The first round of Egypt’s presidential election has produced the “worst outcome” for the country’s democratic prospects, observers suggest, with a result that leaves the country at a “terrible crossroads.”
Preliminary returns appear to confirm that the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi and former Mubarak prime minister Ahmed Shafiq will advance to next month’s runoff poll.
“It’s probably the worst outcome of the election I could have imagined,” said Hisham Kassem, a veteran publisher and democracy advocate:
Sitting on his living room couch in his Cairo apartment, Kassem’s body language said it all. He looked like he’d been punched in the gut. Kassem admitted that this result, the Brotherhood’s man versus Mubarak’s man, comes as a complete shock.
“I don’t think I can vote in the run-off. I don’t want ever to think I gave my voice to either of the candidates,” Kassem said.
The result pits the two most illiberal candidates against each other in a contest that is likely to polarize Egyptian politics.
“Results compiled Friday from all of Egypt’s 27 provinces show the two in a very tight race, with Morsi in the lead with 25 percent of the votes,” Associated Press reports:
The results have Shafiq, who served as ousted President Hosni Mubarak’s last prime minister, close behind with 24 percent. That sets the stage for a deeply divisive runoff vote June 16-17 for Egypt’s presidency.
Morsi and Shafiq are the country’s most polarizing candidates, each loathed by significant sectors of the population. A head-to-head match between them is the most heated imaginable scenario.
“In my view, it reflects the defeat of the bright side of the revolution, the romantic side,” said Abdel Moneim Said, director of the Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies,. “In the end, we will have to choose between two forces that believe in ideological dominance and hierarchical politics. Neither are democratic or liberal.”
He said he believed Mr Morsi would prevail in the run-off because he would draw the support of the Islamists who voted for other Islamist candidates in the first round. He predicted many liberals would simply abstain in the second round because neither of the front-runners represented the revolutionary principles that led to the uprising.
The outcome was “perhaps the most polarizing and therefore dangerous result possible” and could spark unrest, said Elijah Zarwan at the European Council on Foreign Relations in London. “But those who fear the destabilising effects of sustained Islamist-military confrontation can take some comfort in that neither side has an interest in such a prolonged conflict.”
The result is the latest demonstration that, as Frances Fukuyama recently observed, the much-hyped networking and cyberactivism of the Facebook liberals is no match for the solid grass-roots organizing of Egypt’s well-entrenched illiberal forces.
“It appears to be a victory for organized campaigns, namely the Muslim Brotherhood’s backing of Mursi and Shafik’s backing by the military and Mubarak’s dissolved National Democratic Party,” said Samer Sulaiman, professor of political economy at the American University in Cairo.
The result confirmed the weakness of Egypt’s liberal and democratic forces, some observers said, and serves as an indictment of the secular groups’ failure to organize a coherent alternative.
“The pro-revolution candidates failed to unite and it showed.” “This is the worst scenario that could be predicted,” said Hassan Nafaa, a political science professor at Cairo University. “The division of the revolutionary forces has finally led to this polarised situation, which is not good at all for the country.”
Egypt is at a “terrible crossroads”.
“Either we choose the Muslim Brotherhood, who I don’t think have a good political project at all, or we continue with the old regime,” he said. “Voting for Ahmed Shafiq is the same as voting for Mubarak.”
During the campaign, Shafik was derided by many Islamists and seculars alike as a “feloul,” or remnant of the ousted regime, but observers suggest that he appealed to ordinary Egyptians eager for a restoration of stability and security.
“Having someone like Shafik is provocative, and means that he’s mocking the revolution,” said Ahmed Maher, a founder of the April 6 youth movement that helped organize the Tahrir Square protests. “Even if the president is affiliated with the revolution, pressure will continue so that he doesn’t turn into a new pharaoh.”
The run-off is likely to be driven by the politics of fear rather Egypt’s future, said Michele Dunne, the director of the Rafik Hariri Centre for the Middle East at the Washington DC-based Atlantic Council.
“A lot of people will be voting against the other candidate, rather than the candidate they really like,” she said. “It’s going to offer some difficult choices.”
The square-off between Mr Morsi and Mr Shafiq will have repercussions on the writing of the constitution and the balance of powers in the government, Ms Dunne said.If Mr Morsi is elected, the parliament and presidency would work together against the military. Mr Shafiq, who is seen as close to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, would likely use support from the military to hold the parliament in check if he wins. As a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mr Morsi could also cooperate with his fellow members in parliament to actually reduce the power of the presidency and push the country towards a parliamentarian system.
“He may see his job as giving away power, so that the Muslim Brotherhood’s wider project can take off,” said Dunne, a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy. “If you elect Shafiq, I don’t think that will be the case.”
The election represents a political regression and a form of polarization that is likely to recreate the dynamics that marginalized and neutered democrats under the Mubarak regime.
“There’s no doubt this is a very stark choice,” said Shadi Hamid is a Middle East expert with the Brookings Institution. “Complete opposites in a way. And it’s almost like we’re going back in time, the same kind of divide between regime and Brotherhood. And liberals now and revolutionaries find themselves in a very difficult position.”
Shafiq’s success is a testament to the resilience and organizing capacity of the remnants of Mubarak’s regime, a backlash against the Brotherhood, and a mismanaged transition period that was likely a deliberate strategy on the part of the military, said Khalil Al Anani, an expert on Egyptian Islamist movements at Durham University in Britain.
“Now I understand why the military insisted to postpone the elections, to get people tired, to create some kind of fatigue among people, at the expense of the revolution,” said al- Anani. “They don’t have to commit any kind of forgery now – there’s no need. They already played on the minds of people.”
Mursi represents the Brotherhood’s dominant conservative faction and campaigned as the most theocratic candidate, promising to implement a strict version of shariah law and insisting that the Koran would be the foundation of a new constitution.
“Mursi is not going to betray the more conservative interpretation of the Muslim Brotherhood which now dominates” said Joshua Stacher, an assistant professor of Middle East studies at Kent State University.
He has said that women should not be allowed to run for president and told The Washington Post that Saudi Arabia was a good political model for Egypt.
“It was the Muslim Brotherhood machine that brought him to this point. Mursi has modest political skills with a strong commitment to the Muslim Brotherhood ideology and leadership,” said al-Anani, an expert on Egyptian Islamist movements at Durham University in Britain.
“He is a shell for the Muslim Brotherhood, and he will sacrifice himself for the sake of the Brotherhood’s survival.”
The following updates via Egypt Election Monitor, a Project of the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East:
- Live updates: Mursi, Shafiq to face off in Egypt presidential runoff vote
- Egyptians calls Mursi-Shafiq showdown ‘worst-case scenario’
- Pro-revolution figures trade blame for Shafiq success
- Cabinet source: Governors will resign after new president is elected
- Egypt judges to provide independent presidential vote-count
- Egyptian presidential elections, Day 2: Turnout and trends