Welcome to what may be the most confusing week of Egypt's
troubled transition to democracy. If you've been following the news, you
probably know that the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohammed Morsi and Mubarak-era
Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq are
competing in a run-off election on Saturday and Sunday to determine the
country's next president. But the political significance of this week's packed
calendar of events goes far beyond the ballot box -- and has only been further
complicated by the news that Hosni Mubarak has entered a coma.
Today, an Egyptian court held
a hearing on the politically-charged "Battle of the Camel" case. Shafiq,
who was premier at the time, was supposed to testify but did not appear -- not
a great surprise, as it's not very presidential to appear in court speaking
about one's role in a
bloody attack on anti-government protesters five days before the election.
Egypt's political forces also continued
to wrangle over the makeup of the assembly to draft the new constitution, as liberal
groups accused Islamists of wanting
to dominate the process.
On Tuesday, the two candidates will
stage what Egyptian papers are calling an "indirect debate." This is code
for "not a debate at all": Morsi and Shafiq will be interviewed at the same
time on different channels. The reasons why they won't face off directly is
unclear -- perhaps due to mutual antagonism, or perhaps because the first
debate between Amr Moussa and Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh didn't help either
On Wednesday, everyone will rest up, try to decipher the
candidates' statements in the Tuesday "debate," and react to whatever crises
have popped up in the last 48 hours.
On Thursday, Egyptian politics heads to the courtroom. The Supreme
Constitutional Court will
consider whether the law governing the parliamentary election was
constitutional -- if it declares the law invalid, the Islamist-dominated
legislature would be disbanded. The court will also determine the constitutionality
of a "political exclusion" law that would ban Shafiq from the race. If the court rules the law is valid, the election would be scrapped
and the process would start from scratch. The judiciary's reputation for
objectivity has not exactly been bolstered in recent days, as the president of
the judge's association declared
"we are people of politics," and accused the Muslim Brotherhood of carrying out
systematic plan meticulously designed to destroy this country."
Friday is the last day of what has become an increasingly
acrimonious campaign. The two candidates are slinging dirt against each other
as the campaign enters its home stretch: Morsi accused
Shafiq of covering up evidence about the culprits behind last year's crackdown,
while Shafiq blamed
the Brotherhood of killing protesters during the "Battle of the Camel." This
sort of invective will only escalate further, if that's possible, by week's end.
Once the weekend rolls around, Egyptians go to the polls to
choose between the campaign's two most polarizing candidates. We may be in for
a tumultuous week -- but the mutual antagonism between Egypt's rival political
forces and the basic questions that hang over its new institutions won't be
resolved in seven short days.