Everything in Egypt is possible nowadays. The runoff presidential election, slated for June 16-17, will be held on time, but then again it might not. On Thursday, June 14, the Higher Constitutional Court will rule on constitutionality of the so-called Political Isolation Law. The ruling could go either way: If it was deemed unconstitutional, then presidential candidate former Gen. Ahmad Shafiq will be allowed to run. But if it is not and he was disqualified from the race, then the results of the first round would be unlawful and the elections would have to be repeated from the beginning.
Moreover, the same court will also rule on the constitutionality of parliamentary elections, held last January. There is the possibility, a very strong one, that they will be cancelled which means that Parliament will have to dissolve itself. In the meantime, the ruling Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) has forced the hands of political parties to agree on a formula to elect a Constitutional Assembly to draft a new constitution for Egypt. The last time such an assembly was formed it was met with a nationwide uproar because it was controlled by the Islamists. They immediately backed down.
On Sunday, most political parties agreed on a new formula, and a draft law was passed by Parliament. But liberal and civil parties withdrew their backing because once again the Islamists made up more than 80 percent of the 100-person assembly. Critics immediately cried foul and accused SCAF of striking a deal with the Muslim Brotherhood to give them control over the new body in return for accepting the ruling of the Higher Constitutional Court on the validity of parliamentary elections.
And so Egyptians find themselves trapped once again in a vicious circle. Every time the country clears one major hurdle, it finds itself facing two or three more. The court’s verdict on former President Hosni Mubarak, his sons, his minister of interior and senior security officers earlier in the month, failed to please the majority of Egyptians. Mubarak and former Minister of Interior Habib Al Adly were both sentenced to life imprisonment for failing to protect the lives of protesters in the January 25 uprising. But the court could not incriminate anyone in the killing of over 500 protesters in the period between Jan. 27 and Feb. 11.
Almost all political parties and activists headed to Al Tahrir Square to protest the rulings. Their lingering question was: Who killed the revolutionaries?
So as Egyptians wait for the start of the runoff vote next week, they are bombarded by numerous questions. Will there be a second and final round? Will Parliament be dissolved? What sort of a constitution will an Islamist dominated Constitutional Assembly come up with? And is there a secret deal between SCAF and the Islamists? Who will win; Shafiq, the obvious representative of the old regime, or Mohamad Mursi, the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood?
No one has the answer to these and other questions. Since the toppling of Mubarak and the takeover by SCAF, Egypt found itself crashing into a chain of crises. It has not been an easy and lucid transition. And every time a landmark event has happened, Egyptians became more polarized and divided. The choice now, between Shafiq and Mursi, is the ultimate test for a country that is clearly unsure about both.
Shafiq’s success in the first round shocked and baffled Egyptians. It sent an electrifying message to the Islamists and other progressive forces in society that millions of Egyptians are tired of the revolution, fearful of the Islamists and are pining for the old days of stability and security. The Islamists, who were late to join the revolution and were the first to withdraw from Tahrir Square, changed their strategy immediately. Mursi became the candidate of the revolution and not only the Islamists. He was quick to send assurances to the Copts, the liberals and the youth of the revolution that he would preserve the civil nature of the state. He offered to hire former foes in the first round of elections as his deputies once he is declared winner. But he failed to get the endorsement of Hamdeen Sabahi, and Arab nationalist, who came in third place in the first round.
Shafiq, on the other hand, has accused his opponent of waging a “black propaganda” against him and promised to deliver stability and security while protecting Egypt’s minorities. The mudslinging between the two candidates has polarized Egyptians further. It is difficult to predict who will win in the second round.
Early indications came from the results of tallying expatriate votes. Mursi was ahead of Shafiq by a considerable margin, especially in Arab and Muslim countries. But Shafiq was ahead among Egyptian voters living in Europe and North America. Next week’s vote will a close one. While Mursi, who is a poor speaker and uncharismatic, will rely on organized Islamist votes, Shafiq hopes to attract Coptic and secular votes. The choice is clearly between a civil and a religious state.
Attempts to convince the Islamists to accept a temporary presidential council or an interim president have failed. The Islamists believe their man will win anyway and they don’t see a reason to make concessions. So far it’s all clear for the historic elections to take place. But there are a few major hurdles that Egyptian must overcome in the coming days. Even then no one is certain that Egypt’s qualms about the future will be finally over!
— Osama Al Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman.
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