After a week of clashes with the military council, Egyptians cast their ballots in the first parliamentary elections since Hosni Mubarak was removed from power. We asked Professor of Political Science Denis Sullivan, director of Northeastern’s Middle East Center for Peace, Culture and Development, to assess this historic event, the potential roadblocks that remain in the election process and what a legitimate and successful election would mean for the region.
Can you assess the events that have unfolded in Egypt since Hosni Mubarak’s resignation in February, particularly those leading up to the elections that began yesterday?
Egyptians have been riding a roller coaster of politics and security concerns since Mubarak fell from power. They also have been in a downward economic spiral, with tourism, trade and investment at their lowest levels in decades. Sadly, the Egyptian “government” consists of a military council that wields power for its own benefit, rather than for the Egyptian people. In short, there has been no true revolution in Egypt, as we first thought in February. The military was the backbone of the Mubarak regime, and it remains a powerful force.
There are two positive political effects, however: the empowerment of the Egyptian people, and the ouster of Mubarak. There are still other hopeful signs, starting with the parliamentary elections that began yesterday, and will continue into early 2012, for both houses of Parliament and ultimately a new president. Egyptians are casting what they hope are free and fair ballots; they are taking control over the political process through the ballot box rather than continuing demonstrations in Tahrir Square or clashing with police.
What are some potential roadblocks and problems that could arise throughout the election process?
The biggest roadblock is that the army and the security forces are running the elections, and ultimately counting the votes. Already we have seen complaints of irregularities — ballot boxes without secure closures; ballots not appearing in many polling stations; judges (who supervise the elections and provide legitimacy to the voting process) not appearing at many stations; and some candidates continuing to campaign near the voting booths, which is against the electoral law. Nevertheless, voter turnout has been very high, with millions of Egyptians lining up to express their choice for their representatives for the first real time in their history.
What will a legitimate and successful election mean for Egypt and other Arab nations going forward?
A legitimate and successful election is likely to produce a large moderate Islamist plurality in Parliament (in the form of the Muslim Brotherhood), alongside groups of former Mubarak loyalists, liberal secularists, conservative Salafi Islamists and youth leaders. In short, it would mean the election of a diverse array of representatives, from various political and religious “stripes.” Any free, fair election will be just one step — albeit, a large and crucial step — down the path of Egyptian democracy. There is no question that what happens in Egypt will have an impact on the entire Arab world and the Middle East as a whole. However, if the ballot box gets “spoiled” by the military-controlled system, Egyptians would be left to consider their promised democratic elections null and void; then it will be back to Tahrir Square.