Egyptian Democracy’s Last Chance?

CAIRO – Egypt’s upcoming general election could help to consolidate its nascent democracy and provide legitimacy to the government’s efforts to address the social, political, economic, and security challenges facing the country. But no election, however successfully conducted, will be enough: Unless Egypt overcomes its current political polarization and builds a broad consensus that includes ruling Islamists and the secular opposition, its problems will persist, jeopardizing the prospect of a democratic future.

Egypt’s lack of strong democratic institutions and its ongoing economic crisis are fueling social unrest and crisis, division, and hostility within the political system. At the same time, insufficiently trained and inadequately supervised police and security forces have become targets of public anger, and Egypt’s security may collapse.

In this context, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s proposal to hold an election in the next few months should be welcomed. Indeed, it is supported by most of the parties that performed well the last time – in the country’s first free election following former President Hosni Mubarak’s ouster in 2011. But, citing concerns that the elections will not be free and fair, the opposition National Salvation Front (NSF) – composed largely of secular parties that fared badly in the last elections – has threatened a boycott.

In the last parliamentary election, held between November 2011 and January 2012, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) won 213 of 508 seats; the Salafist al-Nour Party won 107 seats; and the liberal New Wafd party won 41 seats. That June, the FJP’s Morsi was elected President ­– an outcome that the NSF has continued to challenge. Many self-declared revolutionaries are even hoping that the fragile social situation and deteriorating security will compel the military to intervene, thereby returning the struggle for power to the street.