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Goodspeed Analysis: Egypt’s election could change the Arab world (NATIONAL POST COMMENT) Peter Goodspeed 05/23/12) Source: http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2012/05/22/egyptian-election-2012/
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It may be the last battle of Egypt’s revolution. After 60 years of military rule and stage-managed elections, the country holds its first-ever competitive presidential election Wednesday and Thursday.
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The result, which is far from predictable, will shape the future of the Arab world’s most populous state and could determine whether last year’s Arab Spring can produce a new era in Middle East politics.
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Egyptian politics, which for the last 15 months has been punctuated by violence and suspicion, have shifted from the streets to voting booths as the country is gripped with election fever.
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Months of debate and protest, street battles, political shouting matches, graffiti, slogans, newspaper reports and Internet blogs have boiled down to an election for a president who still doesn’t have an officially defined role in the unfinished constitution.
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A dozen candidates are vying for the post. Experts say any two of the five or six leading candidates could enter a second round run-off election scheduled for June 16 and 17, with the final results being released no later than June 21.
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The vote pits Islamists against secularists and revolutionaries against members of the former regime.
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But whoever does win is expected to set Egypt’s course for decades to come. Their election may well determine the role of religion in Arab political life; it could decide how much influence the Egyptian military will continue to wield, and it may place strains on Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel, thereby determining the prospects of peace throughout the region.
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“Never before have we seen such a competitive contest in Egypt or, for that matter, in any Arab country,” said James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute. “And never before have we had a presidential contest, anywhere in the world that I can recall, where we have no idea what the winner will actually win when the election is over.”
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This week’s vote is the third election in Egypt in the last year and each one has been filled with surprises and uncertainties.
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Last fall, a referendum to ratify constitutional changes put forward by the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces was widely opposed by liberals, secularists and the young people who forced Hosni Mubarak from power through their demonstrations in Tahrir Square. But an unexpected alliance, between the military and the Muslim Brotherhood, resulted in the referendum passing by a 3-to-1 margin.
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Parliamentary elections, held from last November to January, were dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, but they also saw the radical Salafist Islamist bloc win almost a quarter of all the seats.
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But concerns that the Muslim Brotherhood might dominate Egypt’s politics, could see the group’s official candidate, Mohamed Mursi, do poorly. Still, the party’s grassroots organizing ability has the potential to get out the vote.
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Egypt’s liberal/secularist vote is split across a range of candidates.
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Abdel Moneim Abol Fotouh, a former leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, who broke with the party to run as an independent, is a self- styled “liberal Islamist” who has the backing of some of the Egyptian revolution’s young standard bearers, such as former Google executive Wael Ghonim, as well as the backing of the Salafist al-Nour Party.
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Amr Moussa, a former foreign minister under Mr. Mubarak and the former secretary-general of the Arab League, has the support of many secularists. While Ahmed Shafiq, a former air force commander who served as Egypt’s last prime minister under Mr. Mubarak, is receiving support from people who are worried about the economy and long for the stability.
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Egypt’s Coptic Christians, who make up 10% of the electorate, may also have an impact. They are worried about how Islamists treat minorities and may seek the protection of candidates linked to the old government.
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“Over the past 15 months, Egyptian voters have seen a frightening deterioration of security,” said Haitham Tabei, a journalist with Egyptian newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat. “[That] has discredited the revolution in the eyes of Egyptian voters, who are now desperate to find an exit to the cycle of violence, even if it means bringing back the Mubarak regime and not just its symbols.”
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While Egypt’s presidential vote is supposed to end the military-led transition to democracy, fears persist the country’s generals may try to continue to rule from behind a democratic facade.
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But any failure to hand over power to a civilian government could result in renewed street protests and more bloodshed.
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Other uncertainties hanging over the vote include the risk of electoral fraud, violence, or even the sudden acquittal of Mr. Mubarak on murder and corruption charges between the two rounds of voting.
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“This is not a contest that will put in office a leader who will have the power of a President Mubarak or Sadat or Nasser,” warned Mr. Zogby. “Past presidents came out of the military and controlled the ruling party and parliament and the security services and other institutions of state. The current situation is less clear, more diffuse.” (© 2012 National Post, a division of Postmedia Network Inc. 05/23/12)
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