Tough call for Egyptian voters

Egyptian supporters chant slogans and carry posters in Cairo, Egypt Tuesday.

The Arab Spring that dawned last year delivered liberating self-government to people who had long been repressed. But as American voters know, the freedom to pick your leaders doesn’t guarantee inspiring ballot choices.

Many Egyptians share that frustration after last week’s presidential election there. A Reuters news agency dispatch Monday aptly reported that the outcome of the voting has created “an agonizing dilemma for many of Egypt’s 50 million voters, who are equally wary of Islamist rule or a return to a military-backed authoritarian system.”

That’s because Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, with a mere 24.3 percent of the vote, and former Egyptian Air Force chief Ahmed Shafik, with 23.3 percent, finished first and second among the 12 presidential candidates. Thus, they advance to the June 16-17 runoff.

Egypt’s election commission certified that result Monday, rejecting complaints from some also-rans about alleged voting and counting irregularities. And the military council that has ruled Egypt since autocratic President Hosni Mubarak was forced from power by mass protests early last year has repeatedly stated its commitment to honoring the voters’ will.

Which course will the electorate take?

The Muslim Brotherhood did well in parliamentary elections late last year. But while Mr. Morsi made the presidential runoff, some analysts branded his failure to draw even a quarter of the total vote as a disappointment for his party.

Still, Egyptians who want to have a say in the presidential finale must back either Mr. Morsi, who has called for implementation of Islamic Sharia law, or Gen. Shafik, a former prime minister who has called the widely reviled Mr. Mubarak his “role model.”

Since last week’s voting, Mr. Morsi has issued repeated assurances that he is not aiming for a total Muslim Brotherhood takeover — and that he would even appoint officials from other parties to high positions in his government.

Gen. Shafik also has been sounding a conciliatory tone while reaching out to other parties.

Meanwhile, other nations, including the United States, are understandably jittery about what comes next in not just Egypt but throughout the Mideast. Just as the rise of democracy in the region provides hope, its potential for volatile upheaval remains a source of serious concern.

And just because the people of Egypt, Libya and other nations in that part of the world are winning overdue rights to self-government doesn’t mean they’ll always make the best choices.

Yet the right to vote should never be condemned — especially by Americans.

And the ongoing mass murder of Syrians by the brutal regime of Bashar Assad, freshly demonstrated by last weekend’s renewed bloodletting, must not succeed in blocking the Arab Spring there.

So lament the lack of better ballot options for — and better judgment by? — Egyptians even as you lament Americans’ shortcomings in both departments.

But don’t lament the rising tide of freedom.

And don’t take our own self-governing rights for granted.