Leading article: Egypt's elections leave its divisions unresolved


Related Topics

The results of the first round of Egypt's presidential election are at once hugely positive, and hugely negative.

They are hugely positive because they show that by far the biggest of the Arab Spring countries has more or less successfully embraced the democratic process. Some 16 months after the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, Egypt has elected a lower house of parliament and looks set to elect a President.

Despite periodic doom-mongering and a few localised clashes, the country has not descended into violence, nor have the elections been discredited by widespread violations. Not everything has been perfect, but the process has been cleaner and better organised than many anticipated. It is to be hoped that this impression is not contradicted by anything that might come to pass before the run-off next month.

It is here, in the choice produced by the first round of voting, that the hugely negative assessment comes in. When the crowds of mainly young protesters took to the streets in January 2011, there was a spirit of enormous optimism and excitement in a new start. Tahrir Square became the emblem for the change promising to sweep across the Arab world. That the revolution triggered a mercifully brief civil war in Libya and now appears to have stalled, with much bloodshed, in Syria does not diminish what has been achieved, mostly peacefully, in Egypt.

What is regrettable is the way this young, generally moderate and secular swathe of society has largely vanished from view. As in so many revolutions, the forces that created it have split. The effect is to leave Egyptian voters with the very same polarised alternatives that helped fuel the uprising in the first place: on the one hand is the Muslim Brotherhood, formerly banned from politics; and on the other, the forces of conservative and secular patriotism represented by the Mubarak clan.

The two names on the ballot paper on 17 June will be those of Mohamed Morsi of the Freedom and Justice Party – the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood – and Ahmed Shafik, the ousted President's last Prime Minister. The forces that made the revolution were too fragmented to produce a second-round contender.

All is not lost. Neither candidate can win only by consolidating his own constituency. They must both seek to appeal more widely. Mr Morsi has his eyes set on the more conservative Muslims, whose favoured candidates did unexpectedly well in parliamentary elections. Mr Shafik, to his credit, is pitching for the votes, among others, of the young revolutionaries. But he faces several obstacles, among them his close association with the Mubaraks and the military, which tends to obscure the reputation for competence he built up as air force chief and then Civil Aviation Minister in the early 2000s.

An even greater handicap might prove to be the disappointment and disaffection now felt by younger voters. Although queues built up at many polling stations, the first-round turnout was lower than had been hoped, and could fall below 50 per cent in the second. Questions might then be asked about the new President's credibility, and the extent to which he will be able to fulfil his mandate.

This is not to underestimate what has happened in Egypt. An orderly and genuinely contested election for President is a considerable achievement in itself. But if its democracy is to grow sturdy roots, Egypt needs a leader who can command respect across its political and religious divides.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Executive - Graduate / Entry Level

£22000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital advertising infras...

Recruitment Genius: European Sales Director - Aerospace Cable & Wire

£100000 - £125000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As a top tier supplier to the...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Project Manager

£17100 - £22900 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the North West's leading...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Technician

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an intermediate help de...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Caitlyn Jenner's first shoot is a victory - but is this really best version of femininity we can aspire to?

Sirena Bergman
The sun balances next to St Albans Church in Earsdon, North Tyneside.  

The world’s nations have one last chance to slow climate change

Michael McCarthy
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral