Despite the violence from street protests that left some 38 people dead over the last two weeks, Egyptians went to the polls today for the first round of parliamentary elections. As the website for the semi-official Egyptian daily Al-Ahram notes, there will be three rounds of elections for the lower chamber of parliament, or people’s assembly, from today until January 10, followed by another three rounds for the upper chamber, known as the shura council, from January 9 to March 5.
Samuel Tadros explains over at National Review that the “elections are important not only because they are the first after the fall of Mubarak, but because the parliament they elect will be responsible for choosing the committee that will write Egypt’s new constitution. Victory today for any group means the ability to set the rules of the game in the future.”
That future, according to Tadros, is not rosy for anyone who hoped the January 25 revolution that toppled the former U.S. ally would lead to a blossoming of liberal democracy in Egypt. “The question,” writes Tadros, in the second entry of his invaluable two-part series, “is not whether the Islamists will win, but what the size of their victory is going to be… It is quite apparent to anyone that has been paying attention that their victory will be nothing short of a tsunami.” Accordingly, Tadros continues, “The real battle is not going to be between the Islamists and the imagined liberals. The struggle in most Egyptian governates will be between the Muslim Brotherhood’s Democratic Alliance and the more radical Salafist Islamic Alliance.”
And yet, whoever winds up governing the new Egypt, will be steering a heavily damaged ship of state. “Before Mubarak's overthrow,” Judith Miller writes, “the World Bank and IMF considered Egypt one of the safest and best places in the Middle East which to invest. Indeed, foreign investment poured into the country.” But those days are long gone.
As Miller writes: “financial analyst David P. Goldman (Spengler) reported that Egypt's stock exchange fell 11 percent in the first three days of the week and that the Egyptian pound was on the verge of collapse. Residents and foreigners were dumping the Egyptian pound and buying dollars and Euros -- yes, even Euros. It was becoming impossible to transport bank notes across the country, he noted, quoting Al Ahram, Egypt's largest state-owned Arabic newspaper, as mobs of Egyptians were attacking the armed cars that try to transport them to branches of Cairo banks.
“The Wall Street Journal has disclosed equally disturbing news: While the central bank has been frantically buying pounds to prevent the currency's collapse as money flees the country, the acting government has burned through 40 percent of Egypt's foreign currency reserves. Egypt now has about $22 billion left – enough to cover just four months of imports, the Journal quotes Magda Kandil, director of the Egyptian center for Economic Studies, as estimating.”
Now that we know what sort of Egypt the Islamists are likely to inherit, the question is: what do they intend to do about it?