EU observers will hope Egypt is still on the right track
Barring an unexpected late change of heart by a majority of voters, Abdel Fattah El Sisi will have been sworn in as Egypt’s new president by this time next month. That much is clear, but what isn’t is whether the international community will deem the electoral process as having been robust. A big part of that exercise involves the role of international election monitors. Several different groups have announced their intention to monitor Egypt’s presidential contest.
The Carter Center, for example, despite Jimmy Carter’s reported views on Egypt, has opted to send a small expert mission – not a full observer mission – similar to the one sent by the European Union earlier this year.
The African Union suspended Egypt’s membership after the military’s removal of former president Mohammed Morsi last year, but is now sending a high-profile mission to observe the presidential elections. The political symbolism of this cannot be underestimated.
Moreover, the Arab League is dedicating a significant number of individuals to its own mission, and will even make efforts to observe voting by Egyptian expatriates internationally.
The most important mission, however, comes from the European Union.
The EU delegation endured a rocky start. After much speculation that Jose Salafranca, a Spanish member of the European Parliament, would lead it, he unexpectedly withdrew his interest in the position and left Brussels without an alternative plan. Mário David eventually emerged as the EU’s contingency candidate.
Mr David is a member of the Portuguese Social Democratic Party in the European Parliament, and is the vice-president of the same right-wing European parliamentary coalition as Mr Salafranca. He appears to be a politician who is generally favourable to Egypt’s road map, albeit with some criticisms of the current arrangement.
The Egyptian authorities have been particularly keen to bring the Europeans in to observe the elections to assure international recognition and legitimacy for these next and important steps on the country’s military-backed road map.
For their part, a number of European member states have also been privately keen to travel to Egypt, under the assumption that a report on the presidential elections will point out the flaws as well as the successes – although analysts don’t expect the final report to be particularly critical.
So, where does that leave the parliamentary elections, the final stage of the road map?
At present, the laws for those contests are being discussed. This is not simply a legal exercise, but a deeply political one. Political parties, by and large, want the law to benefit political party representation. Others with significant clout within the Egyptian administration, particularly big business interests, want the law to ensure more room for individual candidates. The political forces that backed the January 25, 2011 revolution would not be represented well in the latter scenario.
Any electoral mission, however, that is deployed later on in the year would find comments on the merits of such a parliamentary election law to be probably beyond their mandate. Nonetheless, such a mission is likely to have a good deal to say about the public atmosphere that permeates in the run-up to it, including access to media, as well as freedom to expound upon its views without any threat.
As Egypt moves along this phase of its transition, the credibility of these milestones should not be underestimated.
They underpin the trustworthiness of the road map, which has already received harsh criticism for its punitive response to Mr Morsi’s supporters and other opponents of the current authorities.
With the overwhelming support from within the public and private sectors for only one presidential candidate in this campaign, will observers take the opportunity to point out the flaws within the process? Will observers point out the polarised political environment as well as the repressive measures that have been criticised by groups and organisations inside and outside of Egypt?
Their first major chance, it seems, is almost upon them with this presidential election – and it promises to be instructive.
Dr HA Hellyer is an associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London and the Brookings Institution in Washington DC
On Twitter: @hahellyer
Published: May 8, 2014 04:00 AM