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Dunsmore: Egyptian Vote

12/02/11 7:55AM By Barrie Dunsmore
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(Host) Egyptians went to the polls this week for the first time since they overthrew dictator Hosni Mubarak last spring. But as commentator and former ABC News diplomatic correspondent Barrie Dunsmore tells us this morning , Egypt's journey to democracy remains long and uncertain.

(Dunsmore) For the first time in many decades, Egyptians began voting freely this week to choose a new parliament. As Americans should know from recent experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, voting and democracy are not synonymous. Still, seventy percent of eligible voters turned out and there was only minor sporadic violence. Given that just last week, dozens of Egyptians were killed in massive protests against the ruling military council, this first round of voting went better than most people expected. Yet the problems ahead are daunting.

Under a complicated system, the process of electing a lower chamber of parliament will take two months. Then two more months are scheduled for choosing the members of the upper house. At the end of March, the new parliament is supposed to select a 100 member body to write a new constitution.

While that constitutional commission ought to reflect the outcome of the parliamentary elections - it may not. That's because the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces - which assumed power after Mubarak's ouster- wants to dictate how the new constitution defines the role of the military. That proclamation was made on the eve of the parliamentary elections, setting off the deadly demonstrations of last week. And while the protesters did force the military to move up the presidential election from 2013 to June of 2012, the generals have not rescinded their demands that suggest they intend to stay in power indefinitely.

As the military effectively controls most of the Egyptian economy it has always been unclear if the Supreme Council would ever be willing to cede power to a civilian authority - and that remains a huge question mark.

Until now, the other big question has been just how influential Islamic political parties will be in defining the role of Islam in the constitution - and in the everyday lives of the people. As Egypt is a Muslim country and voters are now free to choose their representatives from among Islamists, it was almost inevitable Islamic candidates would end with up with a majority of parliamentary seats - and in preliminary voting counting they apparently have.

The Moslem Brotherhood - which was formed in Egypt in 1928 and is the best organized political movement in the country - got about forty percent in the early vote count. Now in the new Egypt, many younger Brotherhood members tend to be moderate and have expressed a willingness to share power with secular parties. On the other hand, the ultraconservative Salafists - who among other things want to ban alcohol, reduce women's rights and end the peace treaty with Israel - are apparently now a real factor in the political process.

The meaning of all of this will ultimately depend on the final balance among liberal, moderate and conservative Islamists. All we know for certain today is that Egypt is in major transition - and that the outcome of its new revolution is still very much in the process of being determined.

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