CAIRO — Millions of Egyptians will vote Monday in the first election since the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak, but the mood is somber rather than celebratory.
Analysts say the haphazard parliamentary elections are the culmination of nearly 10 months of “colossal mismanagement” by Egypt’s ruling military council, whose failure to push through real democratic reforms leaves the Arab world’s most populous nation with an unfinished revolution. The disarray is a warning to other Middle Eastern countries in transition from authoritarian rule, analysts say.
Behind the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces’ insistence on holding elections in a country that’s hardly ready by security, political or logistical benchmarks is a fight for the preservation of six decades of military dominance over Egypt’s political and economic life.
Nearly all of the nation’s disparate revolutionary factions now describe the military as the biggest stumbling block to democratic civilian rule. And yet, with elections proceeding and the generals trotting out another mostly toothless interim Cabinet, it was unclear how the widening chasm between the generals and the revolutionaries could be bridged.
“They’re still thinking in the same paradigm of Mubarak authoritarianism; it’s all just the same,” said Heba Morayef, an Egyptian researcher for Human Rights Watch and an outspoken critic of the council. “There is no easy exit strategy, no easy fix at all.”
Not holding elections on time would have wrecked the schedule created by the council and forced the military to start anew, presumably with more input from outside players and new restrictions on the virtually unchecked power the military council has had since taking control after Mubarak’s resignation last winter.
The political elite’s preoccupation with voting vs. boycotting, or liberals vs. Islamists, is a sideshow, some political scientists argued. Under the current conditions, the incoming parliament will have little say over forming a Cabinet or picking the drafters of a new constitution.
The military council’s inner workings as well as its vast and diverse financial portfolio — huge factories, farms and development projects — would remain hidden from the public. A cornerstone of the ruling generals’ budget is $1.3 billion in annual aid from the United States.
“They’re pushing for elections because they want to save themselves, but the elections themselves don’t mean anything,” said Robert Springborg, a professor at the Naval Postgraduate School who’s written extensively on the Egyptian military. “You cannot have a military that runs a massive economy without any oversight and talk about democracy.”
Chilly rains washed over the grimy streets of Cairo on Sunday night, only adding to the collective gloom expressed by many of Egypt’s 50 million eligible voters, even those who planned to cast ballots.