Confusion and uncertainty continue to prevail in the electoral processes designed to move Egypt from dictatorship to democracy. It may be useful to (very) briefly recap events thus far. Between November 28, 2011 and January 11, 2012, the country held a series of elections to select members for its lower house of parliament, the People’s Assembly. Considered the first free and fair elections in recent Egyptian history, the voting itself was largely uneventful. The surprisingly strong showing of Muslim Brotherhood candidates (who were expected to do well) as well as the more obscure and radical Salafist candidates gave many pause, particularly Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority and the largely secular urban youth who were the popular face of the revolution that ousted Mubarak. This, in part, may have contributed to the low voter turnout in elections for Egypt’s upper house, the Shura Council. At the same time, apathy toward the Shura Council elections may have also been due to the assembly’s incredibly limited legislative role and its reputation as an ineffectual and superfluous body.
The next electoral test came with the hotly contested and highly contentious presidential elections. Even before the first round of voting, which was scheduled for May 23 and 24, 2012, controversy prevailed over who, exactly, would be standing for the elections. To the shock of many, the two presumed frontrunners – former Mubarak crony Omar Suleiman and Muslim Brotherhood candidate Khairat al-Shater – were disqualified pursuant to legal technicalities, as were other notable candidates such as opposition veteran Ayman Nour and Salafist preacher Hazem Abu Ismail. Ultimately, 13 men were left standing.
The first round of presidential elections had yet more surprises in store. The candidates expected to do well, such as Amr Moussa and Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, performed poorly. Meanwhile, the Brotherhood’s replacement for al-Shater, the virtually unknown Mohammad Morsi, and the black horse, leftist secular candidate Hamdeen Sabahi, defied all expectations with their surprisingly strong showings in the polls. For a time it even appeared as though Sabahi would come in second behind Morsi, thus precluding the near nightmare scenario of a faceoff between the Muslim Brotherhood’s unpopular replacement candidate and former Mubarak prime minister, Ahmad Shafiq. Ultimately, however, that was precisely what came to pass as Shafiq edged out Sabahi.
Predictably, a flurry of consternation followed, as Egyptian voters were confronted by the reality of choosing between two unpalatable candidates in the presidential election’s second and final round of voting. Attempts to exclude Shafiq from the runoff were defeated on June 14 as Egypt’s Supreme Court ruled that the so-called “Isolation law,” intended to exclude senior members of the Mubarak regime, was unconstitutional. The Court also found that the first past the post system used to elect one third of parliamentarians was also unconstitutional, making the parliamentary elections null and void. The Court has called for dissolution of the People’s Assembly, creating more chaos in what has already been a highly chaotic process.
That is where we stand today. Just days before Egyptians head to the polls for the second round of presidential voting, the ramifications of the call to dissolve parliament are unknown. The dissolution of parliament, the prospect of a Shafiq presidential win, and the recent announcement that the military police will have the right to arrest civilians has resulted in a chorus cry about a military coup in disguise. Given all that has transpired to date, any attempt to predict what will happen next is sheer folly.