The official announcement by the Electoral Commission of Mohamed Morsi’s victory in the Egyptian presidential elections came as a big surprise to many people, both inside and outside Egypt. They assumed that the country is under a military dictatorship, and that the ruling generals did not want to see an Islamist president. Therefore, it is logical that they were completely sure that Shafiq would be the winner.
However, Egypt is actually neither a complete dictatorship nor a democracy, but something in between. The process of transition is a game where rules are written and renegotiated on the way, and where alliances and the balance of power change very fast. There is not a single actor who can impose its views on the others. Only if we understand this reality it is possible to make any sense of the confusing political scene in Egypt.
Those who predicted that the army would never accept a Brotherhood’s victory, and thus bet on Shafiq’s illegitimate triumph, did overestimate the strength of the Military Junta or SCAF. Once the barrier of fear was broken on January 28th last year, it became impossible to rule Egypt only by force. And this is what the SCAF and Shafiq would have needed if the presidency was stolen to Morsi yesterday.
A few months ago, the SCAF accepted the demand by opposition groups that the counting of ballots be done in the electoral colleges instead of the headquarters of the Electoral Commission. It was that day that the “deep State” lost the capacity to carry out a massive rigging of the elections, as it used to do during the Mubarak era. After the Muslim Brotherhood presented a report with a copy of the results of the each of the roughly 13.000 electoral colleges signed by the judge who presided the counting, a declaration of Shafiq’s victory became very unlikely.
This does not mean that the elections were completely fair. For example, public media were not impartial at all, and the Brotherhood suffered from an intoxication campaign during the last weeks. This and other tricks, such as buying votes by the vast network of interests of the old regime, are still possible in Egypt. They just can not be too flagrant. It is all about keeping up appearances.
The SCAF is not a neutral actor which only cares about protecting the national interests, as all its public statements proclaim. It is indeed the main actors in the power struggle that started the very same day Mubarak renounces -if not even before-. But it must act with certain caution. Pressure can be applied to bodies such as the Constitutional Court and the Electoral Commission, but their verdicts need to have a legal base. Truth and reason can be twisted, but not broken.
Only those political actors who understand this complex reality will be able to win in this battle of wills that some also call transition to democracy. If instead, they decided to agree on a set of common rules that respect the vital interests of all, the Egyptian people would be the real winner.