What Will the New Egypt Look Like?


By Sulome Anderson

Egypt’s transitional military government has pledged to draft a new constitution and hold free and fair elections within six months. What will the new Egypt look like politically? In scenarios sketched by Egypt experts, when elections do take place, many factions and figures such as the newly emergent youth movement, as well as the Muslim Brotherhood, will almost certainly play an important role. Experts also say that with the implementation of a new constitution, the presidency may take on a lesser role, and a parliamentary system is likely. This could potentially shift Egypt’s relationship with the United States and Israel.

Tarek Masoud, assistant professor of public policy at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government, says one necessary change is to limit presidential power. “If they do have a presidential election,” says Masoud, “I hope that it will come after they have stripped the presidency of its imperial elements.”

Omar Cheta, PhD candidate at New York University and an expert on Egyptian politics, says that if this shift in Egypt’s governing system takes place, the Parliament will almost certainly take on newfound importance. “They’re writing a new constitution and there are some signals that it might shift the presidential system to a parliamentary system,” says Cheta. “If that happens, the presidential election will not be as significant as it used to be.”

Cheta says that this new form of government will probably be a more inclusive regime that allows for different factions to have a voice in Egypt’s leadership. “We’re going to see, in the upcoming term, a coalition not dominated by a particular group,” he says.

Who are the candidates likely to emerge in any presidential race? Some experts agree that Mohamed ElBaradei, opposition leader and former director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, is a strong contender. “ElBaradei has built a presence in Egypt,” says Michele Dunne, senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “I think he has a future in Egypt.”

Others say that Amr Moussa, secretary general of the League of Arab States, and Ayman Nour, former presidential candidate and chairman of the El Ghad, or Liberty Party, are more likely candidates. “As things stand now, I would probably say that Amr Moussa will have the stronger cache,” says Ziad Fahmy, assistant professor of Modern Middle East History at Cornell University. “ElBaradei is more of an intellectual. He doesn’t seem to have the charisma to rally the people to his side.”

Fahmy says the problem with all the candidates is that they lack concrete policies. “They don’t have any platforms,” he says. “They both seem to want an independent voice for Egypt, not necessarily toeing the line with U.S. policies. They’ve never addressed the Egyptian economy. They are dealing with abstractions.”

Most experts are unwilling to venture a prediction about who might win in a presidential election, but all are certain that organizations such as the Muslim Brotherhood and the newly emergent youth movement will play an important role in any parliamentary or presidential elections.

“At this point, they [the youth movement] are probably going to throw their weight behind a certain presidential candidate,” says Fahmy. “They will do their best to pick a winning horse. We can’t predict whether they’re going to present a candidate for the presidency, but they will be an important part of mobilizing voters from their constituency.”

“I think the youth movement is going to play a critical role in Egypt’s elections and its future,” says Masoud. “I can’t imagine an outcome that doesn’t have them in an important position.”

The Muslim Brotherhood has announced that it will not be presenting a candidate for presidential elections, nor will the organization seek a majority in parliament. Cheta says that this is because they don’t want to appear as though they’re trying to take over. “I think their tactic is not to dominate the coming government because they don’t want to scare anyone,” he says.

However, Cheta says it seems clear that their popularity will make them an important player in any upcoming election. “They are the party and group that is the most confident of their relationship with the Egyptian people,” he says.

Whatever the new Egyptian government looks like, there will almost certainly be a shift in the way it interacts with the United States and Israel, although experts say that the change is unlikely to be radical. “The relationship with the United States might change, but not in the way that some people are fearful of here,” says Cheta. “With the strength of the army and its political leanings, I don’t think that any upcoming government is going to abrogate the Egypt-Israel peace treaty.”

The transitional government has already pledged to respect the peace treaty, which has recently drawn criticism from members of the youth movement and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Cheta does think that some things about Egypt’s relationship with Israel are bound to change with a new, more populist government. “What we will see is some changes to economic treaties between Israel and Egypt,” he says. “There were always criticisms of Mubarak’s selling gas to Israel at such a cheap price. Not to mention his support of the Gaza blockade. Any new government is sure to revisit that issue.”

One thing is certain, according to Fahmy. He says the uprisings have ensured that there will be no more dictators leading Egypt. “The elections are going to be freer than any elections before, because of the new players in the government: the Egyptian people,” says Fahmy. “They will mobilize if there is to be any sort of military dictatorship. They will provide checks and balances.”


Sulome Anderson is a student in the International Newsroom course in
Columbia University's graduate school of journalism. She has traveled
extensively in the Middle East.

Photo courtesy of flickr user Jonathan Rashad

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