Egypt’s Big Election Mystery

The biggest mystery about Egypt's first democratically elected president isn't whether he will be an Islamist from the powerful Muslim Brotherhood or a secular leftover from the Mubarak regime. It is: How much will the army let him do?

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which has ruled since Mubarak fled, has promised to turn over power to the civilian government July 1.  But how much power will the generals be wiling to surrender? And under what circumstances?

Much will depend on the outcome of the two-man June 16-17 runoff, which is looks like it will be between Mohammed Morsi, the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood, and one of two secular candidates: Ahmet Shafik, Hosni Mubarak's last prime minister and, like Mubarak, a former Air Force general, or Hamdeen Sagahi, a secular leftist Nasserite. 

Shafik and Sagahi both portrayed themselves as a safeguard against the Islamists, who have control of the parliament.

The next few weeks until the runoff will draw the lines between the Islamist and secular, and whatever the outcome of the presidential vote, observers are predicting massive street demonstrations by the other side to protest the results. According to some published reports officials of the Muslim Brotherhood have said they would not recognize a victory by Shafik.

The very powerful and influential military establishment is known to be uneasy about a complete Islamist takeover of the government, especially since earlier this year when the Brotherhood and the ultra-religious Salafi party won a big majority in legislative elections.

SCAF scrapped the old constitution and is ruling under an interim one until a permanent document can be written after the new government takes over. In the meantime, SCAF is ruling and defining presidential powers and can be expected to demand a strong voice in the permanent constitution.  It is believed to want to put strong restrictions on presidential power if an Islamist wins, and it wants to keep control of the military budget largely out of the hands of both the parliament and president.

The military has been a dominant force in Egyptian politics and the economy over its 60 years of rule. It is a big question mark going into the final round of elections and the planned transfer of power: How much power will it keep to itself? Will it surrender control of the military budget? What about its vast economic empire that goes far beyond the army?  What will it decide about defining the scope of the president's powers?

This is one revolution that looks far from over.

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.