What to make of the elections in Egypt?

Preliminary results from the first of many rounds of voting are expected to be announced tomorrow — see this post to understand how convoluted the system is — but this much we know already: turnout was high and the exuberance on the streets was infectious as people cast the first decisive vote of their lives.  We also know that the Muslim Brotherhood (in the form of the Freedom and Justice Party, FJP) can live up to its formidable reputation as a highly organized retail-level political operator, providing the sort of invaluable services at polling stations — manning computers with voting lists and guiding people to the correct station — that, by rights, should have been performed by independent officials but that the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF)  failed to organize.  What we don’t know is whether the electoral process is worthy of the hopes invested in it.

In the days preceding the vote, there was a growing sense (led by the protesters in Tahrir) that the rules governing these elections were so opaque and the  SCAF so incompetent to administer them that the results would be illegitimate.  They may still be, depending on what shenanigans take place in the counting, but there’s no question the sheer scale of the turnout has legitimized them to some degree.  The sight of millions of Egyptians being able to cast votes that are something more than mere theater is so novel and edifying that it has to be inspiring to any democrat.  But there’s no denying, as well, that when Mubarak stepped down on 11 February one hoped that what lay ahead for Egypt was an electoral process with more integrity than this one has and that the military would not undermine them by making so transparent an effort to shield its lavish and entirely unmerited privileges from government oversight.  The window of opportunity to improve the electoral process has probably closed: the qualified success of this first round will make it more difficult for liberal groups and civil society activists to continue to argue that the whole process should be scrapped and reconstituted under civilian administration.  Let’s hope, then, that the results produce a genuinely representative government and that the military submits to its authority.

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For a reminder of why the SCAF is not to be trusted, watch this chilling video of the Egyptian army running over civilians with armored personnel carriers.

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