Egypt's choice: The military could not hijack presidential elections
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The final acceptance Sunday by the ruling Egyptian military of the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohammed Morsi as president was an extremely important step for the Egyptian people, the Arab Spring in general, Israel and the United States.
The military, in power in Egypt since 1952, had their own candidate, Ahmed Shafik, a former general and Mr. Mubarak's last prime minister. But, first, Mr. Morsi clearly won the election, with 51.7 percent of the votes, and, second, it became increasingly clear that the Egyptian population, the same group who had overthrown President Hosni Mubarak, were not going to agree to the military's hijacking the presidential elections.
The military had laid the basis for such a move by causing a Mubarak-appointed court to dismiss the elected parliament, in which the Brotherhood held the largest number of seats, to rule in its place, and to take over the writing of the new constitution. That latter function was key also, since, among other points, it will define the authority of the newly elected president.
Mr. Morsi, 60, an engineering graduate of the University of Southern California, will immediately face a whole row of barriers to hurdle. Apart from trying to define a position independent of the military, he will need to overcome suspicions resulting from his Muslim Brotherhood affiliation.
He can do that readily by a careful choice of members of his Cabinet. He will need to name to it members of Egypt's Coptic Christian minority, who number 10 percent of the population and are worried about his Islamic background. He will also need to name women to his Cabinet, to acknowledge the concerns of the secularists who were determinative in the revolution.
Israel is concerned that Mr. Morsi and a government of the Muslim Brotherhood, historically aligned with Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip under the heavy hand of the Israeli Defense Force, will let observance of the historic peace treaty between Egypt and Israel slip. There is already increasing insecurity on Israel's Sinai border with Egypt. In the absence of a credible Middle East peace process leading to a two-state, Israel-Palestine resolution of the now 64-year-old conflict between the two, pressure on Mr. Morsi to maintain peace on Egypt's side of the border will increase.
In the region, other adherents of the Arab Spring democratization process, including in Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Yemen, will be understandably heartened by this important step forward in Egypt, in spite of the fact that more steps lie ahead.
For the United States, advocates of democratization in Egypt, inside and outside the American government, should be greatly encouraged by the Egyptian military's stepping out of the way and allowing Mr. Morsi to proceed. There were elements in the administration of President Barack Obama who preferred the predictability and discipline of military rule in Egypt. Mr. Obama phoned Mr. Morsi after his victory. U.S. aid to Egypt now needs to be readjusted, away from the disproportionate current split of $1.3 billion a year to the military and $250 million to civilian projects.
Mr. Morsi's and the Muslim Brotherhood's victories in the elections also mean that, to forestall sharper conflict in the region over the Israeli-Palestinian issue, Mr. Obama will need to work to put back in place a useful role for the United States in fostering constructive talks between the two sides. He sought previously during his administration to launch a useful dialogue between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. It fizzled out ignominiously and he let the matter lie. He needs to seek now, or immediately after the elections, if he wins, to reinvigorate a process with intensity.
First Published June 27, 2012 12:00 am