Now that the Republican primaries in the U.S. have been decided in favor of Mitt Romney, and Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande are facing off in France, perhaps the most critical presidential ‘primaries’ of all are being fought out in Egypt. Everything is at stake here, arguably not just for Egypt, but for the region and the world. The future of the Arab Spring hangs in the balance, with three possible scenarios: Egypt’s elections return a hardliner Islamist for president, setting it on the path of Ayatollah Iran, confirming the worst fears of the West; or the military re-asserts its role in the power balance, along the lines of traditional Turkish politics; or, in a case of Mubarak redux, an old regime loyalist is brought in to protect the interests of the beleagured business elite.
In a region that has consistently demonstrated the validity of the mantra ‘as Egypt goes, so goes the Arab world’, the United States has vital interests, from Iraq to Israel; the run-up to the June-slated presidential elections is closely watched from Washington to Moscow. So it is intriguing that the process of elimination of candidates is taking place in the courts rather than at the polls.
The explanation for the critical role of the courts lies in a constitution riddled with Mubarak-era amendments jerry-rigged to ensure, in effect, that no one but the former president, or his offspring, stood a real chance of running for president of Egypt. One such rule, excluding anyone convicted of any misdemeanor, even on blatantly political, trumped-up charges, was intended to disqualify Ayman Nour, who had dared to run against Mubarak. After the revolution, the same rule was applied to disqualify Muslim Brotherhood candidate Khairat Shater, jailed under Mubarak for his Islamist activities.