Watching Egypt Reform
IFES Vice President for Programs Michael Svetlik was in Egypt during the first phase of the Shura Council elections, which took place January 29-30. He accompanied three members of IFES’ Board of Directors to Egypt who evaluated our progress in assisting electoral stakeholders implement credible electoral processes - critical to the current political transition.
This was not his first trip to the Arab nation. Today he answers some questions about Egypt and the changes he has witnessed over the past few years.
IFES: The Shura Council elections saw a lower turnout than the People's Assembly elections, why was that?
MS: Based on what I was able to gather from my discussions with Egyptians, the low turnout was due to two factors.
First, voters were not motivated to participate because the Shura Council is a consultative body that wields relatively little power in the Egyptian parliamentary system.
Second, voter turnout was low due to an increasing sense of voter fatigue. Successive phases of elections, first to the lower house or People's Assembly, and now the two-phase elections to the Shura Council have taken their toll on Egyptian enthusiasm for voting.
IFES: How was security during the elections?
MS: Security was a not a particularly pressing issue in the Shura Council elections. The low stakes and low turnout contributed to a peaceful, uneventful first phase of voting.
IFES: These elections are to take place in multiple phases. What comes next?
MS: The second phase of the Shura Council elections took place two weeks after the first round: February 14 and 15.
IFES: When will Egypt have a new constitution and a new government?
MS: It is widely anticipated that Egypt will have a new constitution and a newly elected president by this summer. The presidential elections are now expected for late May or early June, while the constitution will be debated by a constitutional committee that will be seated once both phases of elections of the Shura Council are completed.
A constitutional referendum will be conducted, at the earliest, in March or April.
IFES: You have been to Egypt numerous times, have you noticed a changed in the population since Mubarak left office?
MS: My first visit was in 2009 and not many people with whom I met at that time foresaw the dramatic changes that have taken place in Egypt over the past year.
In my three trips to Egypt over the past year, I have been struck by the contrast in the outlook of average Egyptians compared to those I met only two years ago. People, not only the activists that have called for change, are, for the most part, hopeful and eager to exercise their right to have a choice in how and by whom they are governed.
IFES: You were in Cairo during the one-year anniversary of the protests. What did you see?
MS: My arrival in Cairo coincided with the one year anniversary of the uprisings that led to the ouster of Hosni Mubarak. Driving from the airport that night in an otherwise sleeping city, my taxi driver drove through the area around Tahir Square en route to my hotel. For blocks around the square, I saw revelers streaming towards Tahir. People of all ages walked peacefully. It was a festive atmosphere. People were there to celebrate the anniversary of taking back their government. The entire area around the square had a carnival-like feel.