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Egyptian Elections: An Uncertain Future for the American Agenda

Posted: 06/21/2012 10:35 am

Democracy sometimes offers up a mixed bag, a fact no more readily evident than in the Middle East. The elections offer a lens into a range of Arab and Muslim societies that are undergoing an identity crisis of how to operate in a democratic system brought forth, in part, by surging liberal and secular groups who have finally found their voice. In Tunisia, which boasts a population once thought of as strongly secular, democracy is off to a bumpy start thanks to conservative Islamists who, encouraged by the freer environment engendered by democracy, have been clashing with secularists. Meanwhile, Egypt has found itself left with two less than ideal candidates in its presidential elections; Ahmed Shafiq, a retired commander in the Egyptian air force and Muhammad Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. Barring any electoral fraud, assassinations, or general turmoil, one of the two will win, and the Egyptian democratic experiment will have had its first success. By some accounts Morsi will secure the presidency, a victory that amounts to an affirmation by Egyptians of their Islamic identity and a rebuke of the past Mubarak regime that Shafiq was a member of.

America policy makers such as Secretary of State Hilary Clinton have made considerable efforts to embrace and encourage Egypt's democratization efforts. After all, if democracy were to now fail in Egypt, even more uncertainties would be inserted into the daily lives of Egyptians. Yet from a purely pragmatic viewpoint, the path that democracy in Egypt has set upon may not hold the best results for the American agenda. Islamic parties in Egypt are, at best, quietly hostile towards Israel. Liberal democratic values, such as equal rights to the Christians who make up around 10 percent of the Egyptian population, have the potential to suffer under the Muslim Brotherhood. Political Islam may not necessarily be orthogonal to equal rights, but neither is it its best advocate, a fact emphasized with Morsi's tacking towards the ultraconservative Salafist voting bloc.

The ties between the United States and Egyptian militaries are historically strong, fueled by billions dollars of American aid over the past three decades. A loss by the military's de facto candidate, Shafiq, could see a loss of American influence and capabilities in the region, vital not only to ensuring the security of the region and of Israel, but the continuation of ongoing counterterrorism, intelligence, and military operations in the Middle East.

It is probable that Egypt will be better off without the vile oppression of Hosni Mubarak's regime and his military lapdogs, including Shafiq. What remains to be seen, however, is if the United States and its allies will be.