Egyptians vote in historic presidential election

Egyptians began voting at 8:00 a.m. in the first free presidential election in the country’s history. Although some polling stations opened up late and minimal reports of infractions of election laws have emerged, there have been no major instances of violence. The election has played out to be a contest between Islamists, secularists, and former ...

AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images

Egyptians began voting at 8:00 a.m. in the first free presidential election in the country's history. Although some polling stations opened up late and minimal reports of infractions of election laws have emerged, there have been no major instances of violence. The election has played out to be a contest between Islamists, secularists, and former members of the Mubarak regime. However, according to the BBC's Wyre Davis in Egypt's second largest city, Alexandria, many voters say the election is not about religion or politics, but rather "who can put food on the table." With no reliable opinion polls, it is impossible to predict the winner. Of the 13 candidates, there are five frontrunners: independent Islamist Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh; Muslim Brotherhood backed Mohamed Morsi; former Foreign Minister Amr Moussa; former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq; and leftist, Nasserist Hamdeen Sabbahi. If no candidate receives 50 percent of the vote, run-off elections will take place on June 16 and 17. After polling is completed, it is unclear what powers the incoming president will have, which will be determined when a new constitution is passed. This has raised concerns that the ruling military will fail to yield power to the new president.

Syria

Up to 25 people were killed across Syria on Tuesday. Government troops bombarded the central city of Rastan on Wednesday, shelling at the rate of "one shell a minute." Additionally, a bombing in Damascus killed five people. According to Syrian authorities, the bomb hit a police station. However photos indicate that in fact a restaurant was targeted. Meanwhile, the kidnapping of 11 to 13 Lebanese Shiite pilgrims near Aleppo has raised fears that the Syrian conflict is spreading into Lebanon, and has aggravated sectarian tensions in Beirut. The Lebanese pilgrims were traveling from Iran when their bus was intercepted. The Syrian government and opposition have traded accusations over the abductions. Hezbollah has said that it has been in communication with a Syrian fundamentalist group that has promised the release of the pilgrims.

Egyptians began voting at 8:00 a.m. in the first free presidential election in the country’s history. Although some polling stations opened up late and minimal reports of infractions of election laws have emerged, there have been no major instances of violence. The election has played out to be a contest between Islamists, secularists, and former members of the Mubarak regime. However, according to the BBC’s Wyre Davis in Egypt’s second largest city, Alexandria, many voters say the election is not about religion or politics, but rather "who can put food on the table." With no reliable opinion polls, it is impossible to predict the winner. Of the 13 candidates, there are five frontrunners: independent Islamist Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh; Muslim Brotherhood backed Mohamed Morsi; former Foreign Minister Amr Moussa; former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq; and leftist, Nasserist Hamdeen Sabbahi. If no candidate receives 50 percent of the vote, run-off elections will take place on June 16 and 17. After polling is completed, it is unclear what powers the incoming president will have, which will be determined when a new constitution is passed. This has raised concerns that the ruling military will fail to yield power to the new president.

Syria

Up to 25 people were killed across Syria on Tuesday. Government troops bombarded the central city of Rastan on Wednesday, shelling at the rate of "one shell a minute." Additionally, a bombing in Damascus killed five people. According to Syrian authorities, the bomb hit a police station. However photos indicate that in fact a restaurant was targeted. Meanwhile, the kidnapping of 11 to 13 Lebanese Shiite pilgrims near Aleppo has raised fears that the Syrian conflict is spreading into Lebanon, and has aggravated sectarian tensions in Beirut. The Lebanese pilgrims were traveling from Iran when their bus was intercepted. The Syrian government and opposition have traded accusations over the abductions. Hezbollah has said that it has been in communication with a Syrian fundamentalist group that has promised the release of the pilgrims.

Headlines  

  • The six world powers offered new proposals to reduce Iranian nuclear enrichment in talks that began in Baghdad today. But Iran is seeking lessened sanctions.  
  • Saudi Arabia has offered $3.5 billion in humanitarian assistance to Yemen.
  • A Turkish prosecutor is looking to indict four Israeli commanders allegedly involved in the 2010 raid on a Gaza bound aid flotilla that resulted in the deaths of nine Turks.
  • Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu delayed a vote on a bill that would sanction some illegal settlements.

Arguments and Analysis

‘Historic Election in Egypt is only the beginning’ (The National)

"Egyptians have voted before, but never like this. Beginning today, Egyptians will be able to cast their votes for a handful of viable candidates. The outcome is unknown. If none of the 13 candidates garners more than 50 per cent of the vote (which seems probable), a run-off will take place in a month. By the time summer arrives, Egypt should have its first democratically elected president…Egyptians have plenty of reasons to congratulate themselves. But whoever becomes president will not have long to bask in victory. The twin pillars of security and the economy need to be rebuilt swiftly. Egyptians don’t feel safe: crime has risen and there are fears of sectarian strife. Lax policing means that a once-stable social fabric is strained by fear."

Long-Term Uncertainty Remains in Nuclear Talks With Iran’ (Tony Karon, Time Magazine, Global Spin)

"Anyone banking on a big-win breakthrough in Wednesday’s nuclear talks with Iran will likely find themselves in the same boat as investors who bet on an instant surge in the Facebook stock price last week. If there’s value to be found in nuclear negotiations with Iran, then – like an investment in Facebook – it’s likely to emerge over time. And in both cases, even the long-term outcome remains uncertain…Nobody is expecting a deal in Baghdad beyond another round of talks to be held within a matter of weeks. Nor are Western negotiators unaware of the pitfalls of an open-ended process that doesn’t substantially alter the status quo. The key to meaningful progress may depend less on trust and accord, as much as it will be based on the shared sense that the alternative to a peaceful solution may be too ghastly to contemplate."

‘Egypt’s revolution won’t end with the Presidential election’ (Jack Shenker, The Guardian)

"Travel north-east up the river to Damietta, and you’ll find Egyptians who have been blocking ports and facing down tanks in protest at the pollution of a nearby foreign-owned chemical factory. You can sail south to Qena, where locals have occupied railway lines and threatened to sever the electricity supply running from the Aswan dam to the north. From those employed directly by the state – like the central security force conscripts who mutinied a fortnight ago – to those locked stubbornly outside it, such as the Bedouins of Dabaa on the Mediterranean coastline who recently stormed a government nuclear plant and blew up an under-construction reactor to demonstrate against the illegal appropriation of their land, Egyptians are asserting control over their communities, their livelihoods and their future. Forget Shafiq’s advertising hoardings – the revolution is everywhere and it is potent. It encompasses the educated middle-classes as well as the urban and rural poor, and while subalterns may make contingent and strategic alliances with a wide variety of political forces – from political Islamists to former Mubarak acolytes – in the long-term the inability of those forces to even articulate a language of genuine change, never mind actually deliver it, means that rapid mobilisation of protests on the street is always only a single volatile moment away."

–By Jennifer Parker and Mary Casey

<p>Mary Casey-Baker is the editor of Foreign Policy’s Middle East Daily Brief, as well as the assistant director of public affairs at the Project on Middle East Political Science and assistant editor of The Monkey Cage blog for the Washington Post. </p> Twitter: @casey_mary

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