With the closing of the polls in the Egyptian presidential run-off election and the beginning of the vote counting process, the page has closed on a transitional phase brimming with turmoil and volatility, which has lasted around a year and a half since the ouster of the former Egyptian president. A new transitional phase will begin with the new president who will be announced officially on Thursday, and there are some expectations that this phase will be even more volatile, with some going to the extent of predicting a violent clash between the Egyptian military and the Muslim Brotherhood.
The events of the transitional period leading up the presidential elections have been so numerous, rapid and full of surprises that all observers, and even the Egyptian political milieu, have been left panting behind. Theories and ideas have been formulated, talk of conspiracies and under-the-table agreements have circulated, especially between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces [SCAF], which led this transitional period. In light of real events, many have come to reconsider the scenarios they once imagined, and it seems that much of what happened was akin to managing the crisis from one day to the next.
The best example of this political and analytical bewilderment comes from what happened in the presidential election. After the short drama of Omar Suleiman and Khairat El-Shater’s entry and subsequent exit, after being banned by the electoral commission, everyone put forward the scenario that the competition would be between Amr Mousa and Aboul Fotouh. Hence it was a great surprise when the Muslim Brotherhood sponsored candidate, Mohammed Mursi, and the last Prime Minister of the Mubarak era, Ahmed Shafiq, came to the forefront. Perhaps the biggest surprise was Shafiq, whom his rivals dismissed as a remnant of the former regime. Yet despite this he finished in second place in the first round, and the preliminary results of the crucial presidential run-off show him with winning slightly less than half of the vote, so it would seem that half of the Egyptian people are in fact remnants of the former regime!
The most logical interpretation is that the results, whether in the first or the second round, have gone in favor of those who possess the required organization, an electoral machine, and a popular connection at the level of villages, provinces and all cities of the republic. Only two political powers have these capabilities: the former official political organization, namely the dissolved National Democratic Party which is actually the heir to the Arab Socialist Union party, and its longstanding opposition, namely the Muslim Brotherhood, which has now come to the surface.
If we accept the declared preliminary results and there are no further surprises – unlike before – then the indication that Mursi has narrowly beaten Shafiq dispels another theory that we had all assumed, namely that Shafiq was SCAF’s candidate. Indeed it appears he is not SCAF’s candidate, and he is now free to leave the simmering conflict between the civil state and its parallel religious counterpart, i.e. the Brotherhood. This conflict revolves around the issuance of a supplementary constitutional declaration, which grants the army special status and maintains its independence. These are essentially the same provisions as outlined in the document proposed by Dr. Ali El-Salmi last year, a document which was not agreed upon by the political forces, and was behind much of the pitfalls that characterized the transitional phase. In fact, it seems that much of what has been included in the new supplementary constitutional announcement is akin to finally writing down – in black and white – the unwritten constitution that was previously in place and well-known between the president and the military.
The Muslim Brotherhood, who are celebrating their presidential victory early, have refused to acknowledge this supplementary constitutional declaration, whilst other political forces have deemed it to be a coup seeking to reduce the powers of the president. So are we on the threshold of a new confrontation, the results of which of course would be catastrophic? In light of what has happened since 25 January 2011 until now, it is likely that we are facing another instance of harsh negotiations, as previously occurred between the army and the Muslim Brotherhood. This time the negotiations may be even more severe, but no one is ready to bear the burden of a confrontation that could result in further bloodshed!
(The writer is Deputy Editor-in-Chief of Asharq al-Awsat where this article was first published on June 17, 2012.)