Foreign Policy Chat - Egypt Dissolves Parliament and Clinton to Attend UN Climate Summit

Egyptian Supreme Court dissolves Parliament Days Before Presidential Election

Just two days before polls open, Egypt's upcoming presidential election was dealt a new set of challenges this week that could delay the run-off contest between Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood and Ahmed Shafik, prime minister under former President Hosni Mubarak. Adding to a series of controversial decisions that have come to characterize the election, the military-led government re-imposed martial law on Wednesday, which many see as an attempt to continue the emergency law that expired on May 31 for at least the next six months. The government's decree preceded two much-anticipated decisions released today by the Egyptian Supreme Court. The first ruling decided that Shafik can continue to run in the election, declaring unconstitutional the "Political Exclusion Law" that bars ex-regime leaders from running. The second ruling declared one-third of the elected legislature illegally seated, and then dissolved the entire parliament. New elections must now be held for all 498 seats.

The contest between Morsi and Shafik has divided voters. These candidates are thought to represent the largely minority views, but were elevated above the pack of primary candidates as three moderates split the centrist votes. Some fear that Morsi will introduce more religious influence into the government and limit the freedoms of the Egyptian people, while others fear that Shafik will re-introduce elements of the authoritarian Mubarak regime that was overthrown last year. Many of the Supreme Court judges, appointed by Mubarak and supported by the military, are thought to be suspicious of the Islamists. They're afraid they would lose power if the Muslim Brotherhood comes to control the Presidency as well as the parliament.

Regardless of which candidate one may prefer, the Court's decision today is a blatant attempt to delay the election in light of preliminary election results earlier this week that show a surprising, clear victory for Morsi among ex-pat voters. Fearing that remnants of the old regime may finally be nearing their dissolution a year and a half after the revolution, the interim government is working until the last possible minute to achieve a Shafik victory.

Clinton - not Obama - to attend UN sustainability conference; critics call for more US commitment

The State Department announced Tuesday that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will lead the U.S. delegation for the United Nations sustainability conference in Rio de Janeiro, June 20-22. Over 130 governments plan to send representatives to the Rio+20 summit, which will be one of the largest conferences in U.N. history, according to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

The decision to send Clinton, however, must have been to the disappointment of the Secretary General, who called for President Obama to attend the conference in order to establish a stronger U.S. role in efforts to address climate change. Environmental NGOs had expressed a similar hope that Obama's participation would give the conference more weight. The choice of delegation adds to critics' already low expectations for the summit, believing that governments are focusing their attention on the economic crisis at the expense of environmental and development concerns. The announcement comes the same week that Senator Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) criticized the amount of foreign assistance directed toward climate change programs.

The Rio+20 summit, however, should not be an occasion for passive participation. Twenty years after Rio's historic Earth Summit, this return to Rio is an opportunity to move forward on the problems introduced at the 1992 conference, including environmentally-friendly ways to reduce global poverty. The Nation recently compared the 1992 and 2012 summits, pointing out that President Obama has not received the same public criticism that President George H.W. Bush received for downplaying an environmental conference in an election year. Without public pressure and active leadership, it is possible that the outcome of the 2012 summit will mirror the same stagnation on crucial development issues as its ancestor did two decades ago.