The expertise of American political consultants and the disbursement of millions of U.S. dollars appears to have been unable to prevent an Islamist victory in Egypt's first round of post-revolutionary elections.
The Obama administration designated some $200 million, as a baseline, for democracy building in Egypt ahead of this week's vote. Moreover, in a bid to counteract the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, groups such as the International Republican Institute focused on building up the country's nascent Western-leaning political parties.
Although this week's vote took place in only nine of the country's 27 provinces, some analysis of early returns indicates that the Freedom and Justice Party took 40 percent of the vote. Together with the Al Noor Salafi Muslim Party, the two groups of conservative Islamists will control close to 65 percent of the seats in the 498-seat People's Assembly, according to the New York Times.
The vote marks the country's first free election since former President Hosni Mubarak was toppled last February. The early results are striking because they're coming out of some of the more liberal regions of the country, including major cities such as Cairo and Alexandria.
The balloting took place amid a backdrop of political violence in Cairo as protesters continued to clash with security forces around Tahrir Square in the lead up to the vote. Many protesters expressed concerns about the military's rule and the country's transition to democracy.
Some American consultants regarded Monday and Tuesday's vote as a prelude to disappointment for the masses that rallied for Mubarak's ouster.
"Egyptian citizens deserve better than the arcane rules and complexities of voting that have been thrown up to confuse and delay the process," said John Phillips, whose firm Aristotle has been engaged in the region. "Tunisia was, by comparison, a model of efficiency."
Phillips questioned the legitimacy of the results even before they were announced.
"I expect a lot of disappointment and further turmoil," he said.
James Zogby, who leads the Arab American Institute, echoed Phillips' concern about the complications in Egypt's electoral system. "It's horrifically confusing to everybody," he said.
Egypt is holding a three-stage vote for its People's Assembly, the more powerful lower house of parliament. The final stage is slated for January with an upper house vote scheduled to take place from January to March. Presidential elections are expected to be held in June 2012.
President Obama indicated Wednesday that his administration is closely monitoring the outcome of Egypt's post-revolutionary voting.
"We do have enormous challenges in making sure that the changes that are taking place in Egypt, the changes that are taking place throughout the region do not end up manifesting themselves in anti-Western or anti-Israel policies," Obama said at a campaign event in New York City, according to a White House transcript. "That’s something that we’re going to have to pay close attention to, and work diligently on in the months to come."
A victory for the Islamists in the parliamentary vote won't mean the Egyptian market is closed to U.S. political consultants.
Zogby said he's been in touch with an Egyptian presidential candidate about potentially advising his campaign. It's still a delicate situation, he added. "There is an American problem in Egypt and I don't know how that will cut."