The outcome of the presidential elections will have a major impact on the future of Egypt, affecting the power of the Islamist parties, the position of the military, and the country’s ability to start addressing its economic problems. The result could also have major implications for Egyptian women. 

Samer Shehata of Georgetown University, Michael Hanna of the Century Foundation, and Carnegie's Marina Ottaway discussed what the first round of voting indicates. Al-Monitor’s Washington correspondent Barbara Slavin moderated.

This event was co-sponsored by Al-Monitor.

Electoral Process

  • Deficiencies: Hanna stated that, while the presidential elections were competitive and not marked by broad, systematic fraud, there were several deficiencies in the electoral process that created an unequal political environment:

    • State Media: The state media still functions as a mouthpiece of the government and does not act as a neutral entity. 
    • State Bureaucracy: The state bureaucracy, absent any vetting or serious reform, remains the bureaucracy of the previous regime. Unelected state institutions, such as the judiciary, have been acting in a politicized manner. Hanna cited the Presidential Election Commission and the Supreme Constitutional Court, which have the same president, as two examples of state institutions acting politically. 

  • Exceeded Expectations: The integrity of the administration of the elections exceeded most people’s expectations, Shehata said, despite concerns over the reduced number of polling stations and the potential for administrative problems and voter fraud. 

Presidential Elections

  • Trends: While Egyptian politics remain very fluid, the results of the presidential election highlight two current trends in Egyptian society, Hanna said.

    • Waning Support for the Muslim Brotherhood: The presidential elections indicate a backlash against the Muslim Brotherhood for their seeming inefficiency in parliament and their overreach in naming members of the Constituent Assembly. 
    • Popular Desire for Security: Over the course of the transition, there has been a growing desire for the return of stability and security to Egypt’s streets. This same sentiment has been exaggerated by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and state media. 

  • Analyzing the Results: Shehata examined the campaign discourse of both Mohamed Morsi and Ahmed Shafiq to understand their success.

    • Morsi: Morsi’s campaign was aimed at the Muslim Brotherhood’s base and not at centrist or undecided voters. Accordingly, the Muslim Brotherhood mobilized its organization behind him. Since entering the runoff, Morsi’s campaign discourse has become much more centrist and inclusive. 
    • Shafiq: The perception of insecurity helped Shafiq, who ran on a campaign of restoring order. His campaign was supported by the National Democratic Party-machine, families tied to the army and security services, and Coptic Christians. 

  • Real Battle for Power: To a certain extent, it does not matter who wins these elections, argued Ottaway. The most important parts of the battle for power in Egypt, such as defining the powers of the president, are taking place outside of the elected institutions, in the judicial branch and the bureaucracy. 

    • Judicial Branch: The courts have played a very political role in the transition and have been further politicized by being tasked with administering the elections, Ottaway said. They have dissolved parties, disqualified candidates, challenged the formation of the constituent assembly, and are considering a case that could disband the parliament. 
    • State Bureaucracy: The state bureaucracy would be strengthened if a president is elected without defined powers, particularly if the elected institutions are disbanded at the same time, Ottaway added. 

  • Low Voter Turnout: Shehata stated that low voter turnout, around 46 percent of eligible voters, is a concern. 
  • New Politicians: One of the alarming aspects of the elections–both parliamentary and presidential–is the glaring absence of a strong liberal bloc and the inability of the liberals to generate new liberal politicians, Ottaway said. 

Looking Ahead

  • Role of the United States: The panelists discussed the potential for the United States to play a larger role in the transition in Egypt.

    • Limited Role: There is a very limited role the United States can play in Egypt because it does not have a good history of supporting democracy in Egypt, Shehata argued. Ottaway added that any efforts by the United States to influence the outcome could end up complicating the situation in Egypt. 
    • Equal Engagement: The United States should talk with the Muslim Brotherhood, but should also engage with all political forces, particularly on the state institutions, Hanna said. 
    • Bilateral Relations: Hanna and Shehata agreed that the Egypt-U.S. relationship is unlikely to change in the short term, but could change significantly in the long term.
  • Role of the Military: The panelists agreed that the Egyptian military, specifically the SCAF, is the leading political power in Egypt and will remain so even after a new president has taken office.

    • Military’s Goals: The military’s primary goals are: immunity for crimes committed during the transition, budgetary independence, control over national security decisions, and control over assets, Hanna outlined. 
    • Muslim Brotherhood: The Muslim Brotherhood has adopted an approach of attempted accommodation with the military, offering a safe exit for the SCAF, and is unlikely to pursue a confrontation with the military, Hanna and Shehata agreed. 
    • Judiciary: Although the formal relationship between the judiciary and the military remains unclear, military courts continue to be used and many top judges are political appointees from the Mubarak era, Ottaway said. 
    • New President: Ottaway said that the future role of the military will depend on who wins the presidency; if Shafiq wins, the military will return to its behind-the-scenes position like under Mubarak, whereas if Morsi wins, the military will adopt a more prominent role. 
    • Popularity: Hanna argued that if the United States wishes to champion the right of peaceful protest, it would have to take on Egypt’s military. This would be an extremely unpopular move because the majority of the population still holds the military in high regard. Shehata disagreed, arguing that the military has been losing popularity as people perceive it as mismanaging the transition. 
    • Divide and Conquer: The SCAF has adopted a strategy of divide and conquer with Egypt’s leading political powers that has made it difficult for the political powers to hold a unified stance against the SCAF, Hanna added. 

  • Potential for Instability: The panelists debated the prospects for further instability in Egypt.  Shehata argued that a victory for Shafiq would create an environment in which the entire legitimacy of the transition will be questioned and possibly rejected, increasing the risk of instability. Ottaway argued that there is a high chance for instability regardless of who wins the election; if Shafiq wins, there will be street protests, and if Morsi wins, there will be a confrontation between the state institutions and the Muslim Brotherhood.