Egyptian Elections Highlight the Crossroads of their Relationship with the United States

[/caption]

Last week voting began in Egyptian elections to choose their new president. After the first round of voting, the top two vote receivers were Ahmed Shafiq, former prime minister under Hosni Mubarak, and Mohammad Morsi of the Freedom and Justice Party and the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The initial results surprised observers. According to David Kenner of Foreign Policy:

“In Sharqiya governorate, which was suppossedly Muslim Brotherhood territory, Shafiq came out with a 90,000 vote lead over Morsi. In Gharbiya governorate, another area dominated by the Brotherhood and the Salafist al-Nour party in the parliamentary elections, Shafiq crushed Morsi by nearly 200,000 votes.”

The early reaction suggests a few things. It’s too early tell with any certainty but support for Shafiq, an apparatchik of the old regime, may indicate that although it’s good that Mubarak is gone there are constituencies that long for the stability of his era. Not surprisingly, Egypt’s ancient Coptic Christian minority, which enjoyed a sizable degree of protection under Mubarak, overwhelmingly supported Shafiq.

On the other hand, victory for Morsi likely foments an alteration in both the American-Egyptian and Egyptian-Israeli relationship. Under Shafiq, the status quo would remain, as evidenced by his statement that his first international trip as president would be to the United States.

In either scenario, there is bound to be friction because the results indicate that there is still a wide chasm over the future of their country. To top it all off, Egypt is still without a constitution and without any precedent in this regime it is impossible to tell what powers the presidential office will hold. And the impact for this year’s American presidential election isn’t hard to see.

At first glance our presidential election, with the main focus on jobs and the economy, seems like an unusual one to be roiled by foreign policy issues. Both major party candidates are largely in agreement with each other, but Mitt Romney manages to keep inserting foreign policy into the debate as he once again asserted that Russia is America’s “number one geopolitical foe.”

Romney is likely to exploit either outcome against Obama. If Shafiq wins it’s a sign that Obama did not have to leave America’s long-time ally high and dry. If Morsi wins and the US-Egypt and Egypt-Israel relationship is threatened, then Romney will be well-positioned to blame Obama’s inaction in Mubarak’s hour of need or Obama’s so-called Cairo speech, which some have credited or blamed for sparking the Arab Spring.

American democracy promotion over the last decade-plus has wrought disastrous results. With the advent of democratic Egyptian elections, another disaster looms. A Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated president coming to power in Egypt, a country where the Brotherhood already controls a majority of parliamentary seats, is an undisputed repudiation of the status quo in American-Egyptian relations. A Shafiq victory might produce short-term benefits to the American side, but even in this scenario it may merely exacerbate tensions and re-create the atmosphere which led to the protests in Tahrir Square in the first place.