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The minefield of Egyptian elections

26 Dec

A little past the news cycle on this one, but still quite important. Egypt’s parliamentary elections were held on November 28 (first round) and December 5 (second round). Only 25% of the people voted.

Foreign Policy’s Max Strasser‘s account gives a good impression as to why.

Egypt’s parliamentary elections went off today basically as expected, with vote buying, voter intimidation and fraud the norm across the country despite protests.

Out of the 444 ordinary seats being contested (other seats are reserved or appointed), 420 were won by President Hosni Mubarak’s ruling National Democratic Party. The party in second place received just 6 seats.

What would constitute an improvement toward democracy?

Michal Posner, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor has a few suggestions for Mubarak:

Free and fair elections require free and vibrant media; that includes bloggers and international coverage. The Egyptian government could also do more to encourage a broader array of political parties and to support citizens who want to form nongovernmental organizations to contribute to their country’s future. It will also be important for Egypt to welcome both international and domestic election monitors and allow them to carry out their work freely throughout the campaign period and on Election Day next September.

But what would happen should Egypt suddenly allow fair representative democracy?

With pressure from the second Bush administration, which pushed democratization of the Middle East as an antidote to extremism after 9/11, Egypt allowed for freer elections in 2005. The Muslim Brotherhood (MB), running as Independents due to their official ban in Egypt, won an unprecedented 88 seats in Parliament.

MB is the most organized opposition in Egypt. What is their goal? The replacement of all states between Spain and Indonesia with an Islamic Caliphate run according to Sharia (Islamic religious law).

The government of Sudan, which perpetrated the atrocities in Darfur, is run by MB.  Palestinian Hamas, with a stated goal of destroying Israel, is an offshoot of MB. In an example of what could happen in Egypt should elections be truly and suddenly free, Hamas won a majority in the Palestinian parliament in 2006, then took over Gaza by force and severely complicated peace efforts with Israel.

Besides Egypt, where the group was founded, MB operates in all parts of the Middle East and even planted roots in America. A 1991 FBI raid on an Islamic charity funneling funds to Hamas found a 19 page manifesto detailing MB’s goals in America. The key paragraph is below:

The process of settlement [of Islam in the United States] is a “Civilization-Jihadist” process with all the word means. The Ikhwan [Brotherhood] must understand that all their work in America is a kind of grand Jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within and “sabotaging” their miserable house by their hands and the hands of the believers so that it is eliminated and God’s religion is made victorious over all religions. Without this level of understanding, we are not up to this challenge and have not prepared ourselves for Jihad yet. It is a Muslim’s destiny to perform Jihad and work wherever he is and wherever he lands until the final hour comes, and there is no escape from that destiny except for those who choose to slack.

Free and fair elections would most certainly allow MB to gain significant powers in the Egyptian government.

The New Republic’s Leon Wieseltier writes about the dilemma of Egyptian democracy (and I suggest his piece be read in full):

In these terms I wrestled for a long time with the question of the democratization of Egypt. The authoritarian immobilism of the Mubarak regime lacks all legitimacy. But in view of the alternative, does it lack all utility? The question is not cynical. The parliamentary elections last week were preceded by a repression: Mubarak’s National Democratic Party cracked down on the Muslim Brotherhood, arresting 1,200 of its supporters and barring some of its candidates from running. Then came the election, in which the Muslim Brotherhood, which had 88 members in parliament, discovered that its number of seats had been reduced to zero. This wild fraud is a premonition of what awaits Egypt in its presidential election next year. The outrage is obvious. But so is the complication. In standing up for the opposition, for the victims of the dictator, we are standing up for the Muslim Brotherhood.

So do we maintain consistency in our promotion of democracy, come what may? If not, then is selective promotion of democracy hypocritical or simply prudent? Is there a middle ground? Wieseltier again:

“…in recent months I have become increasingly convinced by another consideration. It is that the Muslim Brotherhood’s surest road to power in Egypt lies in the absence of any political reform. It is Mubarak who, by alienating his people and denying their rights, will bring the worst to pass. We have been here before. I still recall the catastrophic fall of American policy toward Iran in 1979. We had looked away, and condoned, and prevaricated, and excused—and only when it was too late, when the Shah was gone—what did it matter that he was a friend of the United States and a friend of Israel, if he doomed those friendships by his manner of governance?—and Khomeini’s mobs were taking over the streets—only then did we seek an alternative. Now I have the sickening feeling that if the United States continues to acquiesce in Mubarak’s tyranny, we will soon be searching Cairo for its Bakhtiar, and then wondering who lost Egypt.”

In other words, the ideal alternative and solution to Egypt’s stagnation is not the current political opposition, it is progress. The US has considerable leverage over Egypt. We provide Billions of dollars every year in military and development support. The question is how we use this leverage. So far the Obama administration has been ostentatiously mum in raising the necessary but touchy issue of human rights, political reform, and sensible democratization.  Obama has slashed funding for democratic and political reform by 50%, at a time when it is perhaps needed most.  In the 2011 presidential election, the 82 year old Mubarak is likely to step down as president. Even if his son Gamal, who is rumored to be groomed for succession, becomes the new president, the change of administrations in Egypt creates a window of opportunity to reset expectations in the direction of political and economic reform. Let us hope that our administration takes this opportunity to heart, for Egypt’s sake and for ours.

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