The evolution of Egypt into a democracy isn't going as swimmingly as many had hoped.
In the just completed presidential run-off election, Egyptian voters had a choice between bad and worse. Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood squared off against Ahmed Shafiq, who was Egyptian ruler Hosni Mubarak's last prime minister before Mubarak was ousted in February 2011. Shafiq was seen as an extension of the Mubarak regime, which fell following a public uprising. Morsi is a member of an Islamic fundamentalist organization, though he has avoided any indication that his administration would invoke stricter Islamic law provisions.
Who will end up the "winner" when final results are announced Thursday is anyone's guess. Morsi's camp contends its candidate has won 52 percent of the vote; Shafiq's camp contends its candidate won by about the same percentage.
And how much the winner will have won is debatable.
Meanwhile, the Egyptian courts have dissolved the nation's elected Parliament, with the nation's military leaders stepping in and authorizing themselves to have widespread authority over governmental affairs. The military has decided it will assume the authority of Parliament as it also stripped the incoming president of much of his power. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces said it will draft Egypt's new constitution and doesn't plan to be overseen by civilians.
The timing of the military leaders' decision on the power grab -- the day that polling ended in the presidential election -- has observers, including the Obama administration, concerned about who will actually be running Egypt. On Monday, the White House warned the military council that failure to hand over the reins of government to an elected civilian government could result in Egypt losing billion of dollars worth of economic and military aid from the United States.
And there the situation stands -- three different positions that appear to be much different in reality than what has been stated publicly.
Morsi, for instance, is saying the right things to imply a secular democratic government if he wins, but it's hard to believe that Islamic fundamentalism wouldn't be a growing influence in his administration, which wouldn't be positive for U.S.-Egyptian relations.
The military council, in affirming its plans to turn over power, does so with a wink. Mubarak only fell when the military leadership decided to allow him to fall. Whomever is president won't last long without the council's blessing. The military has been the power behind the government for decades, and that's unlikely to change.
It's also unlikely, particularly given the volatile situation in the region, that the United States will make good on any threats that would lessen its ties and influence with Egypt.
The actors on the Egyptian stage have changed, but the people in charge of the script and action -- the director and producers behind the curtains -- have not.
-- The Albany Herald Editorial Board