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Opinion

Egypt elections: After court ruling, the real concern is not the Muslim Brotherhood

Having upended the democratic transition with a ruling to dissolve parliament, the high court underscores the real concern in Egypt elections for president. Voters should not fear Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi, but Ahmed Shafiq, a throwback to the past.

By Nathan Lean / June 15, 2012

An Egyptian in Alexandria, Egypt, chants slogans against presidential candidate Ahmed Shafiq during a June 15 protest against Supreme Constitutional Court rulings. Judges appointed by Hosni Mubarak dissolved the Islamist-dominated parliament Thursday and ruled his former prime minister, Mr. Shafiq, eligible for the presidential election this weekend. Writes contributor Nathan Lean: 'Egyptians must not be cowed into voting for Shafiq.'

Manu Brabo/AP

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Rabat, Morocco

Egypt’s presidential runoff election on Saturday and Sunday was supposed to be democratic. But that’s in doubt now that  the country’s Supreme Constitutional Court, comprised of judges appointed by ousted dictator Hosni Mubarak, pulled a soft coup on Thursday.

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The court dissolved the newly elected parliament, dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood, placing power solely in the hands of interim military rulers who appear to be paving the way for a return to the pre-revolution days of the old guard.

The military leaders obviously fear the ascendency of Islamist politics and their own demise. But their latest move, including the introduction of marital law in advance of the court’s ruling, has exposed to democracy-hungry Egyptians where the greater concern should lie – with a win this weekend for Ahmed Shafiq, the former prime minister under Mr. Mubarak. 

In two days of voting this weekend, Mr. Shafiq, a former leader of Egypt’s air force, faces off against Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, an engineer by training who once worked for NASA in the United States. Both Shafiq and Mr. Morsi won roughly 25 percent of the vote in the first round of elections in May.

Since then, though, fear factories have spun out of control claiming that the “painful” second-round choice would hardly bear the fruit of last year’s revolution. Many believe the election is between two extremes: a throwback to the era of Mubarak or a drastic shift in the direction of a strictly religious state.

Now, with this latest political ruse on the part of military loyalists, one of those scenarios looks certain: A vote for Shafiq is a vote for the strong-arm politics that have longed plagued Cairo’s halls of power and typified the rule of its imprisoned former leader. Certainly Shafiq owes a political debt to his military colleagues in power and to the court, which also upheld the legality of his candidacy in its ruling.

True, people are nervous about the Muslim Brotherhood. Morsi, the chairman of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, makes no bones about the fact that he views Islam as the solution to many of Egypt’s problems. He has argued for barring women and non-Muslims from Egypt’s presidency on the basis of Islamic law.

At his first rally, he led supporters in a chant: “The Koran is our constitution, and sharia is our guide.” He also has a record of inflammatory statements toward Israel.

There is uncertainty that Morsi and the Brotherhood will maintain peace deals with Israel; fear that strict religious rule will stifle values of liberal democracy; and skepticism that Islamist campaign overtures and promises will be dismissed if Morsi should be elected.

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