By Cem Yolbulan, Summer 2012 Intern
On Thursday, June 21, 2012, the SETA Foundation at Washington, DC hosted the panel “Egypt’s Presidential Elections: Transition to What?” to discuss the possible outcomes of the presidential election in Egypt and the future of the country. The panelists included Khaled Elgindy from Brookings Institution, Nathan Brown from George Washington University and Erol Cebeci, former member of the Turkish Parliament, from SETA DC. In the audience there were many students, interns, academics and young professionals interested in Middle Eastern and Egyptian affairs, including myself: the newest intern for TUSIAD-US office.
Since the results of the presidential elections and Mohamed Morsi’s win were only officially announced yesterday, there was a looming uncertainty over Egypt’s future during the panel on Thursday. The experts based their analyses on possible election scenarios, and the first one to do so was Nathan Brown. He began his discussion by explaining Mubarak’s regime, which he defined as a ‘different kind of authoritarianism,’ where institutions such as the press, parliament, and judiciary had a great deal of autonomy. These institutions’ continuing influence and social organization play a significant role inEgypt’s process of transformation. Brown claimed that a win by Ahmed Shafik, who represents the Mubarak era, would have implied the resurrection of the old state and the possibility of going back to “full Mubarakism,” which would have been non-functional due to the new sociopolitical climate after the so-called “revolution.” On the other hand, a win by Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, creates a different kind of a problem. He suggested that in the case of a Muslim Brotherhood candidate coming to power, there will be an unsteady balance in the country, with military still holding significant power and maintaining its role as “the protector of stability.” This will create an “edgy political environment” with a lot of day-to-day conflict and competition between the Brotherhood and the military. Brown was uncertain that the Brotherhood can work within that system.
Khaled Elgindy focused mainly on the political transition and the Egyptian foreign policy as he took the stage following Brown’s discussion. Claiming that there is more continuity than change in the social and political environment; he chose to call the process, “a transition with few, minimal reforms,” rather than an actual “revolution.” He explained that the most tragic outcome of the process has been “people losing faith in their institutions,” and that it will be very hard to re-install people’s confidence, which will only add to uncertainty and instability in the country. However, stability in foreign policy remains a major positive for the West and the United States. Thanks to the broad political consensus on foreign policy issues,Egyptand theUnited States managed to maintain their mutual positive relations, which is crucial for Egypt’s future, especially financially.
Erol Cebeci followed Elgindy’s remarks, as he brought in a Turkish perspective to the discussion, relating the transformational process in Egypt to the “Turkish Experience.” He defined the process as “a rearrangement of existing institutions” rather than a revolution, and drew many parallels between the political jargon, the role of the military and the position of outsiders in Egypt and Turkey. Focusing on the civil-military relations in Turkey, he analyzed the current role of the Egyptian military, and what that role should be in the future. He emphasized the importance of putting aside past conflicts and working together in a democratic framework, finally making the following claim: “Worst civilian regime is better than the best military regime!”
On Sunday, Egypt’s election committee finally announced the long-awaited election results, with Mohamed Morsi claiming a close victory over Ahmed Shafik. Without a doubt, it will be interesting to see if Brown’s scenario will hold and what the future will bring to Egypt. The way the Muslim Brotherhood, having a share of the power for the first time in decades, will perform in its power struggle with the military will be the decisive factor for Egypt’s future. As there will most certainly be more critical developments to follow during the government formation and constitution writing process, Egypt is worth keeping an eye on for the future of the region as a whole. At least I will be keeping an eye on Egypt and reporting back to you from Washington,DC through TUSIAD-US Intern Edition.