“What happens as a result of the elections will define the features of Egypt and the region,” said Farid Zahran, a member of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, which has pushed for the elections to be postponed. “Now is the time when the revolution ends in success or failure.”
Amid a growing debate about postponing the vote, the Muslim Brotherhood and other established political groups point to a March referendum on constitutional changes as evidence that the transitional military council governing the country can move quickly. The ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces organized the March vote in just a few weeks, but it was hardly perfect. There were allegations that people voted multiple times and reports of voter intimidation. In most polling places, election monitors were not to be seen.
As uprisings continue across the Middle East, many in the region are looking to Egypt as a bellwether for what happens when a dictator is deposed. That attention means a marred September vote would not be just an Egyptian failure, Zahran said.
“If Egypt builds a modern, civil state, that will color the whole region, and if it goes into a dark tunnel, it will take the region there with it,” he said.
Tunisia’s interim government faced a similar dilemma. Leaders there announced in June that the first election since the January ouster of President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali would be postponed from July 24 to Oct. 23.
In Egypt on Monday, the English-language version of the state-owned al-Ahram newspaper reported that the military had no plans to postpone the elections.
The problem, said a Western diplomat in Cairo with firsthand knowledge of the military council’s workings, is that the ruling generals “haven’t done anything yet” to prepare. The council’s secretive nature, however, makes it difficult to rule out the possibility that some preparations have been made but are not public.
Unsecured polling stations, organizational problems that keep large numbers from voting or general perceptions of fraud due to a lack of independent supervision could lead Egyptians to reject the September results as illegitimate, the diplomat warned.
‘Most opaque process’
In the past, Egypt’s feared Interior Ministry ran elections. But many voters stayed away because they expected that the results would be rigged in favor of Mubarak’s now-disbanded National Democratic Party.