TOM CARVER: Okay. Good morning, everyone, or afternoon, depending on where you are, which time zone. This is Tom Carver, vice president for communications and strategy at Carnegie, and this is a media call on the Egypt elections and the future of Egypt. It's going to last 30 minutes, and it'll be on the record, and I encourage you to jump in with questions to the two people we have today. I'm very pleased that we have Michele Dunne, who many of you know, um, is, uh, a senior associate in our Middle East program, and a long time expert on Egypt, has been to Egypt, uh, many times, including recently, um, and, uh, has worked on Egypt and the American relationship with Egypt, uh, for many years, ever since she left the White House.
And also on the line, uh, we have Nathan Brown, who has been a wonderful non-resident, uh, scholar at Carnegie for a long time, and is professor at George Washington University. That's his daytime job, as it were, um, and has also frequently been to Egypt, and is a well-known expert. So, um, let's just jump straight in, uh, maybe I'll just ask a couple of questions just to kick off. I mean, Michele and Nathan, um, the result itself, we'll talk about the implications, but – I mean, sorry, the election itself, um, how is it going? Is there any surprises there for you? And it's obviously been extended a third day. What's your impression of it?
NATHAN BROWN: Michele, do you want go?
MICHELE DUNNE: Okay. ____ and good morning, everyone. So ____ Egypt is they all turn out for the election. Um, that I think has _____ [background noise] surprise to the authorities. I think it probably should have been expected. I mean, when you have an election in which there's no effective competition, and everyone knows from the outset who's going to win, there's less of a motivation for – for voters to turn out.
Also, I think there has been other evidence, evidence in polling and anecdotal evidence, that while, um, Field Marshal Sisi probably is the – probably the most single most popular political figure in Egypt, that his popularity is not as massive, or as overwhelming as has been claimed, and that indeed, it – it might have been waning for some time. This is a very polarized society, and, uh, there are a lot of people who, uh, either, uh, are opposed to Sisi, or at least are – are not enthusiastic, uh, and are just staying away.
I still expect him to become president. Um, I don't expect the actual process to be disrupted. And, uh, probably the story of the low turnout will be buried, and there will be a honeymoon for a while while he's given a chance.
Um, but this narrative that he got a weak popular mandate to start with is already out there, and it – it might come back in future months, if he is, uh, seen as not performing well, and, uh, and there's increasing public unhappiness with him.
TOM CARVER: Nathan, what are your thoughts about –
NATHAN BROWN: Yeah.
TOM CARVER: – the election process so far?
NATHAN BROWN: Uh, sure. Thank you very much. Yes, I would completely agree with Michele that the big story, uh, right now is the, uh, turnout. Um, the second story is that we're not going to have really reliable figures. Um, this is an election that is taking place without very much international monitoring, ___ very much in domestic monitoring going on.
And what that will allow the regime to do will be perhaps to, uh, produce its own figures that might be persuasive to its supporters, aren't necessarily going to be persuasive to everybody in Egypt. Um, in a sense, this is a return to normal. Historical turnout in Egyptian elections has generally been very low. This has not been historically all that politicized a society or a place where elections were all that meaningful. But we – but – but for the last couple of years, we saw a series of highly competitive and contentious elections, which brought higher turnout. We may be returning to the norm here.
I think the main repercussions of the low turnout may be more international than domestic. Um, the regime can spin the story any way it wants domestically. Internationally, I think the story, as I said, the storyline is already in a sense set, about the low turnout, and the line of the Egyptian regime, that it represents the vast majority of Egyptians, that Sisi was swept into office on a wave of popular enthusiasm, and that they are completing the final steps in a democratic roadmap, is probably going to be less persuasive internationally, and going to put some pressure on some, uh, Western governments perhaps to distance themselves or to treat his victory with a little bit of reserve.
TOM CARVER: Um, Morsi got 13 million votes, I think. Um, am I right? Um, do you think, Nathan, that, uh, Sisi will get that number of votes?
NATHAN BROWN: Well, I think there will be enormous, uh, pressure to make sure that he does get that number of votes, and we've had sort of widely conflicting preliminary figures. Um, so all I will say is that, you know, based on the anecdotal evidence that we're receiving, I would be surprised if he got that many people actually voting for him, but I don't know what official vote tallies will be released.
TOM CARVER: Okay. Um, so just, uh, looking ahead, then, assuming, as you say, things go more or less to plan as they have planned it, um, and he becomes president, you mentioned a honeymoon period, Michele. I mean, what – what – what do you think the first few months of this Sisi government's going to be like, and what is it going to do?
MICHELE DUNNE: Well, the first couple of months in particular are going to be challenging, because he's going into, uh, the summer. The month of Ramadan begins, um, late June, and Egypt has an energy crisis. So – but presumably, they've been planning for this, uh, Sisi, and, uh, and others in the government, that they're going to have to deal with meeting energy needs, food needs, uh, to some reasonable standard, to keep people happy enough during Ramadan and the summer.
Beyond that, um, there – then they can – they can also sort of ask people, give us more time, give us more time, because they're going to have parliamentary elections in the fall. That will keep them busy and so forth. But there will be questions in terms of to what extent they're going to tackle serious problems, like the energy subsidies that have led to this energy crisis. Uh, will they adopt austerity measures?
One thing I do think that the – that the low voter turnout might do is make Sisi even less likely to go for serious austerity measures early, because if he feels that his public support is soft, he will be, uh, less likely to – to adopt strong measures in terms of tailing down energy subsidies or revising them in such a way that they only go to the most needy. But the – so, you know, I – I think that, you know, things are going to play out through at least the end of the year, uh, and then we will see.
I think, you know, 6 months down the road, 12 months down the road, people in Egypt need to start to feel that there's an improvement in the economic situation. I don't think they expect miracles, but they expect things to start to turn around. They expect the security situation to get better. We're still in a situation where, uh, there's a police officer killed in Egypt almost every day in – in some kind of an attack, and there of course occasionally have been much bigger terrorist attacks.
People want to – want to see that kind of thing ending. So I think he – he's going to need to be showing results on those things and giving people some reason to hope in 6 to 12 months if he wants to maintain, uh, and – and build on what we see as – you know, he's got some – he's got a plurality, let's say, of public support, but perhaps not – not a strong majority.
TOM CARVER: So Nathan, this is obviously a return to rule by the military. Is it going to be the same as it was under Mubarak, or are we looking to – at a different, uh, type of setup, different type of political situation with Sisi?
NATHAN BROWN: I think we do have a little bit of a different setup. I mean, um, the, um, what has happened over the last year has been major institutions of the Egyptian state have sort of banded together to beat off the assault from the Brotherhood. Um, but they're not necessarily as centrally controlled as they used to be. For instance, to call this a military regime is true to some extent. It's – it's leader is from the military. But it's a leader who clearly had to negotiation some kind of exit arrangement with the military, and trying to be very, very careful when he resigned his position there to, um, uh, make sure that he was leaving it in the hands of reliable friends. He's clearly got some concerns there.
The security apparatus I think is one that has been acting almost on its own in a way that has, in the minds of most international observers, really probably deepened, um, uh, Egypt's security problems, and, um, it's not clear whether Sisi has either the will or the political standing to be able to rain them in.
When he becomes president, assuming, uh, he does, and I think that's a fairly safe assumption, when he becomes president, he will have the power to rule by decree, because there won't be any parliament, uh, yet. He will have a, uh, uh, basically an unlimited ability, legal ability, to do as he wants. He can even form his own cabinet however he wants. And so one of the real questions will be whether he tries to use that in order to launch any ambitious policy initiatives and ____ to really kind of gain control some of these institutions, some of which seem to have gone a little bit rogue.
TOM CARVER: Okay. So –
MICHELE DUNNE: Uh, just to add a little something here, Tom, about a difference from the Mubarak era, at least in the last decade of the Mubarak era, there was, uh, a kind of this – this economic dream team in place, you know, cronies of Kamel, Mubarak, and they were – they were working very closely with the United States and with Western financial institutions on structural economic reform, and, um, providing, uh, opportunities to the private sector – sector.
Now a – a lot of that was, uh, kind of rejected with the Egyptian Revolution as leading to cronyism and corruption and so forth, and now what we see with Sisi is a more statused and military dominated economic mindset. So that's a real question, uh, in terms of – and – and the things he's said about economic policies and so forth have been quite mixed and quite unclear. But they do suggest that there will be a more statused and less private sector oriented economic policy as compared to the latter Mubarak years.
TOM CARVER: Okay. Let – let's, um, throw it open. We've got a number of journalists on the call. I'll just ask you to identify yourself, if possible, so that Michele and Nathan know who they're talking to. Um, anyone want to jump in?
PATRICK MARTIN: Sure. It's Patrick Martin here from the Globe and Mail newspaper in Canada.
TOM CARVER: Hi, Patrick. Go ahead.
PATRICK MARTIN: Hi. Thanks for doing this today, Tom. It's great. I – I wanted to ask, beyond the implications for Mr. Sisi, what are the implications for the Muslim Brotherhood of this low turnout?
TOM CARVER: Michele?
MICHELE DUNNE: I – look, I think the Brotherhood is going to be very encouraged. I mean, frankly, uh, people affiliated with the Brotherhood, you know, whether on Twitter or social media, are already crowing about this. Now what that is going to mean in terms of, you know, will they step up demonstrations and so forth, those – those pro-Morsi demonstrations have never completely stopped. I mean, they – they've become smallish, but they've been surprisingly persistent in view of all the measures that the state has put in place to try to stop demonstrations.
So we will see. Uh, I would – I would say, you know, they're – they're going to see Sisi as vulnerable, uh, and they – we will see, you know, what kind of methods they will use, whether it's street protests in Egypt, whether it's a campaign to get international, uh, pressure, uh, on Sisi, for example, for accountability for the very serious human rights abuses that have been committed in the – in the last nine months. There are tens of thousands of people in prison. New figures are suggesting as many as 40,000. And there have been several thousand people killed without any accountability.
So, um, you – the Brotherhood has tried a little bit internationally to press on those issues, and get Egypt criticized or called to account, the Egyptian government, and I – I would suspect that this election is going to cause them to redouble those kind of efforts.
TOM CARVER: But Nathan, there's no question that the Muslim Brotherhood organization has been dealt quite a blow by the military, right? I mean, are they going to be able to rebuild that?
NATHAN BROWN: Oh, yeah. They're – they're – I think they're still decimated. Um, the, uh, top leadership, and even a lot of the middle – the middle leadership is either abroad or in jail. The local units of the Brotherhood seem to be operating a little bit, but with only – with only some guidance, uh, from the center.
And I think it's, in more ideological terms, they really had a story to tell for themselves and the country for the last 10 or 15 years, and that was sort of their steady political assent. And the idea that they are, you know, about to step back into the halls of power I think is not going to be all that convincing, at least to, uh, to non-Brotherhood members. So, um, I would say that they're still in, um, in – in very bad shape.
And elsewhere on the Islamist spectrum, I think part of the story here may be the Salafi inability to turn out much, uh, vote for Sisi as well. They're about to go into parliamentary elections, and so I think it'll be a major, uh, um, problem for them to see whether or not they can repeat the same electoral performance, getting about 20 percent of the vote that they showed back in the previous parliamentary elections, back at the end of 2011, beginning of 2012.
TOM CARVER: Okay. Other questions?
MICHAEL PETROU: It's, uh, Michael Petrou here from Maclean's magazine. Can you hear me?
TOM CARVER: Yep, Michael. Go ahead.
MICHAEL PETROU: Hi. I'm wondering how – what you expect to – to be the reaction from non-Muslim Brotherhood opposition, the liberal sector activists. Um, presumably part of the low – low voter turnout can be explained by them staying away. How – how will they respond – respond, and what do you think they will be doing in the, uh, you know, weeks and months ahead?
TOM CARVER: Michele?
MICHELE DUNNE: Uh, Michael, so certainly a low youth turnout seems to be part of, um, the story here in the presidential election. That was also true in the, um, constitutional referendum in January. And, uh, so we might also see youth protest movements, some of whom are connected to the political parties that you mentioned. I mean, particularly the party that was founded by Mohamed ElBaradei.
Um, you know, the secular political parties were divided. Some of them explicitly endorsed Sisi and campaigned for him. Uh, a couple of them endorsed Hamdeen Sabahi. Some of them chose not to endorse anyone, and called on their members to boycott. So, uh, I think, frankly, we're going to continue to see that division. At this point, I'm not sure that we will see all the various, um, secular parties coming together.
I also want to note, regarding the upcoming parliamentary elections, that, uh, just recently, the new parliamentary elections law was put out, and it – it gave – three-quarters of the seats of the new parliament will be elected according to individual mandates, and only one-quarter to party lists. And that – that was a great disappointment to these secular parties, who had hoped that by, um, supporting the coup and supporting the removal of Morsi, that they would have a clear shot at controlling the next parliament.
And it now looks like that won't be the case, so I think for the moment we're going to continue to see a very divided scene among the secular opposition groups, uh, but some of the movements, like, for example, the April 6th youth movement, whose leaders are in prison, and the movement has now been banned, we – we may see either a re-enlivenment of April 6th, even though it's now illegal, or even the emergence of new youth movements, uh, that – that may be protesting, if they feel, again, that this election has showed that Sisi is not as strong as – as some people claimed.
MICHAEL PETROU: These protests would include the sort of street demonstrations that we saw in 2011, or is that – is that a stretch?
MICHELE DUNNE: Right now, that's a stretch. I'm – I'm not expecting anything that massive now. As I said, I think people are going to give Sisi a chance, if only out of fatigue, uh, you know, and, um, he's going to have some time to show whether he can bring results. And if he doesn't, then – then you might see protest really building a little bit further down the road.
MICHAEL PETROU: Thank you.
TOM CARVER: Nathan, do you want to add anything on that?
NATHAN BROWN: Um, well, I just – the main thing is that, you know, the low turnout for Sisi, this is ____ to what Michele said, is not necessarily a triumph for any of the opposition parties. All of them have shown at best an anemic ability to mobilize supporters. We'll be going soon to parliamentary elections, so they'll be able to test their strength, but the way the parliamentary election is be – the law is being written, it's going to be a parliament that really rewards independence in non-party members. So they're not going to be powerful actors, at least in the normal political process.
TOM CARVER: Okay. Other questions?
HEBA SALEH: Yes. Heba Saleh from the Financial Times. Um –
TOM CARVER: Hi, Heba.
HEBA SALEH: – I just wanted to – hi. Um, I wanted to ask how you see the – if you see this, um, election at all, uh, changing the – the kind of strange relation to the US and helping the rapprochement?
TOM CARVER: Michele?
MICHELE DUNNE: Uh, hi, Heba. Um –
HEBA SALEH: Hi.
MICHELE DUNNE: – look, I think that, you know, there has been a – a bit of a back and forth in the US about what should be the criteria for, uh, start – restarting all the military aid, which, you know, some parts of which, for – especially major weapons deliveries have been suspended since last summer. So there are, uh, a number of people in the US government who really want to just use the political roadmap. Let's – you know, let's just – as long as the Egyptian government carries out the political roadmap, let's use that to restore the assistance. And certainly the – the presidential election is an important step in the roadmap, as was the constitution.
Um, then there are others, though, uh, and you hear this sometimes within the administration, and certainly from some prominent members of Congress, like Senator Leahy, who want to look at the broader context, who want to look at some of the very serious human rights problems, and who are, you know, unwilling to consider execution of the political roadmap itself adequate for the United States to restore all of its military assistance.
That is unresolved, uh, you know, and I – I'm really not sure how that – how that will go. Right now, Senator Leahy has a hold on the package of $650 million in military assistance, as well as the Apache helicopters that the administration announced they wanted to deliver to Egypt, uh, about a month ago. And, um, it – it's – I don't think the presidential election itself will cause Senator Leahy to lift that hold. Uh, I think he's looking for other steps, particularly regarding human rights practices.
HEBA SALEH: ____. Thank you.
TOM CARVER: Nathan, do you want to ____?
NATHAN BROWN: Yeah. Let me just add one thing just on the Egyptian side of – of interest, just sort of a footnote to what Michele said, one very interesting thing about Sisi's public pronouncements really for the last five or six months or so, that he personally has spoken very little or – about the United States, and when he has spoken, it's been extremely respectful of the American-Egyptian relationship. So it seems that the – you know, this was during the middle of a campaign when he was supposed to be courting the favor of Egyptian voters. Um, and – and yet he still seems to, uh, prioritize, you know, perhaps from his, you know, background in the – in the Egyptian military, his close ties to the military, he still seems to prioritize, uh, a close relationship with the United States.
TOM CARVER: Okay. Others? Just on that issue, though, Michele, you don't see a wholesale change, though, going, you know, of – of the relationship, uh, and the military assistance program?
MICHELE DUNNE: Uh, it's hard to say. I think, you know, within – within the US administration, even with – within the US military, there are, uh, a number of people who would like to see the whole relationship updated, modernized, revised, who are open, uh, to this. So far, um, they have found their partners on the Egyptian side, especially in the Egyptian military, saying, no, don't change everything, keep it exactly has it has been, uh, and so forth. You know, it – it’s not a secret that for a long time the United States wanted to change the – the nature of the defense assistance, and move a little bit away from the big weapons deliveries and toward things like border security, counterterrorism, kinds of assistance that the United States felt met Egypt's actual defense needs better than tanks and F16s and so forth, for – for a war that they're unlikely to need to fight.
Um, so it's a possibility that this hiatus in the relationship will be used to try to push for a look, uh, another look at the entire issue. I mean, it's also true that the economic needs of the Egyptian people are, uh, extremely obvious, you know, and, uh, there are questions here about why the United States has been delivering so much military assistance, and so relatively little economic assistance, because for a long time, it's been $1.3 billion, uh, military, but economic assistance has gone down, down, down, now to a low of $200 million a year.
TOM CARVER: And the people who have stepped in have all obviously been the Gulf countries, UAE and the Saudis, with these massive subsidies. What do you see the future of that? Do you think they will continue to provide that money ad infinitum?
MICHELE DUNNE: I think they'll – they'll continue it for now, uh, but it is – you know, it's a very high amount that Egypt's really depending on now to keep, you know, to keep food and, uh, the lights on at least most of the time, and so forth. The, uh, the issue to me is at what point will the Gulf countries have different priorities? I mean, if the price of oil falls, or if, uh, they have more intense needs inside their own countries, or they feel that Syria becomes a higher priority – I don't know. There are any number of things that can happen.
It's difficult to imagine the Gulf countries delivering $2 billion plus per month reliably year after year after year. Uh, I think that most Egyptians realize this is – this is only a short term plan, and that it's not something they can rely on in the medium or long term.
TOM CARVER: Nathan, do you want to comment on that aspect?
NATHAN BROWN: Uh, no, I think Michele's covered it.
TOM CARVER: Okay.
PATRICK MARTIN: Hi. It's Patrick Martin at the Globe and Mail again, Canada. Uh, if you're sitting in the government in Jerusalem, are you worried by the fact that this election has been – the results have been muddied by the low turnout?
MICHELE DUNNE: Well, uh, as I said, I don't think there's any question that the low turnout will actually spoil the election, and it doesn't seem as though it's going to translate into immediate, uh, political turmoil or chaos. So, um, I – I think that Sisi is going to become president. Um, and, uh, what – what Israel is mainly concerned about is what Egypt – what the Egyptian government does in the Sinai, and to what extent the Egyptian government will work with – with Israel, um, regarding Sinai and Gaza. That has not emerged as a – as an issue, so far, uh, in the, uh, in the election. And so, uh, for now at least there's very reason to believe that that cooperation in the Sinai will continue, and Israel will continue to get what it wants out of the relationship.
Also, the peace treaty with Israel has not emerged as an issue currently, so there's nothing immediately for Israel to worry about, but, um, you know, I – I think for everyone, not just Israel, you need to look at – you know, we need to look at Egypt as a country that is probably going to be experiencing more change and more political turmoil in the coming years, that this – if – if Sisi is going to become president, uh, but that doesn't mean that things are settling back into the old Mubarak pattern, and that there will be, you know, ten plus years of stability.
TOM CARVER: Okay. We have, uh, three or four more minutes, if anyone else wants to ask a question.
HEBA SALEH: Yes, actually. It's Heba Saleh again, and, um, I – I missed the beginning, so I'm sorry if this has been answered, but I'm just wondering if – why do you think there was such a low turnout, uh, and do you think this – uh, it really is a reflection of Egyptians being ____ politics more than anything else?
TOM CARVER: Nathan, do you want to answer that?
NATHAN BROWN: Yeah. I mean, I think that it is my sense as – as a – as I said, this is, you know, historically turnouts in Egyptian elections has been low, um, and so this may be a return to the norm. What happened in, uh, the 2011 and 2012 period was that you had not only a great deal of political excitement surrounding the revolution, the series of elections after that, but you also had some impressive electoral forces, the Muslim Brotherhood, which had a lot of experience in mobilizing – uh, mobilizing voters, Salafis, which were very quick off the starting block in terms of turning their voters out to the, uh, polls. You take those out, and you've got already a much smaller electorate.
Um, the other thing is that what historically has happened in order to maximize turnout in Egyptian elections, um, to what were actually fairly low levels, at least into the Mubarak period and the Sadat period, you had a ruling party that really encompassed much of the state apparatus and bureaucracy, so they could ____ count on local officials and the, um, sometimes, you know, uh, state-owned enterprises in order to, uh, turn people out to the polls.
And it's not clear to me that that – that apparatus has been really, uh, resurrected. And so in a sense what you've got, as I say, is a return to the norm, where people are not expecting very much from this election, um, and, you know, the, uh – one in which the outcome is clear is hardly going to be one that is going to excite many voters who might have been on the fence about whether or not to participate.
Then where you really get a real reflection of ____ with this issue, any Egyptian political discussions among the political leadership has to do with the youth vote, um, as Michele mentioned earlier on. The sense that while youth are turned out ___ normal politics, there's no telling how that – how a spirit of political activism will be expressed, and whether you'll see a resurgence of the kind of activism you saw in 2011 outside of ___ channels. That still seems to be a major concern.
MICHELE DUNNE: Yeah. Just to add to what – what Nathan said, Heba, regarding the turnout, uh, look, I think in the – in the 2012 presidential election and parliamentary elections, the results were – it – it was wide open. No – nobody knew who would win, uh, you know, and so people were – were motivated to go out and – and cast their vote. If you remember, the 2012 parliamentary – uh, presidential election opened with at least four people who were real contenders for the presidency, right? That's not the case this time.
So if – if you have an election whose results is not really in doubt, people would only go out – there are only two reasons I can think of they go out. The more likely reason is what Nathan said, that they're mobilized by someone to go out, someone, uh, a political force or a family or, you know, whatever. Their boss, you know, someone asks them to – to go out and – and vote. Uh, and that clearly didn't – didn't happen this time, and I think there's already a lot of finger-pointing going on within the Sisi camp about why voters were not mobilized.
The other issue is, um, uh, you know, people might go out just purely out of – out of a personal desire to show their enthusiasm for Sisi, and I – I guess that's what his campaign was relying on, but clearly, that didn't happen. That – that degree of enthusiasm is not there.
HEBA SALEH: I mean, I think a certain number of people did precisely that, but that was never going to mobilize millions and millions, uh, that –
MICHELE DUNNE: Yeah.
HEBA SALEH: I think out – outside rural areas, that's probably what accounts for the vote, is – is, uh, a desire to show support for Sisi.
TOM CARVER: Yeah. Okay. All right. Well, we're – we're at 11:00, so I think we should keep to time. Thank you very much, everyone, for participating. Thank you, Michele and Nathan. Uh, we have another media call coming up on June the 2nd on the Syria elections or whatever we want to call them, um, so, uh, if you're interested in that, let Clara know, and of course, Clara will have a transcript of this for you. As I say, it is all on the record. Okay. Thank you very much.
PATRICK MARTIN: Thank you very much.
MICHAEL PETROU: Thank you.
NATHAN BROWN: Thank you.
HEBA SALEH: Thank you. Bye.