Egyptians revel in first free presidential vote, but fears for future are never far away (HAŽARETZ NEWS) By Avi Issacharoff 05/24/12)
HA'ARETZ} NEWS SERVICE
HA'ARETZ} NEWS SERVICE Articles-Index-Top
The daily Al-Masry Al-Youm conveyed the atmosphere well in Egypt on
Wednesday: "Egypt of the revolution chooses the first elected
president for the ´Second Republic.´" The impressive sight of the
recent parliamentary elections repeated: Masses of people waiting in
line to cast their ballots.
Despite rumblings about the involvement of the army and intelligence
service in the election, voting will probably proceed uneventfully on
One of the few mini-dramas to mar events on Wednesday was provided by
candidate Ahmed Shafiq, who called a press conference in the
afternoon, defying the election committee´s prohibition against
campaigning after Monday.
The committee announced it was filing a complaint with Egypt´s
attorney general against Shafiq, who had run on a law-and-order
platform. In the evening, when Shafiq arrived to vote at a Cairo
polling station, he was pelted with stones and shoes.
In another incident, three voting stations in the Beni Suef region
were closed after fistfights broke out between supporters of the two
Islamist contenders. One is former Muslim Brotherhood member, Abdel
Moneim Abu al-Futuh, who left the movement to run for president. The
other is the Brotherhood´s Mohammed Morsi.
But the long lines showed that Egypt´s 52 million voters understood
the significance of choosing their new president. A few voters who
were interviewed by the media could not hide their excitement after
decades under dictatorship.
The daily Al Ahram was cautious, discussing the "day after" on its
front page and the plan to pass a constitutional amendment outlining
the president´s powers immediately after the first round of voting.
Some people in the street were skeptical. "The revolution was like a
beautiful woman," a vegetable seller told CNN. "She charmed us and we
fell in love with her, so we killed the tyrant to marry her." But in
the end, the man said, the revolution "only added more weight to our
heavy burden, and our love for her is over."
Another man with a more sober view stood in line on Wednesday morning
for two hours to vote. It was none other than Amr Moussa, Egypt´s
former foreign minister and a former secretary general of the Arab
League. Until recently he was considered a top presidential
candidate. But the polls are predicting various outcomes, so it´s
hard to guess who will win.
Moussa and his rivals called on all Egyptians to respect the outcome.
Such statements reflect concerns over the enormous challenges
awaiting the day after the balloting.
It´s not only Egypt´s economy, which has declined since the February
2011 revolution and could spark new protests. People feel less safe
in the streets. Gangs of robbers operate in broad daylight, and
sexual assault and religiously motivated attacks are frequent.
Chaos reigns in the Sinai Peninsula, which has become fertile ground
for armed Bedouin militias and hundreds of Global Jihad supporters.
And don´t forget Iran´s efforts to undermine the country´s stability.
Three days ago, the Egyptian press reported that security forces had
stopped several trucks between Port Said and Alexandria in northern
Egypt; the trucks were smuggling 120 antitank missiles. One can only
imagine what is being smuggled into Egypt and from there to Sinai in
trucks the security forces don´t stop.
Another challenge facing some candidates, particularly secular ones
like Moussa and Shafiq, is Egyptians´ identification of them with the
The former Salafi candidate, Sheikh Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, said that
if Shafiq or Moussa are elected, the old regime will have won and the
revolution will not be over.
In light of the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis´ complete control of
parliament, a secular president could face battles that paralyze the
country and prevent any chance of turning things around.
But Morsi and the moderate Islamist Abu al-Futuh have no experience
as leaders; they won´t be very encouraging for foreign investors. And
neither would be likely to resolve the religious tensions in the
country, home to 10 million Coptic Christians.
Meanwhile, in the background are attempts by the Supreme Council of
the Armed Forces to preserve some of its powers to run the country.
In fact, the military council is delaying publication of the
amendment outlining the president´s powers; maybe it wants to see who
reaches the next round, and then expand or reduce the president´s
This would be a clear attempt to limit the Islamists´ powers, and
neither Abu al-Futuh nor the Muslim Brotherhood are likely to stand
idly by if the council tries to limit the president´s powers.
For now, not only is it impossible to know who will win, it´s unclear
what the winner will and won´t be allowed to do. In many senses, the
Egyptians voting on Wednesday and Thursday are marching into the
unknown. (© Copyright 2012 Ha´aretz 05/24/12)
Return to Top
MATERIAL REPRODUCED FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY