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Election Delay Raises Questions About Egypt's Stability

  • Elizabeth Arrott

Egypt's President Mohamed Mursi at the presidential palace in Cairo, October 8, 2012 file photo.

Egypt's President Mohamed Mursi at the presidential palace in Cairo, October 8, 2012 file photo.

The decision this week to further delay Egypt's parliamentary elections, now expected to be held late this year, is prolonging political uncertainty in a nation under transition.

In the latest blow to hopes of a quick resolution to Egypt's political crisis, President Mohamed Morsi said voting for a new legislature could be delayed until October.

The elections, most recently delayed from April, are meant to represent the last stage in the overhaul of the Egyptian political scene, with Morsi elected the first post-revolution president last June, and a new, controversial, constitution adopted in December.

A key loan under negotiation with the International Monetary Fund is predicated on progress toward political stability.

Professor Hassan Nafae of Cairo University says that even without the delay, the transition process has been troubled.

"It was up the president to complete the formation of the institutions. But as a matter of fact, he has not been able to do that in a good way because the constitution has been drafted and adopted through a referendum before it had a real consensus," said Nafae.

Political analyst and publisher Hisham Kassem says the delay could hurt the Islamist parties that dominate government, including the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, with a decline in popular support as economic and security problems mount. But he argues that may be neutralized by disarray in the opposition.

"We have seen very poor performance of the Brotherhood matched by very poor performance by the opposition," he said.

Opponents of Morsi got a boost this week when a court struck down his decision to dismiss the government's long-serving prosecutor general and replace him with a candidate of his own.

The firing came under sweeping powers Morsi granted himself last November, and the reversal raised hopes other decisions taken under that mandate might also be put to judicial review.

Some opponents argue the rushed-through constitution should be subject to such reconsideration.

While the polarization between Morsi and his opponents have led to street battles in recent months, publisher Kassem remains optimistic that stability will prevail.

"The only positive thing here is that there is still an attempt and enough foundations to prevent the country from going into a civil war or into chaos," said Kassem.

Whether that will be enough to stem periodic violence from worsening before elections in October, will be keenly watched by the IMF as negotiations on the economic bailout continue.