Egyptian elections and Syrian uprising

Updated On: Jun 27, 2012

While Mursi takes active measures towards inclusion, the contested elections and controversial constitutional declaration leave the strength of Egyptian democracy in doubt. Syrian violence continues to rise, while ally Iran looks for political solution and Turkey seeks NATO support.

Emphasis on national unity

In Egypt, after a hotly contested election, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Mursi won 51.73% of the vote and was declared elected President on Sunday, 24 June , defeating former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq. After the results of the election, Mursi resigned from his positions within the Muslim Brotherhood, and pledged to be a president “for all Egyptians” and emphasized the importance of national unity. He also praised the role of the protesters in last year’s uprising against former President Hosni Mubarak, stating that without these “martyrs” he would not have been elected, and the role of the country’s armed forces.

A spokesperson for Morsi has stated that his first appointments as president-elect will be a woman and a Coptic Christian as his two vice-presidents, although the names had not been finalized. This would mark the first time in Egypt’s history that either a woman or a Coptic Christian has occupied such a high position in the executive branch. This decision is a marked show of unity and effort at consensus, supporting Mursi’s commitment to being a president “for all Egyptians”.

Contested political framework

However, there is some concern over the true impact of the elections, as Egypt’s senior military officers awarded themselves sweeping political powers in a constitutional declaration that cemented military authority. This declaration came as early presidential results put Morsi ahead of Shafik, a champion of the old regime. Pro-change and human rights activists have said that the declaration rendered the handover of power meaningless, in that it severely limited presidential authority, while the Muslim Brotherhood called the declaration “null and unconstitutional”. However, due to the complex legal and political situation in the country, the supreme administrative court has delayed its ruling on the dissolution of parliament until 7 July and its ruling on the recent constitutional declaration until 10 July. 

President declares state of war in Syria

In Syria, President Bashar al-Assad has declared that his country is at war as the worst fighting of the 16-month conflict reached the outskirts of the capital. This declaration marked a change in rhetoric, as Assad had long dismissed the conflict as the work of scattered militants funded from abroad. Furthermore, he encouraged “all policies and all sides and all sectors” to focus on winning the war.

The United Nations accuses Syrian forces of killing more than 10,000 people during the conflict, which began with a popular uprising and has built up into an armed insurgency against four decades of rule by Assad and his father. The peace plan backed by Kofi Annan has been abandoned in practice, as the peacekeeping chief said that it was too dangerous for a UN observer team to resume monitoring a ceasefire. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a group which compiles reports from rebels, said that 115 people, including 74 civilians, were killed across Syria on Tuesday, 26 June, making it one of the deadliest days of the conflict. It also said that clashes took place near Republican Guard positions, suggesting a growing confidence among the rebels. Combined with Assad’s declaration of a state of war, these numbers point towards an increasing engagement level on both sides of the conflict.

Iran’s support for Syria dampened by strategic interests

Iran has stood by Bashar al-Assad since the beginning of the uprising. While facing mounting criticism, Iranian leaders have defended their position by emphasizing that Assad is intent on implementing reforms that have the support of the a majority of Syrian people. However, there has been increasing frustration with the slow pace of his political reforms. These were the lifting of the decades-old emergency law and amendments to the constitution, which were approved by popular referendum in February and led to multi-party parliamentary elections. However, these elections were dominated by the Ba’athists, which undermined Assad’s declared commitment to ending the Ba’ath party’s monopoly on power.

In the past few months, Iranian diplomats have stepped in and contacted the Syrian opposition, inside and outside Syria, to assist the reform and facilitate negotiations between the president and the opposition. However, the multi-party elections were devoid of meaningful participation by opposition groups. Iranian leaders see the conflict as straining its broader strategic interests in the region. In its strategic thinking, it does not see its fundamental interest in a security crackdown, but considers a political solution essential for long-term stability, intersecting with current international diplomatic efforts.

Airspace dispute brought to NATO

The situation in Syria is further complicated by the Syrian shooting down of a Turkish warplane on Friday, 22 June. Turkish Prime Minister has since ordered his armed forces to react to any threat from Syria near the border. Turkey also summoned NATO members to an urgent meeting in Brussels and the organization called the incident, which resulted in the death of two Turkish airmen, “unacceptable” and expressed strong support for Turkey, but did not threaten retaliation.

Report: “Egypt's president-elect Mursi calls for national unity” [BBC, 25 June 2012]
Report: “Egypt's generals act to negate outcome of presidential poll” [The Guardian, 18 June 2012]
Report: “Mohamed Morsi to pick woman and Christian as Egypt’s vice-presidents” [The Guardian, 26 June 2012]
Report: “Assad ups rhetoric with ‘real state of war’ declaration” [The Guardian, 27 June 2012]
Report: “Syria in state of war, says Bashar al-Assad” [BBC, 27 June 2012]
Report: “Iran is trying to broker a political solution in Syria” [The Guardian, 26 June 2012]

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