11/30/2011 01:52 pm ET Updated Jan 30, 2012

Egypt's Uncertain Vote

Egyptians headed to the polls Monday in the first parliamentary elections (AP) since the ouster of former president Hosni Mubarak amid deepening divisions in society and confusion over the nation's direction. Earlier, there were doubts over whether the elections would be held at all following more than a week of protests (Reuters) calling for an immediate end to interim military rule. The landmark vote is open for the first time to many political players and parties once barred under Mubarak.

What's at Stake

The outcome of the election, in which more than six thousand candidates (Reuters) are competing, is being closely watched. As the LA Times notes, it could reveal "whether Egypt emerges as a democratic inspiration in a region clamoring for change or slips back into a military-dominated autocracy where only the faces and illicit bank accounts have changed." Islamist parties are expected to win big, especially the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, which could win as much as 30 percent of the 498 available seats in the lower house, known as the People's Assembly. Meanwhile, the conservative Salafists under the al-Nour Party could also take anywhere from 6 percent to 16 percent of the vote (Globe&Mail).

The fresh spate of violence is a reminder of the fragile political situation in which Egypt remains. The military has used heavy-handed tactics against protesters, and an Amnesty International report finds that the interim military rule has continued with human rights abuses similar to those under Mubarak. A newly elected parliament is expected to help rewrite the constitution. But the interim government has announced "supra-constitutional principles" that would give the military veto power over the constitutional process.

The Debate

Some experts say secular parties and the military may be trying to buffer the power of Islamists (CBC) through the constitutional process. Journalist Issandr el-Amrani says the attempt to place the military above all other authority has made the elections about choosing between the military or the Islamists (AlMasryAlYoum), whichever Egyptians fear less. Marina Ottaway, at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, says unless Islamists and liberals manage to find compromise, "the outcome will be a new authoritarianism."

The possibility of an Islamist-led government has raised questions whether they can govern in the political mainstream (WashPost). Fawaz Gerges of the London School of Economics says that should the Muslim Brotherhood prevail, it will have to produce viable policies (NewStatesman) for the country's economic and civic challenges, which are numerous.

Former CIA analyst Emile Nakhleh and Boston University professor Augustus R. Norton say that fears of Islamist parties may be unfounded. They note that these parties have been parts of governments in Indonesia, Malaysia, Morocco, and Turkey, and have not threatened stability (BostonGlobe).

Policy Options

A number of experts, such as Leila Hilal and Khaled Elgindy, say that removing the military (FP) from transitional political process will help with stability. Khairi Abaza at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies says the international community should help the new government in Cairo stabilize its economy (FoxNews) and "ensure regular, peaceful successions of power."

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