x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Egypt's military shows no sign of ceding power

The days and weeks ahead will prove whether Egypt is moving towards a genuinely democratic process.

Today, Egyptians have elected a new president. It is a safe bet, however, that few Egyptians will be celebrating the results in the streets. So far, this election has severely disappointed as a transition to civilian rule.

For a start, the long-discussed new constitution has yet to be written. Worse, last week's disqualification of nearly a third of parliament members, which led to the body's dissolution, leaves the military firmly in control. Supreme Council of Armed Forces (Scaf) officials said yesterday that the generals would keep the powers to legislate and determine the budget for the time being.

As voters turned out to cast ballots for either the Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi or the former prime minister Ahmed Shafiq, there was little certainty about the way forward. Sameh Ashour, the head of a civilian council advising Egypt's military rulers, told Al Ahram newspaper that Scaf will set up a constituent assembly to draft a constitution within three months.

Not surprisingly, many fear that a constitutional assembly picked by the military would be biased, to say the least. There are others, however, who prize stability above all else, as Mr Shafiq's campaign has shown.

Regardless of the winner, then, the results of this election will take time to understand. It seems clear that Egypt's political season is not over. The rivalry that has sharpened between the military and the Muslim Brotherhood - a rivalry that has shaped Egyptian politics for decades - will persist. Whether Mr Morsi or Mr Shafiq wins, Egypt risks continued instability and protesters returning to Tahrir Square. Already there are rumours about voting irregularities, including the far-fetched speculation that invisible-ink pens were used at certain polling stations. In the past 16 months, political uncertainty has fanned even the most improbable rumours.

Egyptians have been patient in this chaotic post-revolution period. The milestone that the presidential election once promised has failed to materialise, and it is vital that Egyptians do not lose faith in the democratic process at this stage. Many have grown weary of a seemingly endless voting process and an economy in freefall.

The next few days and weeks will reveal whether this election has been one small step towards a genuine democratic process, a move back towards military rule or a concession to religious autocracy. The remnants of the old regime have shown little willingness to surrender their prerogatives. It would be a mistake, however, to believe that Egyptians will now just accept the old status quo.