Egypt held its first round of elections for members of its lower house of parliament in early December. While significant, the vote is only the first step towards democracy.
Two subsequent rounds will be held later this month and in January 2012 for Egyptians from other districts. After this, elections will be held for the upper house of parliament and the Shura Council, followed by the presidential election in the summer.
Once all the elections have been completed, the new government will need to consolidate its power, a move which the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (Scaf) may resist. Scaf has already questioned the legitimacy of the results in the first round of the lower house parliamentary elections as a reflection of the will of the people.
So far, Islamist parties have taken the lead and are tipped to gain an even greater share of the votes in the following rounds. Scaf has issued a statement saying that it intends to control the process of writing a constitution to contain the power of Islamist parties. The statement may have been made to reassure Western governments that Egypt will not be taken over by radical Islam. Such issues are particularly important for Egypt’s army as it holds significant commercial interests, which would be damaged if investor confidence is dented by the emergence of a new radical leadership.
In any case, the party that wins and the individual who is elected president will face harsh economic conditions that need immediate attention. These economic imperatives will constrain the government, meaning that some of its intended programmes will not be achieved. In this sense, the transition is just beginning.