By Hani Sabra and John Watling
Egypt's presidential election is devolving into a comedy of errors, but with potentially tragic consequences. It is no longer primarily a contest about who voters believe is the most credible and trusted politician to lead Egypt through a potentially tricky transition. Instead, it is turning into a war of wills between the Muslim Brotherhood and the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). These natural antagonists have accommodated one another for the past year in an effort to marginalize the young revolutionaries who ignited regime change. But the tensions inherent in the relationship have turned them into frenemies. The process has been particularly apparent during the past few weeks as their interests have diverged. When and how that relationship unravels completely -- and the presidential election is a key element -- is critical to Egypt's future.
On 31 March, the Muslim Brotherhood reversed the position it had maintained since Hosni Mubarak's ouster and announced that it was fielding a presidential candidate. The Brotherhood had claimed for more than a year that it would not do so, ostensibly because it wanted to reassure Egypt's political class that it was not interested in dominating power as Mubarak's National Democratic Party had done. The more likely reason was an understanding with SCAF about the division of power; the Muslim Brotherhood would get domestic policy portfolios (the premiership and control of the cabinet) while SCAF would control the security and foreign policy portfolios by having a weak and friendly president. Yet, the Brotherhood became both cocky and nervous. At the same time that it saw broad public support, it was losing confidence that SCAF would hold up its end of the bargain. Finally, the Brotherhood's leaders decided that without a new constitution and with no guarantee that the president's power would be reduced, that the group needed to contest the election. Indeed, the courts today disbanded the assembly that was set to write the constitution, and which was dominated by the Brotherhood and other Islamists, signaling that the Brotherhood was perhaps right to be concerned.
Additionally, in a dramatic scene fit for inclusion in a political thriller, Omar Suleiman reversed his decision not to run and submitted his candidacy papers less than an hour before the 9 April deadline. Suleiman is a stalwart of the old regime; he was Mubarak's right hand man, the director of internal intelligence, a friend to Israel, and a sworn enemy of the Islamists. But unlike Mubarak's other confidantes, who have been arrested, several signals hint at possible military support for Suleiman, including a military escort when he filed his papers. Even though SCAF denies that Suleiman is their candidate, the optics and timing suggest his candidacy is intended at the very least to send a message to the Muslim Brotherhood. While Suleiman is not popular, SCAF still has strong influence over Egypt's courts and other resources that will help his candidacy, like the state-controlled media.
But the comedy of errors continues. Critics of Hazem Salah Abou Ismail, a hardline Salafist and the only candidate with an explicitly anti-U.S. platform, recently revealed that his mother was a U.S. citizen at the time of her death in 2008 and apparently had even registered to vote in California. Under Egypt's tough electoral laws, he is now technically disqualified from competing in the election. It is also possible that Khairat el Shater, the Muslim Brotherhood's senior policy chief and presidential candidate, will also be disqualified based on his felony conviction during the Mubarak era.
The tragedy is that this maneuvering may mean nothing. Egypt's economy is suffering and none of the candidates has outlined a real rescue plan or a vision for the future. Economic collapse would change the calculus completely, given the likelihood for widespread societal discontent.
Hani Sabra is an analyst with Eurasia Group's Middle East and North Africa practice.
John Watling is a senior editor with Eurasia Group.
Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
By Willis Sparks
The unrest now rattling North Africa and the Middle East generates new headlines each day. Today, it's an announcement from Morocco's King Mohammed VI that important constitutional reforms are on the way. It's a report that Qaddafi loyalists have pushed rebels from a couple of important port cities in eastern Libya and news that France has become the first country to recognize the rebels as Libya's legitimate government. It's the news that the Gulf Cooperation Council has promised to provide $10 billion each to member states Bahrain and Oman to help restore confidence in their stability amid ongoing protests.
But beyond the Middle East, the upheaval is producing a lengthening list of winners and losers. Here are a few of them:
Security hawks within China Security Ministry and military
The Chinese Communist Party leadership is a pretty risk-averse group, and recent turmoil in North Africa and the Middle East has strengthened the argument of those within the security forces and People's Liberation Army who say Beijing must never underestimate the dangers of quickly evolving technological and foreign policy challenges. Given the threat to Arab autocracies splashing across the headlines, we can expect China to devote still larger volumes of state resources to monitor social networking and other tools of modern communication -- and to further develop cyber capabilities generally. And just as the British military was able to evacuate British nationals from Libya, and with more Chinese than ever working abroad in sometimes volatile places, China's military will be in stronger position to win the extra resources it wants to assert China's interests abroad.
Four months ago, Cote d'Ivoire's President Laurent Gbagbo stood for re-election against challenger Alassane Ouattara. The United Nations, the African Union, and the European Union agree that Ouattara won a fair contest. But Gbagbo has refused to accept defeat, and efforts at mediation have gone nowhere. The defeated incumbent has shrugged off international pressure for a graceful exit -- or any exit -- and hundreds of people have been killed in the resulting violence. With so much attention on events in the Arab world, there's not much international consensus on what to do about Gbagbo. Cote d'Ivoire is the world's leading producer of cocoa. That might boost international attention if so many of us weren't staring at the price of oil these days.
Turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa, particularly among major energy producers like Libya, Algeria -- and in Bahrain and Yemen, which border the biggest oil producer of them all -- has helped push oil prices past $100 per barrel. That's good news for ethanol producers in the United States, who will profit from a widening separation between prices for ethanol and gasoline.
Russian arms dealers
Russian weapons dealers have seen the door close (at least temporarily) on a Libyan arms market worth some $2 billion. Yesterday, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed a decree that prevents Russian firms from providing the Libyan government with "all types of arms and related materials, including weapons and ammunition, combat vehicles and military hardware." The move was intended in part to ease international pressure for imposition of a no-fly zone in Libya or any other form of direct military intervention there. We don't know how long the ban will last, but money will be lost in the near term.
Until earlier this week, there was an 11,000-seat football stadium in the eastern Libyan town of Benina named for Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. But the support Chavez has offered the embattled Qaddafi has angered the Libyan rebels who now control Benina, and they have renamed the arena Martyrs of February Stadium.
Willis Sparks in an analyst in Eurasia Group's Global Macro practice.
ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images
The Call, from Ian Bremmer, uses cutting-edge political science to predict the political future -- and how it will shape the global economy.