The political environment one day before the presidential runoff election in Egypt is tense and uncertain, to say the least. Two court rulings delivered yesterday have stalled the tentative transition from military to civilian rule. The first ruling dissolved Egypt’s parliament, and the second allowed former Mubarak prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq, to continue to run in the presidential race. At a press conference yesterday that lasted almost an hour, Shafiq delivered an address that seemed very much like an acceptance speech to an audience packed with former Mubarak officials and supporters. A dark horse in the first round of the presidential elections, Shafiq finished second with 24 percent of the vote behind Muslim Brotherhood member Mohamed Morsi. Many attribute Shafiq’s unanticipated rise to the revival of Mubarak-era patronage networks to galvanize voters.
The reaction in Egypt to the two verdicts is still unfolding. The military issued an official order today to dissolve the parliament and has barred members from entering. This is an undeniable blow not only to the Muslim Brotherhood, which had secured a significant plurality, but also to the transition from military rule as it was the only legitimately elected government institution. Mohamad Morsi’s campaign confirmed that he would stay in the race and urged voters come out in “million-man marches to the ballot boxes” to prevent the return of counter-revolutionary forces to power. While the likelihood of outright vote-rigging is low, former presidential candidate Abdel Moneim Abdel Fotouh has said that “holding the runoff presidential election in light of the fraud we witnessed in the first round and under the current coup aims to confer false legitimacy under a constitutional mask to a complete coup.” Prominent writer and social critic, Alaa Al Aswany, called for voters to delegitimize the election by defacing their ballots, and former IAEA head Mohamed Al Baradei has said he will not vote in the runoff on Saturday.
As the sun goes down in Cairo, will Egyptians flock to Tahrir Square to protest the consolidation of the military’s hold or has the grinding transition, tanking economy, and fear of continued instability dimmed their resolve to see the end of military rule? The number of voters who turn out tomorrow and Sunday will be another measure of the legitimacy of this transition to a more democratic future. As I write in an op-ed on CNN today, “The military must recognize that its attempts to reverse the democratic transition will eventually fail.”