Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Egypt: What the Anxiety of its Political Juggernauts Means to its Political Future

Staff Writer

What the Anxiety of its Political Juggernauts Means to its Political Future

The upcoming Egyptian election has thirteen candidates vying for the position. An unprecedented level of excitement fills the air as the country moves closer to accomplishing this milestone. There is also a heightened sense of anxiety. Presidential elections are not, understandably, without national anxiety. But, the geopolitical ramifications of this May 23rd election will echo throughout the region’s volatile politics and national identities. This election is a product of the sweeping changes the Arab Spring set in motion from last year. Though the movement’s revolutionary wave is crashing against the geopolitical realities of the region—and the counter interest of very powerful regional actors, who will not stand by and watch their power fade.

The United States has always supported the corrupt dictators of Egypt, a policy born out of the need for stability in the region. Now, all it cares about is keeping the Muslim Brotherhood—a group whose members have been the primary victims of the American-backed Egyptian regimes—from gaining an outsized portion of the new government. So far, it would appear the brotherhood would most likely claim the presidency, a position it has covertly sort after since Hosni Mubarak disgracefully fell from power. To what extent the United States is willing to allow this group to “democratically” come to power is still unknown. Fear is a potent ingredient in formulating foreign policy and it has always tainted the policy lens through which the United States sees the region and its politics.

The military council, put in place to protect the republic from falling apart and to, most importantly, help usher in the new democratic republic, has presented itself as a formidable obstacle to democracy. It has systematically obstructed the civil liberties of individuals and groups it feel threatens its power, even with the heightened international observance of events taking place in the country. It has exercised power in the very same manner it once did under Hosni Mubarak, preferring to intimidate Egyptian journalists and the youth, who have been instrumental in creating the revolutionary drive that drove out the upper echelon of power in Egyptian politics. Journalist are jailed and tortured when they dare write about the council’s abuse of power. The continual calls by the international community, led by the United States and international NGOs, for the council to rein in its extra-judicial powers and activities has fallen on angry and defiant ears. The council is anxious to carve out the same level of power it has always had for itself in whatever new regime takes power. Although, everything it stands for is antithetical to the country’s democratic future—it was designed and used as a tool of oppression, and has never had the discipline to avoid national politics.

The Muslim Brotherhood has been the proverbial bogeyman of Egyptian politics since the sixties. Its members have suffered assassinations from, and have planned those of two, Egyptian presidents. The inhumane and humiliating conditions of their imprisonment—with America’s implicit approval—is something most Brotherhood members will never forget. However, lately, it has seen its fortunes take an unexpected rise since the revolution and has been the most tactfully successful actor in the entire unfolding drama. The organization is weary of the transitional military council and the United States interfering in the “natural” procession of events. Though, it seems to have entered some kind of working agreement with the military council, and may have implicitly agreed to not call for the relegation of the military out of national politics and back to their barracks.

Somewhere between these juggernauts are the civil society and the youth groups of Egypt who actually spurred the revolution that has ushered in this great opportunity. These two groups, unfortunately, have seen their representation and influence at the tables of power hard to maintain post-revolution. They were the vocal actors that spurred the change. However, they have had little success in deciding what reform will look like. As these powerful actors battle to shape the future of a post-Mubarak Egypt, their anxiety has meant those with true democratic intentions are being forced out. Democracy, though, it requires an election—the most modern system of chosen representatives—also requires civil society and an active citizenry. There will be winners and losers when the dust settles after May 23rd. It would be a shame if by the presidential election of May 23rd, instead of being the culmination of a new democratic era in Egypt, serves to be the end of those responsible for the revolution in the first place.

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