On Egypt’s Presidential Election

Muslim Brotherhood's Mohamed Morsi Announced Egypt's President

It’s official. More than one year after the overthrow of hated dictator Hosni Mubarak, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi has won Egypt’s run-off presidential election with 51.7 percent support. This outcome was widely known ever since last weekend’s vote wrapped up. What was unknown was whether Egypt’s military rulers, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, would allow Morsi to take power. Apparently they will.

What did the Brotherhood have to do to achieve this concession? Party officials reportedly spent the week after the vote negotiating with the military, and some have speculated that Morsi’s victory would be conditional on his acceptance of recent army power grabs — moves that many say amount to nothing less than a coup d’etat. In the absence of a permanent constitution, the ruling generals have been whittling away at the authority of the the president. Furthermore, two days before the run-off, the Mubarak-appointed Supreme Court dissolved the Brotherhood-dominated parliament elected last year. Party candidates won seats reserved for independents, but instead of simply calling by-elections where appropriate, the court rejected the legitimacy of the entire parliament and gave the military sole power over legislation.

It is strange for me to find myself defending the Muslim Brotherhood. True, as far as religious parties go, they are far from extreme. They disavow violence and are sometimes compared to Turkey’s governing Justice and Development Party, that paragon of moderation within political Islam. However, virtually any mixture of religion and politics makes me uncomfortable, and it does not help that Morsi himself, in 2007, notoriously drafted a model platform for his party that called for the Egyptian presidency to be restricted to Muslim men. This is not what the young secular revolutionaries of Tahrir Square have been fighting for.

All this being said, Morsi and the Brotherhood are without doubt the choice of the people. If the international community is serious about encouraging the spread of freedom and democracy as represented by the Arab Spring, Egypt’s election results must be unconditionally respected. I agree with the position taken by Egyptian satirist Bassem Youssef, as stated during his appearance last week on the Daily Show (click here to view the clip in Canada or here in the United States):

I don’t agree with the Muslim Brotherhood or the Salafists — I have major differences with them — but it’s wrong to hide inside your bubble and go running to the military asking them to protect you, because for 60 years, their rule in Egypt actually has created this kind of poverty, extremism, radicalism. The only way is actually to open up for everybody. Because you know what happened to the Muslim Brotherhood? After the parliamentary elections, they won by 75 percent. In two months, in the presidential election, they lost half of their votes just because they were accountable for the first time in 80 years. Just give them power and let them deal with it. And believe me, this is the only way for democracy.

In short, the situation is far from ideal. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces is reluctant to loosen its grip on power. Neither Morsi nor his run-off opponent Ahmed Shafik, Mubarak’s last prime minister, is a liberal democrat’s dream candidate. But Egyptian democracy itself, even in its unsteady opening phase, is very much worthy of celebration. Let us hope that it lasts and grows, that the Egyptian people continue to show the courage and determination that inspired the world sixteen months ago.

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