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'Egyptians are voting blind'

Egypt's presidential run-off vote appears to be case of choosing the lesser of the evils. The two candidates actually represent two sides of the old regime, says Egypt expert Andrea Teti.

Mohammed Morsi and Ahmed Shafiq

Two sides of the old regime?

Andrea Teti is Lecturer in International Relations at the University of Aberdeen and Senior Fellow for the European Center for International Affairs.

DW: How different are the two presidential candidates from each other?

Andrea Teti: I think most of the time what commentary has emphasized is the difference between the two candidates. So on the surface the difference is actually quite obvious because you have Mohammed Morsi, who is the leader of the FJP (Freedom and Justice Party - Ed.), he's a long-standing member of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is obviously an Islamist organisation, and on the other hand you had Ahmed Shafiq, the former prime minister who was appointed by Mubarak during his attempt throughout the uprising of 2011 to try and stem the tide of protest. And Shafiq is a military man, and he has a long tradition of service, he is a general, and so on the surface you have this kind of opposition between Morsi, the Islamist, and Shafiq, the force of the old regime - so the new versus the old.

This reading, I think, is actually quite inaccurate. Although it's true that what the Muslim brotherhood is doing now it's done with the parliamentary elections and has a good chance of doing with the presidential elections which is coming to political power, it will be a mistake to view the Muslim brotherhood as though it were entirely separate from the old regime, as though it represented some kind of entirely new force in Egyptian politics. The reality is that the Muslim Brotherhood, particularly from the point of view of its economic policies if not its style of government and some of the techniques that it uses to govern, is actually quite close to the old regime. So some academics actually called them and other parts of the former Egyptian opposition the so-called decorative opposition, so they look like an opposition but they're not substantively different from the old regime. So from this point of view actually Shafiq and Mursi represent two sides of the old regime.

So if you think for example about accusations of corruption, cooptation, clientele politics and so on - these are not things that are exclusively the realm of the old military industrial business regime, but they're also characteristic of the Muslim brotherhood. So on the surface reading, Shafiq and Morsi represent two political opposites in Egypt today, one the old forces of restauration, the other the new, be it Islamist politics, but I think on a deeper reading, a more careful reading they represent two sides of the same coin.

What is the most important issue for the new president?

From the point of view of Egypt, the most important thing to do is to actually have a transition process. One of the things that have been characteristic of the entire debate from the day of Mubarak's removal up until now has been a very definite lack of certainty about where Egypt is going, how it's doing so, so for example, what's happening to the constitution, what are the powers of the president, what are the powers of the parliament, what is the government and what is the state doing about the whole series of issues like security sector reform, like labor reform, on all of these issues we have everything but clarity.

So we acknowledge that there is an old regime that didn't work because it caused a whole series of tensions, difficulties and frictions, so we're trying to design a new regime that would be attempting to avoid those sources of friction. So that's what a candidate should do if they had Egypt's best interests in mind, but of course, this is politics, and so it's not necessarily the case that we can safely assume that all candidates have Egypt's best interests in mind. So what candidates are likely to be doing is defending the interests which they in a sense represent, to put them forward in the presidential elections.

But how much power do they have to do that?

Andrea Teti, Expert on egypt and Lecturer in International Relations at the University of Aberdeen

Andrea Teti

We don't know, because there has been no transitional process. So, for example, you mentioned the word power. This is absolutely crucial. We don't know what the powers of the president will be. So we're in this paradoxical, practically Kafkaesque situation in which we're having an election run-off in which we do not know what the president's powers are going to be. So in a sense Egyptian voters are voting blind. A little bit like they did for the parliamentary election because again, you know, we did not know during the parliamentary elections what powers the parliament would have, whether it would be free to exercise them.

I think what I sense though, is the question in the background: How independent are these candidates going to be with respect to the military. And that's another absolutely crucial question. And the short answer to that will be: not much. Shafiq for obvious reasons because he represents the military interests. He is substantially part of the elite which has generated the military junta, the SCAF (Supreme Council of the Armed Forces - the ed.). And Mohammed Morsi, well, because the organizational power that he represents, the Muslim brotherhood, has always chosen to negotiate with the old elite with the Mubarak regime of which the military is one component. They've always chosen to negotiate with that regime instead of challenging it head on. So in both cases you're likely to have a more or less great continuity of policy with respect to what you've seen until now - which is not particularly comforting.

How convincing is each candidate as the face of a new era?

My personal opinion is not at all. They essentially represent two sides of the same coin of the old regime. One, the side that was in power, the other the side that was negotiating, compromising with power. Neither of them represent virtually any of the forces that brought about the uprising in January and February of 2011. For example the leadership of the Muslim brotherhood was very, very clear in the days running up to 25th of January and also in the first few days until the evening of January 27th, the day before the first Friday of the protests, which was also one of the biggest days of protests.

Up until then, the Muslim Brotherhood was very clear in telling its members not to go and protest. A lot of them, of course, did. Which is why, in the end, the Brotherhood had to adapt. But both the Brotherhood and the military leadership have always had precisely this stance: Whenever popular pressure has been placed on them they have reacted, adapting to the popular pressure. But until that popular pressure is exerted, they've always attempted to compromise, to negotiate and to essentially leave as much of the old order in place as possible.

So the future of Egypt looks rather grim…

It does. And if I can add a layer of grimness to the whole picture: It is that actually the international response which arguably could have made a difference - depending on how it could have been framed - that international response specifically from Europe and the US has been extremely poor in the sense that although there have been some very high words coming from Brussels and from Washington, in reality, the impact or the changes in their policies toward various groups, especially the ones that were behind the uprising - those changes have been very slight indeed.

Interview: Anne Allmeling
Editor: Rob Mudge

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