On Wednesday, Egyptians will head to the polls and for the first time in their modern history, will be able to choose their president. The importance of the moment cannot be overstated and policymakers and policy wonks alike will be watching from the U.S. to see the outcome of the race. What many of these people will not consider is that there will be many Egyptians eagerly watching for the U.S. response to the elections. The best policy recommendation can be summed up by what the Council on Foreign Relations’ Steven Cook said Tuesday at an event today in Washington DC, “Less is more.”
First, the U.S. has made some positive decisions with regards to Egypt. Although several Western countries have sent observers, the U.S. did not send official observers. This decision helps deflect claims of U.S. interference in the poll, and there are other countries and organizations monitoring the elections. Second, the U.S. has been consistent is supporting the elections, as opposed to casting doubts on them. This is important because while there have been all sorts of claims about vote rigging, it is better for the U.S. to wait on the outcome before attacking the polls.
There are a few best case and worst case scenarios for the U.S, even if American officials would never admit it. Without question, the most important thing is for there to be free and fair elections. Following that, the best case scenario would be a liberal and Islamist finish as the top two vote getters and move on to the next round. In this instance, the two candidates will provide a clear contrast, and neither Islamists nor liberals can cry foul.
On the other hand, there are several possible outcomes which can create a headache for the U.S, mostly because of the effect it would have in Egypt. The worst case scenario is if one candidate wins over 50% in the first round to avoid a run-off. Large segments of Egyptian society will most likely refuse the validity of the poll, as every opinion poll that has been taken shows no candidate receiving anywhere close to that percentage of the vote.
Second, if Ahmed Shafiq wins, there is likely to be a large movement against him, as multiple political groups have vowed to protest until he is removed. He said in response that he would stop protesters with the law, if need be. If Mohammed Morsi wins, then the Muslim Brotherhood will take the Presidency, a near majority in the parliament, and a huge percentage of the Constituent Assembly, tasked with writing the constitution. Allowing one group so much power cannot be a positive development for a country that recently ousted a dictator.
The most important thing American officials can do is remember one thing: this is an Egyptian election, not an American one. While a simple Google search will show the drum beat against the Muslim Brotherhood continues in the U.S, high-ranking officials both in the administration and in the Republican party are best to remain silent until the elections are decided. In the end, the best possible outcome is that the Egyptians vote and elect a president democratically. The best response from the U.S. government is to sit and watch.