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What will come of Egypt’s elections?

After a week of clashes with the mil­i­tary council, Egyp­tians cast their bal­lots in the first par­lia­men­tary elec­tions since Hosni Mubarak was removed from power. We asked Pro­fessor of Polit­ical Sci­ence Denis Sul­livan, director of Northeastern’s Middle East Center for Peace, Cul­ture and Devel­op­ment, to assess this his­toric event, the poten­tial road­blocks that remain in the elec­tion process and what a legit­i­mate and suc­cessful elec­tion would mean for the region.

Can you assess the events that have unfolded in Egypt since Hosni Mubarak’s resignation in February, particularly those leading up to the elections that began yesterday?

Egyp­tians have been riding a roller coaster of pol­i­tics and secu­rity con­cerns since Mubarak fell from power. They also have been in a down­ward eco­nomic spiral, with tourism, trade and invest­ment at their lowest levels in decades. Sadly, the Egyptian “gov­ern­ment” con­sists of a mil­i­tary council that wields power for its own ben­efit, rather than for the Egyptian people. In short, there has been no true rev­o­lu­tion in Egypt, as we first thought in Feb­ruary. The mil­i­tary was the back­bone of the Mubarak regime, and it remains a pow­erful force.

There are two pos­i­tive polit­ical effects, how­ever: the empow­er­ment of the Egyptian people, and the ouster of Mubarak. There are still other hopeful signs, starting with the par­lia­men­tary elec­tions that began yes­terday, and will con­tinue into early 2012, for both houses of Par­lia­ment and ulti­mately a new pres­i­dent. Egyp­tians are casting what they hope are free and fair bal­lots; they are taking con­trol over the polit­ical process through the ballot box rather than con­tin­uing demon­stra­tions in Tahrir Square or clashing with police.

What are some potential roadblocks and problems that could arise throughout the election process?

The biggest road­block is that the army and the secu­rity forces are run­ning the elec­tions, and ulti­mately counting the votes. Already we have seen com­plaints of irreg­u­lar­i­ties — ballot boxes without secure clo­sures; bal­lots not appearing in many polling sta­tions; judges (who super­vise the elec­tions and pro­vide legit­i­macy to the voting process) not appearing at many sta­tions; and some can­di­dates con­tin­uing to cam­paign near the voting booths, which is against the elec­toral law. Nev­er­the­less, voter turnout has been very high, with mil­lions of Egyp­tians lining up to express their choice for their rep­re­sen­ta­tives for the first real time in their history.

What will a legitimate and successful election mean for Egypt and other Arab nations going forward?

A legit­i­mate and suc­cessful elec­tion is likely to pro­duce a large mod­erate Islamist plu­rality in Par­lia­ment (in the form of the Muslim Broth­er­hood), along­side groups of former Mubarak loy­al­ists, lib­eral sec­u­lar­ists, con­ser­v­a­tive Salafi Islamists and youth leaders. In short, it would mean the elec­tion of a diverse array of rep­re­sen­ta­tives, from var­ious polit­ical and reli­gious “stripes.” Any free, fair elec­tion will be just one step — albeit, a large and cru­cial step — down the path of Egyptian democ­racy.  There is no ques­tion that what hap­pens in Egypt will have an impact on the entire Arab world and the Middle East as a whole. How­ever, if the ballot box gets “spoiled” by the military-​​controlled system, Egyp­tians would be left to con­sider their promised demo­c­ratic elec­tions null and void; then it will be back to Tahrir Square.

– by Casey Bayer

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