Saturday, May 26, 2012

Egypt's elections do not simply mark a return to the status quo

The political landscape – pitting secular authoritarians against Islamists – looks familiar, but the full picture is more complicated

Jack Shenker in Cairo, Friday 25 May 2012

"For Egypt's election junkies – a nascent breed in a country where the outcome of national polls has usually been known long before the first voter has picked up a ballot paper – it was the ultimate hangover. After an uprising that amazed the world, the overthrow of a brutal dictator, a year-and-a-half of struggles on the street and finally the novel excitement of late-night election results trickling in from counting centres across the nation, the sun rose on a political landscape seemingly unchanged for decades: one pitting a secular, authoritarian establishment against an Islamist opposition. Little wonder that many pro-change activists took to social media asking whether the revolution had been little more than a dream.....

The sense that political Islamists are not necessarily as popular as the headline figures suggest is borne out by a comparison between last winter's parliamentary elections and the current presidential poll – in the populous governorate of Gharbiya for example, the Brotherhood's FJP party actually lost almost 400,000 votes, the implication being that many Egyptians who were willing to give political Islamists a chance in office have been unimpressed with their performance so far, and in the absence of viable electoral alternatives simply decided to stay at home (turnout for this ballot appears to have dropped sharply).....

If next month's presidential runoff does pit Mubarak's former prime minister against the Muslim Brotherhood, the poll will serve as a heavy blow for those who believed these historic elections would symbolise a fresh set of political dynamics across the Arab world.

But beyond the two frontrunners, the ecology of Islamist movements – in Egypt and beyond – remains more complex than Morsi's success at the ballot box might suggest, and it will be those complexities that help determine the future direction of a region still in flux."

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