Comparing the Exceptional Elections in Egypt and Greece

Posted: 16th June 2012

Even closely contested elections are anticipated moments, but for two countries, Egypt and Greece, this weekend’s voting results mark critical moments for major transformations: political transition after the Arab Spring and the economic survival of the eurozone. Moreover, the first rounds of both elections have delivered plenty of unexpected twists. To minimize surprise, let’s examine what the data shows about their overlapping stories.

Current Context in Both Countries

In Egypt, the political processes is rapidly going off track: yesterday, the Supreme Court issued two rulings — one that disqualified a third of the members elected to Parliament, which effectively dissolves it, and the other which overturned a law that would have prevented the presidential candidacy of Ahmed Shafiq, a former Mubarak regime loyalist.

In Greece, the charismatic leader of the left-leaning Syriza party, Alexis Tspiras, has been campaigning on a strong anti-austerity platform — garnering a strong reaction from the European Union — whereas New Democracy and Pasok are generally supportive of the measures. A number of key events lead up to and will follow this weekend’s election.

Greece: Will The Victory Be Decisive?

Since  the surprise success of the Syriza party, analysts, scholars, investors, and journalists have been speculating about the implications of Greece exiting the eurozone — including on this blog a few weeks ago. By most accounts, Greece will need a bailout, which requires stringent economic measures, which only a majority coalition government can agree to (and enforce).

A quick comparison of media sentiment over the past 30 days tells the story of each party’s messages and challenges:

Simplifying the complexity of political dynamics and coalition-building, there are three outcomes to consider: a big victory by the Syriza party, a win by the New Democracy with sufficient support from Pasok, or a New Democracy victory without enough Pasok support. We’ll leave the analysis of horse-trading for pundits and experts on Greek politics and see what the data shows for the next few days.

It is clear the Tspiras is getting more mentions (by a factor of 2.5) than his counterparts in other parties, but that indicator alone is not sufficient to call any election. The polls are unreliably close and some are even considering using the weather or soccer. What does this mean? With such a tight race, it is more than likely that neither party will get a majority (151 out of 300 seats), however, Greek politics provides a resolution: the party with the most votes gets a bonus of 50 votes, which may be enough for a majority.

Egypt: Echoes of Mubarak Regime and Muslim Brotherhood’s Boycott?

After Thursday’s rulings, uncertainty returned to the Egyptian political scene: would people protest the military rulers, would the presidential election even continue, or would a new parliament be elected at all? The power struggle is characterized by the two remaining presidential candidates: former regime members (e.g. Ahmed Shafiq) and increasingly powerful Islamists (e.g. Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood). The data quickly tells the story of the past few weeks:

While members of the Muslim Brotherhood have called for a boycott and withdrawal of Morsi from the race, lately, the focus has been on the trial of Hosni Mubarak. Up until the verdict was announced on June 2nd, Mubarak’s legacy was the backdrop of the presidential race. Subsequently, however, Mubarak’s regime and those associated with it (e.g. Shafiq) raise questions of transitional justice and continuation of corruption and repression. More simply, did the revolution fail?

Time will tell us the answer, but we need more of a future to counterbalance the past. Protesters, politicos, and press polarize over Mubarak’s trial verdict. History is not too far behind these elections; Mubarak’s government still elicits strong, divided reactions. Given the Supreme Court’s recent ruling, some wonder if the military is slowly trying to consolidate its power over the transition process.

As the world awaits Egypt’s election results, the military may already have executed a smooth, silent coup.  The military has repeatedly asserted itself over the past 60 days — and the effect is visible as a marked increase in the frequency and volume of online momentum:

The other Arab Spring countries watch Egypt fight to maintain political order, wondering if their futures will dim or brighten with the outcome of Egypt’s presidential election.

Parallel Political Pursuits and Complementary Economic Grievances

Given the importance of each of these polls to their respective regions and globally, one might wonder if their outcomes influence one another, or, at least, the populaces know that the world is watching their countries in parallel. In Recorded Future’s tool, it is possible enter that country (“Greece”) into the Source Country field, which gives a visualization of data from sources based in that country.

We see that there is not very much general coverage of the Egyptian elections in Greece, though there is particular focus on the Muslim Brotherhood’s ascendance to power. If we trade the two countries — that is, examine the Egyptian coverage of Greek elections — we find that the specter of financial contagion spreading through Europe indirectly affects Egypt’s economic health as well.

When looking for an overlap, we can also narrow the search results by Entity: search for all data referring to the Egyptian election and then select “Greece” to highlight the data points that mention both countries. Not surprisingly, most of the stories center around anticipating the economic impact of uncertain political outcomes.

It is also possible to look at the entire set of results around the Greek election and use the source map to highlight those stories coming from Egypt. Yet another, more visually provoking method is to use the network map, to view the entities that connect these two countries. Looking ahead, the upcoming G-20 summit is the clearest nexus of where the outcomes of these two elections might compound one another, though one might also look at the energy supply provided by Egypt. (Here is a list of key events before and after the Greek election.)

Conclusion: Watch Events Before They Unfold

Despite the political, historical, and economic contexts and implications, the elections in these two countries parallel each other in important ways. Elections in both democratic nations are represent a battle between old institutions and residual corruption left by previous governments and are bellwethers for other countries in their region — Greece for Spain and other bailout recipients and Egypt for Libya and other Arab Spring transitions.

Political and financial significance notwithstanding, these two elections challenge conventional notions of forecasting elections based on a combination of polls, economic health, history, sentiment, and personalities. With Recorded Future, the savvy election-watcher can aggregate, visualize, and analyze events before they unfold.