The Egyptian presidential election appears to be democratic and competitive, but none of the major candidates were liberal democrats before the Arab Spring last year. Whoever wins, democratic activists will need to remain truly active.
The first round’s results may become available as soon as Friday. At the time of writing, a second round in June seems very likely. The victor will either be a former high official of the non-democratic Nasserite regime (most recently led by Hosni Mubarak) or by an anti-secularist Islamist.
It is remarkable that, for all the energy and excitement in the protests at Tahrir Square in Cairo, which were fascinating to much of the rest of the world, no single figure emerged from that milieu who could be a compelling, leavening, charismatic presence – no Danton, no Mandela, no Vaclav Havel – among a set of grey, staid presidential candidates.
The failure of the democratic activists to establish an effective electoral machine, however, is not surprising. There are different skills for staging surprising events and destabilizing a regime, on the one hand, and for gathering power brokers and building a political party, on the other. As a result, the networks that existed before the fall of Mr. Mubarak have reconstituted themselves, in new shapes.
Amr Moussa and Ahmed Shafiq are the two candidates that belonged to the authoritarian military regime that lasted from 1952 and arguably continues to exist in the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which now holds the executive power in Egypt. Anecdotal evidence suggests that some voters have shifted toward these two from the Muslim Brotherhood and the other Islamists who prevailed in the parliamentary elections.
Egypt’s true democrats should not try to endlessly repeat the Tahrir Square demonstrations. They should look for a leader who will galvanize a democratic movement and build a successful political party.
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