Military lurks behind Egyptian presidential poll

Sat, Jun 16, 2012, 01:00

ON THE eve of today’s controversial presidential election, the revolutionaries of Tahrir Square, the cradle of the 2011 Egyptian uprising, failed to mount mass protests against Thursday’s military takeover of the legislature inaugurated only five months ago.

Several thousand demonstrators did not turn up until late, long after potential protesters had left in embarassment and sightseers, eager to witness some action, had departed after purchasing popcorn or cold drinks from vendors.

Instead of exercising people power, scores of Cairenes took their ease on plastic chairs and drank tea at impromptu cafes on Qasr al-Nil bridge at the entrance to the square.

Little boys hung over the railing to watch small boats decorated with coloured lights playing tag on the river while their parents enjoyed the cool breeze off the water.

Today and tomorrow, Egypt’s 50 million eligible voters are set to cast ballots for the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood Mohamed Mursi, who came first in the first round in May; and former prime minister Ahmad Shafiq, regarded as the nominee of the ousted regime.

The revolutionaries consider Mr Shafiq an untouchable and do not trust the brotherhood.

It has emerged as the country’s most powerful political movement but has repeatedly shown itself avid for power and prepared to partner the military in the regime that succeeds the 30-year reign of ousted president Hosni Mubarak.

Nobel laureate Mohamed El Baradei accused both the Brotherhood and the revolutionary youth of allowing the generals to mount a coup by persuading the constitutional court, appointed during the ousted regime, to validate Mr Shafiq’s candidacy in spite of his disqualification by a law passed by parliament and to dissolve the lower house where the fundamentalists held nearly half the seats.

Adding insult to injury, the military also formally dismissed the house and locked its 508 members out of the parliament building.

The presidential run-off battle is being waged by political machines built over the decades by the brotherhood and the regime.

While opinion polls predict Mr Mursi, backed by the movement’s influential grassroots organisations, could win, this is uncertain.

Mr Shafiq has mobilised the massive financial and political muscle of the military, the ousted National Democratic Party and the state.

Their influence and resources enabled him to come second in the first round, contested by 12 candidates.

However, anger over the constitutional court’s decisions and the military’s high-handed dissolution of the house could prompt voters to cast ballots for Mr Mursi.

Analyst Mamdouh Habashi, a founder of the year-old Egyptian Socialist Party, said both candidates were “part of the old regime”.

He said the military could reach an accommodation with the brotherhood if Mr Mursi won, especially as the movement is not expected to repeat its earlier feat of gaining a near majority in the people’s assembly in fresh legislative elections.

Despite his vehement condemnation of the military and his pledge that he will work for the revolution, Mr Mursi could do a deal with the generals. Politicians always explain away broken promises by saying “times change”, said Mr Habashi.

Concern over potential co-operation between the brotherhood and the military could also prompt many Egyptians to boycott or not bother to take part in the election. Fewer than half voted in the first round.

If Mr Shafiq triumphs, the adversarial model, pitting the military against the brotherhood, which has endured for 60 years, could reassert itself.

EGYPT'S CHOICE: MUSLIM BROTHER

THE MUSLIM Brotherhood’s uncharismatic Mohamed Morsi, an engineer who served as an independent in parliament from 2000-2005, was the movement’s second choice.

In the first round of the election in May, he won just over 25 per cent of the vote, a showing far below the movement’s 47 per cent in last year’s parliamentary election.

Consequently, he has tried to appeal to liberals, left-wingers and Christians who are deeply suspicious of the Brotherhood but who could see him as a lesser evil than his rival, regarded as a remnant of the ousted regime.

However the Brotherhood may have failed to prove its revolutionary credentials when it did not call on its members to rally in Cairo’s Tahrir Square last night.

EGYPT'S CHOICE: REPRESENTATIVE OF OLD REGIME

A FORMER AIR force commander and aviation minister, Ahmed Shafiq served as ousted president Hosni Mubarak’s final prime minister during the uprising when 846 Egyptians died at the hands of the security apparatus, more than 5,000 were injured and 12,000 detained and tried in military courts. In a bid to reassure Egyptians who fear for their safety, he has campaigned on a law and order platform and has attracted the support of old regime loyalists, the wealthy, Christians and secularists who oppose the Muslim Brotherhood which, Shafiq says, seeks to establish a religious state. Both revolutionaries and fundamentalists express concern that he could restore emergency rule and crack down on the opposition.

MICHAEL JANSEN