A giant step for Egypt

A giant step for Egypt

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt’s twitter message yesterday, May 23, gave one of the broadest perspectives regarding the first round of historical elections in Egypt.

Bildt pointed out that Egyptians are using their free votes to elect their own leader for the first time in their country’s 5,000-year-old history.

There have been elections in Egypt before to elect presidents and parliament, but it was not easy to call them free elections as was the case in many other Arab countries before the winds of the Arab Spring started to blow strong in the end of 2010. 

Hosni Mubarak, the former Egyptian President, who is now under trial stayed in power for thirty years following the assassination of his predecessor Anwar Sadat in 1981. His multiple re-elections, with around 90 percent of votes, were the subject of bitter jokes. One of those jokes went as follows: U.S. President George Bush wanted to learn Mubarak’s secret for how he managed to get 90 percent of the votes in every election. “Easy” Mubarak said, “Omar Suleyman will do it for you,” and so he sent his long-time chief of intelligence to the United States for the elections. The result was indeed 90 percent, but the winner of the U.S. presidential elections was Mubarak.

Unlike the one in Libya, the revolution in Egypt was relatively bloodless. Egyptians rushed into Tahrir square in Cairo and stayed there for days and nights with their incredible patience and resilience, which once made the construction of the pyramids possible. They first convinced the army not to try to crush them and them Mubarak to step down, with the help of his closest aides, including Suleyman.

It was mainly an educated middle class movement. But as the revolution spread to society the silent and oppressed power of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Ekhvan started to raise is posture by adopting a more centrist position as well; if you are going to rule a country like Egypt, you can not carry on as a radical movement any more. That created worries among liberal and western-oriented sectors of the country, since Salafis try to stop Ekhvan to adopt a rule in which the Islamic law Sharia would not be at the center of the things.

Still playing a powerful role, sort of a referee, the military vetoed strong candidates from all sides, including Suleyman’s.

It is not certain where Egypt will go after electing its first president through free vote. But it is certain that yesterday Egyptians were finally able to get a taste of choosing among real candidates for their next governmental term, hoping that they do not return into another Pharaoh.

If the first round of elections in Egypt does not end up in another autocratic form of republic, but starts to evolve the country toward a democratic future, than it might have an inspiring effect on the Arab world. Then one can say that the elections yesterday might be a small step for democracy in the region, but for now, they have been a giant step for Egypt.

Egypt is Egypt after all; it is the driving intellectual power of the Arab world and was there when most civilizations had not even been dreamt of.