Egypt’s Rough Ride towards Democracy

By Jamal Kanj

The upcoming Egyptian presidential election has started with a wild ride. The poll contenders covering wide political spectrum ranging from the ultra conservatives to Leftists; from the anti-dictatorship to Mubarak’s subservient; from the solemn to the buffoon.

This is the essence of democracy where everyone has an equal opportunity in the court of public opinions. And it comes with the promise that Egypt will never get stuck again with a president for life or until another Tahrir Square revolution. 

On the less cheery side, the absence of the young generation is disheartening as the average age for candidates is 75 years old. Especially, since Egyptian youth was the vibrant blood who made democracy a reality.

Equally unfortunate is the sidelining of the genuine progressive opposition. Particularly, when current key candidates served the old regime at one point or another, or were members of political parties that enjoyed undeclared détente with Mubarak and his offspring.

The Supreme Presidential Electoral Commission (SPEC) added more excitement by its final decision late Tuesday night rejecting three major candidates representing the old system and Islamist parties. 

The SPEC rationalization ranged from mere technical anomalies for Omar Suleiman to past “criminal” records for the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate. It is worth noting that most, if not all the presumed “criminal” offenses were connected with “illegal” conducts against the deposed dictator. 

SPEC should have instead sent a clearer message by rejecting Omar Suleiman beyond the technicalities. He should be banned for his role in the ousted authoritarian regime which made him incapable– at least during the immediate transition –to play a useful role in the new democracy.

It is feared however that the SPEC decision to reject candidates for questionable past “criminal record,” will stir a vortex of protests which may derail the transfer of power. Thus, granting the Military Council its wish by delaying the transition to civilian rule.

A little over a month after Mubarak’s resignation, the Military Council declared presidential election will take place no later than November 2011. By early summer, they suggested that a new constituent assembly must draft a new constitution before election; hence election was pushed back to June 2012.

Frustrated by the Council’s indecision, the opposition went back to the street forcing the Council to hold parliamentary election and advancing the presidential poll to May 2012.

Under the ruling old guard who have mismanaged the transfer of power, the economy has plummeted, public security deteriorated and services declined.  This has created an environment of uncertainty leading many to start questioning the judgment of removing the dictator in the first place.

Meanwhile, the writing of the new constitution remains a major point of contention between liberals, military and religious groups who dominate the panel charting the new constitution. The dispute over representation gave grounds for the Military Council to suspend the panel formed by the parliament.

Last weekend the Generals reaffirmed again that a new constitution should antecede presidential election. Along with the Panel’s suspension, this has raised serious concerns that the Military Council and the SPEC – in their latest theatrical exercise — were part of coordinated cahoots to derail the ride towards genuine democracy.

-Jamal Kanj writes frequently on Arab World issues and the author of “Children of Catastrophe, Journey from a Palestinian Refugee Camp to America,” Garnet Publishing, UK. Jamal’s articles can be read at www.jamalkanj.com. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him at: jkanj@yahoo.com.

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