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Tensions High in Egypt Ahead of Post-Mubarak Presidential Election

June 15, 2012 at 12:00 AM EST
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JEFFREY BROWN: Tensions were also high in Egypt today ahead of this weekend’s first presidential election since the fall of Hosni Mubarak.

More than 200 policemen were deployed outside parliament to block lawmakers from entering. That came after a court ruled yesterday that recent parliamentary elections were invalid.

We begin with a report from Jonathan Rugman of Independent Television News in Cairo.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: In the ballroom of a smart Cairo hotel, Egypt’s high society seem to be scenting victory. One of their own, Hosni Mubarak’s last prime minister, is running for president.

Among those waiting to welcome the candidate are two of the deposed dictator’s ministers, though neither wants to talk.

MAN: No, I’m sorry. I promised not to talk about the election, about anything.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: Can I talk to you?

MAN: No.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: The man they’re rooting for is Ahmed Shafiq, age 71, air marshal, retired. “The people want Shafiq,” they chant, in a bizarre echo of last year’s chants in Tahrir Square, bizarre because this man is about as far from last year’s youth-driven revolution as you can get.

On stage with him are President Sadat’s widow and the daughter of President Nasser, the founder of Egypt’s military state.

There is a long tradition of military men running Egypt, from your father to Sadat to Mubarak. It seems like we might have another one.

MONA NASSER, Daughter of Former President Nasser: No, no, no. No, no, it just came by chance.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: People think the military are pulling the strings.

MONA NASSER: No. The military are not pulling the strings. It’s Egypt. It’s the Egyptians.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: The people?

MONA NASSER: It’s the people who are pulling the strings.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: The graffiti in Tahrir Square tells a different story. In the last 48 hours, judges have dissolved Egypt’s first freely elected parliament, and emergency rule has been reimposed, leaving this man perhaps wondering if the scales of justice are permanently tilted against him.

He’s Mohammed Morsi, a professor of engineering, the Islamist candidate for president, in an election which puts religious and secular Egypt at political war. To his critics, Morsi is fundamentalism’s friendly face. To his supporters, he’s a revolutionary hero.

MAN: Morsi from the Tahrir Square, and Shafiq is coming from the old regime. Now I have no choice in choosing between Shafiq and Morsi. Now my choice is Morsi.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: In Tahrir itself, the grass has died. The young liberals who led the revolution have left their manifestos, but it’s a rather tacky tourist spot now, with street hawkers fiercely protecting their turf.

SHAHIRA AMIN read the news on state television until she resigned to join the uprising last year. Now she’s so disillusioned that she’s boycotting the presidential vote.

SHAHIRA AMIN, Former State Television Anchor: I’m very disappointed, very let-down. And I — you know, we had the revolution to have a secular, civil, democratic state. And then to end up with, you know, a Mubarak crony and an Islamist, none of the goals of the revolution have been fulfilled. And it’s a struggle.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: But maybe you were — maybe you were expecting too much.

SHAHIRA AMIN: We were expecting too much too quickly, yes. You know, Mubarak fell in just 18 days. And so expectations were high.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: In the bazaars of old Cairo, the divisions are steep. Some say a strong man like Air Marshal Shafiq will bring back tourists and investment.

MAN: He worked with Mubarak, but is not Mubarak. He worked with Mubarak, but he is not Mubarak.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: That’s good enough?

MAN: Yes.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: Others believing that Professor Morsi and his long-banned Muslim Brotherhood represent the true majority of Egypt’s 90 million people.

With Hosni Mubarak gone, Egyptians get to choose between two candidates for president for the very first time this weekend. But democracy has eluded this country for the last 7,000 years, and the old military guard who’ve ruled it for the last 60 are showing precious little sign of really letting go.