Steven A. Cook

From the Potomac to the Euphrates

Cook examines developments in the Middle East and their resonance in Washington.

CFR First Take: Egypt’s Weakness on Display in Elections

by Steven A. Cook Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Hi Folks,

Below is my First Take on Egypt’s elections, which appeared on yesterday.

The outcome of yesterday’s People’s Assembly election in Egypt was never in doubt and the overwhelming victory of the ruling National Democratic Party only reinforces the prevailing non-democratic status quo. At the same time, the conduct of the elections — the security sweeps and wholesale disqualification of candidates in the weeks before the polls combined with a day of vote rigging, intimidation, and violence (eight deaths and numerous injured) — indicates the manifest weakness of the Egyptian state.

This weakness ought to be of significant concern among U.S. policymakers ahead of Egypt’s presidential election and ultimately leadership succession. Despite episodic concern, Washington has tended to settle on the conclusion that with all its pressing problems, Egypt remains stable. The argument that Egypt is stable and likely to remain so is based on two observations. First, Egypt has demonstrated a capacity to muddle through significant challenges — defeat in war, economic stagnation, assassination, and terrorism — in the past. Second, the regime’s primary constituents — the military, security services, big business, and the bureaucracy — have never withdrawn their support from the current leadership. Both these observations are true, but they do not provide insight into the prospects for Egypt’s future stability. Read more »