sheer magnitude of this year’s departures is striking."
Jul 20th 2022
EXTRACTS: "We need leaders who will be honest about our problems in the short, medium, and long term. We are becoming poorer than our neighbors, with our per capita growth and productivity lagging behind theirs. We confront surging energy prices, soaring inflation, and public-sector strikes. Our fiscal deficit is uncomfortably high. Our influence is diminished. Far from recognizing these challenges, let alone proposing sensible solutions, the candidates to succeed Johnson are trying to win votes with reckless proposals like ever-larger tax cuts." ----- "There is one exception. Former Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak refuses to abandon the notion that expenditure should bear some relationship to revenue. "
Jul 13th 2022
EXTRACT: "Looking ahead, five factors could make today’s energy crisis even worse. First, Putin has opened a second front in the conflict by cutting back on the contracted volumes of natural gas that Russia supplies to Europe. The goal is to prevent Europeans from storing enough supplies for next winter, and to drive prices higher, creating economic hardship and political discord. In his speech in June at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, Putin made his reasoning clear: “Social and economic problems worsening in Europe” will “split their societies” and “inevitably lead to populism … and a change of the elites in the short term.” ...... As it is, Germany is now anticipating the need for gas rationing, and its minister for economic affairs, Robert Habeck, warns of a “Lehman-style contagion” (referring to the 2008 financial crisis) if Europe cannot manage today’s energy-induced economic disruptions."
Jul 5th 2022
EXTRACT: "Fortunately, I am not alone in claiming that the survival of democracy in the US is gravely endangered. The American public has been aroused by the decision overturning Roe. But people need to recognize that decision for what it is: part of a carefully laid plan to turn the US into a repressive regime. We must do everything we can to prevent that. This fight ought to include many people who voted for Trump in the past."
Jul 2nd 2022
EXTRACT: "The Israeli philosopher Avishai Margalit described this succinctly in his book On Compromise and Rotten Compromises. In “politics as economics,” material interests are “subject to bargaining, everything is negotiable, whereas in the religious picture, centered on the idea of the holy, the holy is non-negotiable.” This, then, is why politics in the US is now in such a perilous state. More and more, the secular left and the religious right are engaged in a culture war, revolving around sexuality, gender, and race, where politics is no longer negotiable. When that happens, institutions start breaking down, and the stage is set for charismatic demagogues and the politics of violence."
Jul 2nd 2022
EXTRACT: "...EU enlargement is essentially a political decision by member states, based on a multitude of considerations that sometimes include dramatic events. Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine is such a turning point."
Jun 29th 2022
EXTRACT: "Most market analysts seem to think that central banks will remain hawkish, but I am not so sure. I have argued that they will eventually wimp out and accept higher inflation – followed by stagflation – once a hard landing becomes imminent, because they will be worried about the damage of a recession and a debt trap, owing to an excessive build-up of private and public liabilities after years of low interest rates." ----- "There is ample reason to believe that the next recession will be marked by a severe stagflationary debt crisis. As a share of global GDP, private and public debt levels are much higher today than in the past, having risen from 200% in 1999 to 350% today (with a particularly sharp increase since the start of the pandemic). Under these conditions, rapid normalization of monetary policy and rising interest rates will drive highly leveraged zombie households, companies, financial institutions, and governments into bankruptcy and default."