Free Speech is Threatened in Egypt as Elections Loom
The Egyptian elections, stemming from public uprisings that forced President Hosni Mubarak to resign 16 months ago, have resulted in a run-off between two ideologically and politically conservative candidates: a representative from the Muslim Brotherhood and a veteran of the Mubarak administration. Mohamed Morsi represents the Brotherhood, while Ahmed Shafik represents “establishment” Egypt, as he served as President Mubarak’s prime minister.
The military council (known as “SCAF”) has controlled Egypt for the past 16 months and pledged to hand off power to the elected leader, once he is chosen. However, the SCAF has historically abused its power and broken previous pledges to relinquish control. Furthermore, Egypt’s government has been an enemy to free speech and expression during this election season. Just this week, Egypt’s justice ministry issued a decree to allow military police and intelligence officers to arrest civilians for crimes that include “obstructing traffic” and “resisting orders.” This decree threatens the right of civilians to peacefully protest, as they have been doing for over a year in Tahrir Square (these protests often block traffic, which the government has now turned into a justification for the protestors’ arrests).
The two candidates in the run-off election have surprised the West, most of which assumed that candidates in the post-Mubarak Egypt would be more moderate. Many are surprised and dismayed by the two starkly conservative and establishment candidates, especially after the 16 months of protests calling for moderate rule. Pundits have suggested that the final two choices are a result of the fact that the youth movement was not as organized as it should have been and did not mobilize its weight behind one particular candidate. However, we cannot forget that over 10 candidates (many of whom were popular and, by all accounts, moderate), were disqualified through an opaque ruling last month. In fact, almost 50 percent of Egyptians in the general election voted for more moderate candidates, and a few of those now-disqualified politicians garnered almost as many votes as Morsi (the Brotherhood candidate) or Shafik (the former Mubarak administration official).
Meanwhile, this election is happening against the backdrop of Mubarak’s recent life sentence and his declining health (he is currently in a permanent coma).
Although these elections are clearly domestic in nature, Israel has a significant stake in their outcome and how it could affect the future of the 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel. Regardless of the posturing that might occur during the presidential elections, Egyptian public opinion suggests that whoever wins might find the political will to maintain the treaty. A poll conducted by the International Peace Institute in September 2011 (prior to the parliamentary elections) indicated that 71% of Egyptians wanted to maintain the peace treaty.
Keep checking RACblog for more updates on developments in Egypt and throughout the countries that were affected by the Arab Spring.
Photo couresty of UPI