WASHINGTON, Feb 25—Egypt’s upcoming election cycle—parliamentary elections in June and November and the September 2011 presidential election—will have no impact on the internal distribution of power. While it is too late to influence the upcoming elections, the Obama administration’s silence on Egypt’s political crackdown only emboldens the regime and erodes U.S. credibility in the region, explains a new commentary by Marina Ottaway.

Key conclusions:

  • Egypt’s ostensibly multiparty system is in reality a single party regime. The country’s constitution and the National Democratic Party’s close ties to the security apparatus ensure that it will retain control of the parliament and presidency.
  • There is no viable opposition in Egypt. Leftist and liberal parties remain weak and ineffective, and protests, though numerous, have failed to translate into cohesive organizations. The Muslim Brotherhood is deeply divided, and its internal elections in January 2010 saw reformers pushed out in favor of conservative leaders.
  • A more vocal United States is unlikely to damage the bilateral relationship or Egypt’s policies toward Israel or Hizbollah and Hamas.
  • At this stage, U.S. involvement will not change the upcoming elections—it is too late to rebuild political opposition. Instead, the United States should focus on a long-term strategy.

A three-step process for the United States:

  1. Candidly outline the principles for political reform and signal that Egypt’s elections have nothing to do with democracy.
  2. Get to know all political organizations and protest movements and open a dialogue with them on how the United States can effectively aid in democracy promotion.
  3. After the first two steps, engage with the Egyptian government in an open debate on the political system, with a willingness to frankly discuss U.S. policies in the region.

“None of the steps envisaged here is going to make the elections in the forthcoming cycle into meaningful expressions of citizen choice. It is already too late to overcome the one-dimensionality of the Egyptian political scene,” writes Ottaway. “But if steps are not taken now, we will find ourselves facing a new cycle of meaningless elections five years from now.”



  • Marina Ottaway, director of the Carnegie Middle East Program, specializes in democracy and post-conflict reconstruction issues, with special focus on problems of political transformation in the Middle East.
  • The Carnegie Middle East Program combines in-depth local knowledge with incisive comparative analysis to examine economic, socio-political, and strategic interests in the Arab world to provide analysis and recommendations in both English and Arabic that are deeply informed by knowledge and views from the region.
  • Carnegie's Arab Reform Bulletin offers a monthly analysis of political and economic developments in Arab countries.