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Egypt plunges towards the unknown

The ruling by Egypt's Constitutional Court that dissolves the country's parliament and allows the presidential candidacy of Ahmad Shafiq, the former Mubarak prime minister, has cast serious doubts over a peaceful transition to democracy.

The ruling came in the wake of several similar controversial decisions, all of which suggested that elements of the ousted regime are making a last ditch attempt to regain power. Nothing is assured or predictable now. Egypt, claims Essam El-Erian, a senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood, appears to be "plunging towards the unknown".


In order to force through their decisions and regain the political initiative the old elite prepared the ground with a carefully orchestrated media campaign which polarised Egyptian society into two camps. Public opinion was divided sharply between supporters of the Islamic groups, represented by the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafi parties, and their counterparts among liberals and secularists.
At the heart of the problem is the failure of the Islamic groups to convince their critics that they were and are prepared to share power in a broad inclusive system of governance. Their opponents accuse them of "political greed" and a desire to consume the entire political cake.


However, in a meeting in Cairo, Khairat Al-Shatir, the deputy supreme guide of the Brotherhood, told MEMO that he rejected these claims, pointing out that the movement had from the very beginning of the revolution made absolutely clear its willingness to share the responsibility of reforming Egypt and restoring it to its rightful place among the nations in accord with its history and civilisation. Furthermore, Al-Shatir acknowledged that the task of rescuing the country from corruption and mismanagement and setting it on the path of national reconstruction and development was beyond the capability of any single political party or tendency.

Not surprisingly, Ahmad Shafiq himself praised the Constitutional Court ruling, describing it as "historic" because it brought to an end the efforts to isolate certain actors from the political process.

On the street, there is a distinct feeling that this stand-off was to be expected. Although forty allegations of corruption and other crimes have been lodged against Shafiq in Egypt's courts, none have been investigated. On the contrary, a series of moves endorsed by the ruling military council suggest that the way was being cleared for Shafiq's "coronation" as president and the restoration of what would be the Mubarak regime in all but name.

Both Al-Shatir and Abdul Munem Abul-Futouh, one of the unsuccessful first round presidential candidates, confirmed to MEMO their fears of "soft vote rigging" in the presidential election. They spoke of the granting of voting cards to members of the armed forces and security institutions; according to election regulations, such personnel are not allowed to vote. The cards issued to these individual claimed that they were "unemployed". Other irregularities include the addition of some five million names to the voters' lists and the prohibition of party members monitoring ballot boxes during the first round of the presidential election. This kind of "soft vote rigging" was responsible for the meteoric rise of Shafiq in the polls and, if repeated, will hand him the presidency.

The Muslim Brotherhood has reacted with defiance, determined to continue to the very end. The movement's candidate, Mohamed Morsi, said there is no turning back. He called on Egyptians to turn out in force to vote in order to realise the objectives of the revolution and ensure that the will of the people prevails over the corrupt elite which dominated their lives and stole their wealth for decades.

Reacting to the Constitutional Court ruling, several prominent commentators and opposition figures have urged Morsi to withdraw his candidacy and return to the street. They point out that even if he wins this weekend's run-off poll he would become a lame duck president without any tangible powers. For a start, instead of accepting his position from an elected parliament he will have to give allegiance to an unelected military council. What's worse is that he would not have the support of a strong parliament because it has been declared "unconstitutional" and thus irrelevant, and so there will be no constitution to which he can refer.

Such advice has been rejected. Morsi argues that the legitimacy of the people's will is greater and more important than any legitimacy granted by the dubious constitution imposed by Mubarak. Ultimately, it is the people who should decide. This view is also shared by the Salafists who believe that their real strength lies on the street and not in the board-rooms of the pro-Mubarak media organisations.

This weekend, therefore, the people of Egypt will have to choose between two visions: one which is notorious for its corruption and counter-revolutionary posture, and the other ambitious and avowedly committed to protect and fulfil the aims of the revolution. A few weeks ago MEMO's Senior Editor, Ibrahim Hewitt, questioned whether the Algerian experience of 1990 would be repeated in Egypt. Some considered his words to be alarmist. However, even though we would rather it was not the case he may well be proved right.

AfricaCommentary & AnalysisEgypt
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