Why Egypt's presidential election matters

Egyptians on Wednesday and Thursday vote to elect their first president since the fall of Hosni Mubarak on Feb. 11, 2011 after 29 years of his authoritarian rule. A second round is likely to be held between the two top vote-getters on June 16-17. Here is a look at what's at stake in the election.


A victory by the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood's candidate Mohammed Morsi will likely mean a greater emphasis on religion in government. The group, which already dominates parliament, says it won't mimic Saudi Arabia and force women to wear veils or implement harsh punishments like amputations. But it says it does want to implement a more moderate version of Islamic law, which liberals fear will mean limitations on many rights. Two secular front-runners in the race say they will prevent Islamization, but that will likely mean frictions with parliament if they win.


The two secular front-runners, former prime minister Ahmed Shafiq and former foreign minister Amr Moussa, both are veterans of Mubarak's regime and their opponents fear they will do little to change Mubarak's autocratic system. The security forces and intelligence agencies that long prevented real change in Egypt remain in place, and there has been little move to end entrenched corruption and the intertwining of business interests and politics. The military, which took power after Mubarak's fall, is due to hand over authority to the vote's winner. But it is not clear how much power the generals will yield. Whoever wins, Egypt likely faces struggles between the different power centers.


Many of the candidates in the race have called for amendments in Egypt's 1979 peace treaty with Israel, which remains deeply unpopular. None is likely to dump it, but a victory by any of the Islamist or leftist candidates in the race could mean strained ties with Israel and a stronger stance in support of the Palestinians in the peace process. Shafiq and Moussa, and ironically the Brotherhood, are most likely to maintain the alliance with Washington.