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Opinion: Undesired outcome emerges in Egypt

An Islamist and a former member of the Mubarak regime placed well in the first round of presidential elections in Egypt. The result has split the country into two camps, writes DW's Rainer Sollich.

Even though the final results are not yet in, the losers of Egypt's first free presidential election have already been decided. The young, liberal activists who with admirable courage threw out Hosni Mubarak more than a year ago.

DW's Rainer Sollich

Rainer Sollich

The so-called Facebook revolutionaries fought for 15 months for more justice, democracy and a modern civil society - all of which represented radical changes for their country. The entire world, and we Europeans in particular, watched and lent our sympathy to the revolution against Mubarak's regime of despots. We were reminded of the historic changes that many of us witnessed in Central and Eastern Europe.

But the overwhelming victory by the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists in last winter's parliamentary elections changed euphoria into disillusionment and made clear that the majority of the Egyptian people had other priorities at the time. People were looking for security and stability. They needed jobs and economic prospects. And whether we like it or not, many of them wanted Islam to have greater influence in Egypt.

At the same time, a similarly sized part of the population was willing to accept the undemocratic influence of the army and former Mubarak loyalists if it meant preventing Islamists from gaining too much power. The country was split in two camps.

An undesirable result

The victory of Mohammed Morsi, a candidate closely linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, in the first round of presidential voting is clearly not the result that we Europeans would have wished for. Members of the Muslim Brotherhood are certainly not naive fanatics. They are deeply rooted in Egyptian society, and their social work and decades of opposition to the Mubarak regime have lent them a great deal of recognition. They connect hard-liners as well as several moderate and pragmatic powers. Still, the party's understanding of democracy, freedom of religion and the role of women in society are causes for concern.

On the other hand, there is also reason for uneasiness about the ringing endorsement for former Mubarak ally Ahmed Shafiq. He would be a near guarantee that Egypt does not become a state ruled by Sharia law. But he is a representative of the old system - and many liberal Egyptians regard him as a counter-revolutionary.

The runoff in June could end up posing a seminal choice between Islamists and supporters of the old Mubarak system.

Revolutionaries not obsolete

There are also positive remarks to be made: Egyptians used the mainly peaceful election to prove that they are "mature enough" for democracy, a fact Mubarak repeatedly professed was not the case. Now it will be up to Egyptians to push forward the reforms that have recently stumbled along the path to enactment. Military leaders have to surrender their power rather than pulling the strings from behind the scenes, and Islamic powers cannot be given the opportunity to do away with hard-won freedoms.

What Egypt needs are political watchdogs, including a free, courageous press and loyal opposition - even outside of parliament and the president's office. The first batch of revolutionaries may seem to have had their power stripped away of them in Egypt's democratically elected institutions, but they will continue to be needed in the future.

Author: Rainer Sollich / sms
Editor: Greg Wiser

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