Mubarak trial verdict should shake up Egyptian presidential elections

Former presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahi joins protesters after the verdict in the trial of former President Hosni Mubarak in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, Saturday, June 2, 2012. Hosni Mubarak was sentenced to life in prison Saturday for failing to stop the killing of protesters during the uprising that forced him from power last year. By dusk, thousands filled Cairo's central Tahrir Square, the heart of last year's uprising, in a demonstration called by revolutionary groups and the powerful Muslim Brotherhood to vent anger over the acquittals. (AP Photo/Mohammed Abu Zaid)

I wrote today in my column about the unfortunate choice facing Egyptians in a presidential runoff election –  two candidates who stand for the unhappy past, not for reform and democratic values:

Egyptians must choose between Mohammed Morsi, an Islamist candidate backed by the Muslim Brotherhood, a group whose tight, closed organization and attitude towards Christians, women does not bode well for democracy, or whether to choose Ahmed Shafiq, a holdover from the deposed regime of Hosni Mubarak, who reeks of the old autocratic order that ruled by secret police repression.  

Unfortunately, the majority of voters who favored real change split their vote among three candidates, allowing these two to make the cut for a runoff.

Yesterday, just after I left the region, a court sentenced Mubarak and his longtime Interior Minister Habib al-Adly were sentenced to life imprisonment  but six police commanders – who are believed to have played roles in the over 800 deaths in the revolution were freed. This set off massive protests again in Tahrir Square and is likely to increase the vote for Morsi.

However, this unhappy situation may push real Egyptian reformers to do what they should have done in the first place: unite around certain democratic principles that they demand that both candidates endorse: including a civil (not religious) state; a pledge to set up a coalition government that would include women, youth, Christians, and representatives of all Egyptian political forces.  This would be aimed at preventing Islamists, or former regime forces, from dominating government.    

Another good idea, promoted by liberal political leader Mohamed ElBaradei, is pushing for a presidential council that would include the three defeated candidates in the first round of presidential elections, who represented moderate, liberal and leftist presidential forces. Hard to imagine either candidate accepting this proposal. Yet the situation in Cairo is so explosive right now, that it gives reformers unexpected leverage they can use against both candidates.