“With these elections, we will have completed the last step in the transitional period,” Maj. Gen. Mohamed el-Assar (right), speaking for the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, told an eve-of-poll news conference. The military has promised to cede authority on July 1, but the devil is in the detail, say observers.
“The military is not going to do anything that is against its interests,” says Eric Trager, a fellow with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “It decided that it’s in its interests to have some sort of formal handover of power because of mounting protests against its rule.”
But it will not give up its authority over foreign policy, he says, and it won’t do anything that might jeopardize the more than $1 billion dollars in aid it receives annually from the United States.
Few Egyptians are “certain of the true intentions of a military that has been the backbone of successive Egyptian regimes,” says the FT’s Roula Khalaf. “Part of the generals’ strategy will depend on who is elected, and the extent to which they can strike a deal that is sellable to the public.”
People familiar with the military’s thinking say the generals are seeking to maintain oversight over Egypt’s “direction”.
“They want a special status – in other words they won’t accept civilian rule over the ministry of defense or the ministry of military productions and they want to be the guardians of certain red lines,” says one official. These red lines include “matters of war and peace” but also preventing any political current (which means Islamist parties) from “changing the face of the country”.
But other observers believe the SCAF will be relieved to return to barracks on condition that the military’s economic privileges and “red lines” on defense and foreign policy are left intact.
“They want to get out of politics,” says publisher and veteran rights activist Hisham Kassem. “They hate it.”
“The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces is not going to give whomever is elected the keys to the presidential palace and all the executive power,” says Mostafa Hussein, a blogger and psychiatrist. “They’re going to open the door and allow someone to sit on the chair, but they’re going to stay there, behind the curtains, trying to control things.”
The most likely scenario is an “unhappy settlement” with the military “ever-present, in the shadows,” influencing but not controlling the civilian government, said Maajid Nawaz, the chairman of Quilliam, a London-based anti-extremist think-tank.
“Egypt is going along similar lines to Turkey or Pakistan,” he said. The military has little incentive to retain control when whoever wins the election assumes responsibility for a troubling agenda.
“They are inheriting a failed economy, an abysmal bureaucracy, a frustrated people, and a deep distrust on behalf of the people towards their military and any policing,” Nawaz said.
The Project for Middle East Democracy adds:
Egyptians Vote in Historic Presidential Elections
With 53 million eligible voters, Egypt opened presidential polls Wednesday on the first of two days for what is widely considered its first openly contested presidential elections. Voter turnout was hard to determine, but Egyptian media is reporting low voter turnout in some cities such as Marsa Matrouh, Minya, and Suez, while polling stations in Alexandria, Al-Arish, Mansoura and Sohag saw a high turnout. Turnout in Cairo was mixed, with some areas seeing long lines and others nearly empty. Authorities were hopeful that cities that saw a lower turnout would see increased involvement later in the day. Meanwhile, a police officer was killed in the working class district of Rod al-Farag after being shot in front of a polling station late on Tuesday. The officer was hit in the chest by a stray bullet during a gunfight between armed civilians, according to the government. Police say that they apprehended three of the participants, two of whom were carrying firearms. Police do not believe the fight was related to the elections, but a personal dispute between a driver and his passenger.
“Live updates: Many voters interviewed voice support for Morsy or Moussa”, Egypt Independent (English), 05/23/12.
“Live updates: Egypt’s first post-Mubarak presidential elections underway”, Ahram Online (English), 05/23/12.
“Elections Commission: Mubarak has the right to vote”, Egypt Independent (English), 05/22/12.
“Egypt’s presidential polls open”, Egypt Independent (English), 05/23/12.
Violations in Elections Widespread but Minor
Violations in the first day of presidential elections have been widespread, but have been minor, according to Egyptian media and authorities. There have been multiple violations of the campaign silence period and multiple campaigners, especially supporters of Mohammed Morsi, have been asked to leave polling stations. So far there have been no reports of vote rigging or vote buying, though one judge closed a polling station in Daqahliya province after finding 35 ballots premarked for Morsi. Some polling stations opened late, often due to a lack of personnel on hand or judges arriving late, and there were reports of suspicious activities by some poll workers. Overall, however, monitors are reporting that the polling is fair and voting is going smoothly.
“Election day violations widespread but relatively minor”, Egypt Independent (English), 05/23/12.
“Abouel Fotouh Discovers ‘Electoral Irregularities’”, Al Ahkbar (Arabic), 05/23/12.
“Supporter of Morsi arrested…”, Al Shorouk (Arabic), 05/23/12
POMED is a grantee of the National Endowment for Democracy.