For a voter or a politician Egypt is a confusing place at the moment. Nothing seems to have been sorted out after the ousting of Hosni Mubarak in 2011. And the feeling is that time to fix the mess is running out.
The second round of a presidential election is imminent. Many involved in last year’s revolution, Egyptians liberals, are dismayed at the stark choice they see before them. The religiously conservative Muslim brotherhood’s Mohammed Mursi or Mubarak’s last Prime Minister and a former Airforce officer, Ahmed Shafik. How did it come to this, they wonder. Protesters are back in Tahrir square, ever more worried that their revolution for a modern, democratic Egypt will be hijacked either by the muslim brotherhood or by the old regime.
Three other candidates were disqualified from standing already and Shafik may yet be as well, if it’s found that his candidacy breaches a law that bans figures too close to the old regime from standing.
The Muslim brotherhood has control of two-thirds of parliament after elections last year. A Muslim brotherhood President would tighten their grip on power, which terrifies liberals. However the parliamentary elections themselves still have a question mark dangling over them. They may have been unconstitutional, meaning they would have to be re-run, meaning Egypt would have no parliament or president.
A lot of the disagreement is made more confusing and more intense by the fact that Egypt still has no new constitution either. In fact a year and half after the revolution the various parties can’t even agree on the makeup of the committee which is to draft it.
No, constitution, no parliament (possibly), no president. Most agree this is a recipe for chaos in a country still feeling the reverberations of popular protests on Cairo’s Tahrir square. So who has to decide? Everyone seems to be turning to the courts.
On the presidential issue the courts have to decide if the election commission was right to refer Ahmed Shafik’s candidacy question to the court. But they could also rule that the law banning Mubarak era figures from standing, which was rushed through parliament, may itself be unconstitutional. Depending on these two rulings former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik may remain in the running, be removed from it, or the whole presidential race against his rival Mohammed Mursi be scrapped and start again.
Nobody can confidently see through the maze of competing rules and possible outcomes to predict what might happen.
On the parliamentary election, in which the Muslim brotherhood did so well, the question revolves around how they were conducted. There was a combination of different voting systems used. The courts may rule that this was unconstitutional so the parliament would have to stand down and be elected again. The Muslim Brotherhood is thought to have lost support since then, with people disappointed in their choices in parliament, so they don’t want a re-election in which they could lose their gains.
But wait a minute. How can this and that be unconstitutional when Egypt doesn’t have a constitution! It’s all part of the muddle Egypt finds itself in. There is currently a constitutional declaration which everyone is trying to refer to. But it’s not a full constitution. And here we come to the only real remaining authority in Egypt; the army and the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, or SCAF.
They are supposed to hand over control of Egypt to a civilian administration in a few weeks. But it’s increasingly likely the court could delay its decision or that SCAF could decide to delay the handover.
But people see the army and SCAF as too close to the old regime. They were furious when recently six senior security officials were acquitted of involvement in the killing of hundreds of protesters in the 2011 revolution. Most people I spoke to didn’t blame the judge but did see the trial as a product of the old regime seeking to protect itself.
All of the above places enormous pressure on Egypt’s courts. They have little constitutional guidance, little room for perceived bias and little time. And everyone’s watching them.