Despite its vows to speed Egypt toward elections, the country's military leadership is actually ambivalent about democracy. Above all, Egypt's generals want to preserve stability and protect their privileges. But having unleashed democracy, the military may not be able to control it -- especially if Washington keeps up the pressure to move forward.
The disqualification of ten candidates from Egypt's presidential race, including the Muslim Brotherhood nominee, has convinced the Brotherhood that the military is conspiring against it to win the election. It's now attempting to grab power from the army and threatening to take to the streets -- potentially sparking a new round in Egypt's revolution.
The first round of presidential elections in Egypt pushed the revolutionary and populist candidates out of the running. The only options left are representatives of the old order -- the Muslim Brotherhood and the military, which have been battling for power for more than half a century.
Former spy chief Omar Suleiman after being banned from the election. (Asmaa Waguih / Courtesy Reuters)
Over the last few weeks, the Egyptian presidential race has packed in a lifetime of political drama -- and then some. First, in late March and early April, the Muslim Brotherhood broke its pledge not to run any candidates in the election and proceeded to register not one but two. Then, on April 6, Omar Suleiman, former President Hosni Mubarak's intelligence chief, announced that he was "a soldier that had never refused an order in his life" and would therefore reluctantly accept his supporters' supposed clamoring for him to enter the race. The dust from those bombshells hadn't even settled when Egypt's administrative court disqualified Suleiman; Khairat el-Shater, the Brotherhood's chief strategist and first-choice candidate; Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, a hard-line Salafist; and seven other contenders from the race.
If that were not enough, on April 15, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the military-led interim government, broke a period of relative silence to suggest that it might delay the presidential election, scheduled to begin May 23 and 24, if the constitutional drafting committee could not finish Egypt's new charter before June 30, when the SCAF is due to hand over power to the newly elected government. Days later, the SCAF backtracked and confirmed that the election would go ahead as planned. But the damage was already done. With all the twists and turns, Egyptians are rightfully anxious about what lies ahead. Foreign commentators, too, have scrambled to parse how these developments will affect the presidential horse race. The consensus among them seems to be that Egypt's politics have been turned upside down and that the Islamists have been weakened.
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