Will Egypt be able to heal the rift which has accompanied the elections atmosphere, or does the scene threaten further clashes and confrontations?
This is the question currently occupying the minds of many, especially in light of the debates that are looming on the horizon, which are increasing and will not subside. Egypt went to the elections fragmented rather than united, concerned rather than comfortable, tense rather than reassured. Political forces seem divided between those for and against holding the elections at this time and under such tension. The youth, or a large portion of them, insist upon continuing the sit-ins and demonstrations “to complete the revolution”, while the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has found itself busy holding press conferences and political meetings to explain and justify its insistence on holding the elections on time, and to reassure the people that it intends to hand over power before the end of next June.
This is certainly not the environment in which people were hoping the elections would take place, despite the acknowledgement that transitional periods are often difficult by nature. The elections took place just days after a large number were left dead and wounded in the protests and confrontations that broke out in Tahrir Square and Alexandria, and which then spread to other provinces, demanding that SCAF hand over power to a government of national salvation. A heated debate has also escalated about revolutionary legitimacy, those who have it, how it is granted, and its limits. The youth protesting in Tahrir Square say that SCAF has gained its legitimacy from Tahrir Square, and it should now hand over power after it lost the confidence of the Square. However, SCAF responded with an announcement of its refusal to yield to any pressure “internal or external”, adding that its legitimacy stems from its role as the guardian of the constitution and the people, and from its historic stance that swung the revolution in favor of the people, and forced Hosni Mubarak to step down. Major General Mukhtar al-Mulla, a member of SCAF, bluntly clarified the position of the Council when he said in an interview with “al-Arabiya” TV yesterday that if the youth of Tahrir Square think that they are the ones who granted legitimacy to SCAF then“they [the Tahrir Square youth] can take their legitimacy and walk; we are staying put”.
The controversy does not stop here. Whilst people are heading to the polls, further debate is raging about whether the elected parliament will have any role in the formation of the government, or even whether it will have the right to withdraw its confidence if it is not satisfied with the government’s performance. This issue has placed the Muslim Brotherhood in something of a predicament; they pushed for the elections to be held on time, boycotted the latest Tahrir Square demonstrations, and even took a stand against them as part of their stance of refusing to postpone the elections. By participating in alternative marches, they intended to pull the rug out from under the protestors in Tahrir Square. They did so because they believe that through their guise as a political party, they would be the big winners at the elections. Thus the Tahrir demonstrations seemed, in their view, to be a constraint on their plans and hopes for a win guaranteeing them the greatest influence in parliament and the government, and a loud voice in the constitution-drafting process. Indeed, Dr. Essam El-Erian, Vice President of the [Muslim Brotherhood] Justice and Freedom Party, went so far as to say, in comments attributed to him by “Al-Ahram” newspaper, that the recent events in Tahrir Square could have been avoided “by appeasing all those adversely affected in the revolution, and compensating those injured in order to quell the fire of anger within them”. Thus in just a few words Dr. El-Erian evaluated all the demands of Tahrir Square, and the blood of the dead and the wounded, to sum everything up as a simple case of reparation and compensation, which in his view is all that is required to extinguish the people’s anger and disappear make the popular demands go away.
However, a few days later, the Muslim Brotherhood was surprised by the remarks of Major General Mamdouh Shaheen, a member of SCAF, who in a television interview said that the forthcoming people’s assembly [lower parliamentary house] would not have a role in selecting members of the next government, and would not be entitled to withdraw its confidence from the current government or dismiss it. This was justified by the fact that Egypt is a parliamentary presidential system, and that government formation falls within the remit of the President of the Republic, and therefore until a president is elected, the responsibility for government formation remains in the hands of SCAF.
The Muslim Brotherhood found themselves at a loss, as they had considered themselves to be in a position similar to the al-Nahda movement in Tunisia, which won a majority enabling it to form and indeed lead the new Tunisian government, forming a coalition with other political forces. The Muslim Brotherhood saw their dreams shatter, believing that they would no longer be able to achieve the role they had outlined for themselves, namely forming the next government. Thus they reversed their position, after having said a few days before that the political process was following its natural path, as part of their rejection of the Tahrir Square protests. The Muslim Brotherhood have returned now to threaten the disruption of government work at the next parliament, if the government’s formation is not entrusted to the party that receives the largest percentage of votes in the elections, saying that they prefer the parliamentary system to the presidential system.
The scene looks set for strong debates following the elections; the Muslim Brotherhood want the “prize” of forming the government and will not settle for any outcome that doesn’t allow them to exercise their influence, which they have prepared themselves for. It is not unlikely that they will resort, if forced, to the weapon of “Tahrir Square”, which they opposed before the election. In such an event they may return to court the Tahrir Square youth, and once again be at the forefront of the debate over who has legitimacy and who does not. On the other side there is SCAF, which is in favor of the political forces that do not want the Muslim Brotherhood to dominate the government, the parliament and the social scene during the process of drafting the constitution and preparing for the forthcoming presidential election. As for the other party, the Tahrir Square youth, they feel that many forces have hijacked their revolution to reap the benefits, and therefore they appear determined to make their voices heard from the Square. The problem is that if they do not take on board the lessons of the past few months, and transform into a cohesive bloc capable of concerted action to influence the elections, whether by forming a party encompassing all youth segments or by rallying around a candidate and declaring their support for him in the upcoming presidential elections, then they will find that the fruits of their sacrifices will be harvested by other forces with a long history of political opportunism.