Secular or Islamist? Egypt Chooses a President
Sixty years after their country came under military dictatorship, Egyptians are for the first time freely electing their president.
The voting that begins Wednesday is the greatest prize won by the multitudes who took to the streets to overthrow unpopular Hosni Mubarak in the string of people-power uprisings that upended the Middle East in last year’s Arab Spring.
It is also a moment of truth for this most populous Arab republic, determining whether power stays in the hands of the secular elite tied to the old regime or makes a momentous shift to the long-suppressed Islamists, with all the implications that such a change may have for relations with the U.S. and the Middle East peace effort.
Then again, most of the 50 million eligible voters will probably be looking for more modest returns — chiefly some peace and quiet after more than a year of turmoil, bloody protests, a falling economy and rising crime.
Whoever wins, “I want him to see to the security and safety problem first,” said Abdel-Rahman Shaker, a 55-year-old private security guard in Cairo. “If there is security, then we will have a better economy and production. I am looking out for my kids. I am working now, but we want a better life for our kids.”
However, the new chapter to be opened by this election is likely to be just as tumultuous, facing contentious issues that no one has dealt with since Mubarak’s fall: the economy, the role of Islam, the future of democracy, the relationship with the U.S., Egypt’s longtime backer, and the fate of the historic 1979 peace treaty with Israel.
Egypt mirrors the chaotic trajectories that the Arab Spring revolts have taken after an initial burst of optimism that long repressed populations across the region could replace dictators with democracy.