The challenges ahead for Egypt’s first democratically elected president

Report by Jonathan Couturier

Mohammed Mursi has become Egypt’s first democratically elected president – but while he may have been chosen as the people’s representative, the country still has to contend with the powerful Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), who may thwart any attempt at change. The panel was divided over Mursi’s ability to bring the country together and to pursue the desperately needed reforms to security, the economy and the political landscape. 

Dr Maha Azzam from Chatham House and Dr Omar Ashour from Exeter University were both concerned by the enormity of the task faced by Mursi. But they remained hopeful that he would succeed in moving away from a military dictatorship so long as he could mobilise popular support.  They both argued that his democratic mandate was already a major political and institutional step in the right direction, however he faced challenges in steering the institutions of state away from the shadows of Mubarak’s regime. 

Tariq Ramadan from Oxford University struck a more pessimistic note, arguing that Mursi’s election was nothing more than a symbol behind which the military continued to govern. The panel seemed to agree with his claim that the military had their finger on the ‘reset button’, and could reverse democratic reform at any moment. 

Khalid Abdalla, a British-Egyptian actor, producer and activist also suggested that the political transition was more symbolic than real, and that military were still ‘writing the rules of the game’. However he passionately argued that the greatest change occurred in the hearts and minds of the people: they were no longer afraid, and would continue to challenge the military – a point upon which all the panel agreed.

Carina Kamel, a senior correspondent for Al Arabiya drew attention to the loss of trust suffered by the Muslim Brotherhood, and argued that it was a divisive force in Egypt – making it even harder for Mursi to govern. Her claims split the panel, underlining the uncertainty surrounding the Brotherhood’s ability to govern and stand up to the military. She then rounded on Egypt’s economy, its dire state and the extent to which it was controlled by the Generals – further undermining Muri’s mandate.

The panel were united in their analysis of external influences on Egypt. They agreed that in the past the US was never far behind Egypt’s military, but warned that their influence could decline as Egypt sought to forge new links with emerging powers. 

The audience made incisive interventions, drawing attention to the struggle of women under an Islamist government, the tendency for military regimes to endure, while pushing the panel to talk more about Egypt’s economy and its relations with the military. 

Watch the full event here: