“Egyptian voters of many ages, occupations and beliefs stood in line for hours Wednesday to cast their ballots for a new president, AP reports. As voters flocked to the polls, Mubarak holdover Ahmed Shafiq warned them not to repeat the ”mistake” of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood as victory for the Islamists’ candidate would create “a huge problem.”
Only five of the 13 candidates are considered to be serious contenders. Former foreign minister Amr Moussa, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi and independent Islamist Abdel Moneim Abul Fotouh “could, in theory, win outright – given the volatility of the polls and the sheer novelty of the situation,” says one observer, while Mubarak’s last premier, Ahmed Shafiq, and the left-Nasserist Hamdeen Sabahi are on the margins.
“These polls will be a test of comparative strength of each of the two political machines that have dominated Egyptian political life for decades, the Islamists and the state, and whether new forces have truly emerged capable of challenging them,” said Elijah Zarwan, an Egypt expert at the European Council on Foreign Relations, a think tank
Whatever the result, Egypt’s “pioneering” poll is widely praised by the Arab world’s media for good reason, writes Roula Khalaf: the election is “a historic moment for the region, the first time that Arabs are allowed to genuinely and freely choose their president. What happens in the largest Arab nation matters elsewhere – Egypt influences Arab public opinion and points to political trends.”
NGOs and rights groups monitoring the poll reported complaints. The Egypt’s National Council for Human Rights (NCHR), told the BBC they received 50 complaints on electoral violations ranging from delay in opening voting booths, to campaigning for candidates outside polling stations during voting.
According to a recent poll, former Brotherhood official Abul-Fotouh leads with 32%, followed by Moussa with 28%, Shafiq on 14%, and Morsi and Sabahi on 8% each.
A sense of trust in the candidate is the most important single quality respondents cited in the 2012 Public Opinion Survey in Egypt, said Shibley Telhami, a professor and pollster at the University of Maryland, and fellow at the Brookings Institution.
Some 71% of respondents to a recent poll said that the Brotherhood’s decision to field a presidential candidate after insisting that they would not was a mistake.
The trust factor is a leading reason for the decline in support for Islamist candidates, with Egyptians re-assessing their views on religious-conservative politicians, said Dalia Ziada (right), executive director of the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies.
Egyptians voted for Islamic candidates because they wanted morally irreproachable politicians, but Islamists’ performance in office had caused many to shed their illusions, she said. Surveys conducted by the Ibn Khaldun Center, a grantee of the National Endowment for Democracy, indicate that secular candidates are gaining in popularity.
“What was brought to light for a lot of voters was that the Islamists, contrary to their assumptions, were not the best choice,” Ziada said. “They are not less corrupt than other politicians.”
One voter was struck by “the predominance of outspoken anti-Muslim Brotherhood sentiments” at today’s polls:
“I voted MB in parliamentary elections,” said a veiled woman of around 50, “but never again. They’re a bunch of liars. Did you see what they did in parliament? Simply scandalous.” Another woman standing close by agreed with her wholeheartedly. But when she said that she would opt for Aboul Fotouh, many of those standing by reminded her that he was also MB. “Don’t be fooled by his sweet smile. He’ll show his true character once he becomes president,” they told her.
“Almost everybody I spoke to agreed that the youngest candidate, Khaled Aly [executive director of the Egyptian Centre for Social and Economic Rights - left], who spent his life championing the cause of workers, was by far the best choice,” writes Amira Nowaira a professor at Alexandria University.
“But he stands little chance,” they said regretfully.
Mubarak holdover Shafiq tried to tap into the anti-Brotherhood sentiment, by insisting that he was the only candidates in a position to “stop” an Islamist takeover.
Voters made a “mistake” by allowing the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party to win dominate parliament, he said.
“There would be a huge problem,” Shafiq told AFP about the prospect of a Brotherhood or Islamist victory. “The Brotherhood has proved in the past months that it is completely rejected by the Egyptian people.”
“The Egyptian people made a big mistake in trusting the Brotherhood, and now we are suffering from their actions,” he added.
Moussa is viewed as the leading “stability” candidate, with clear appeal to those eager to put months of political turmoil behind them and focus on reviving the economy.
“I am impressed by Moussa’s profile,” says Hisham Kassem (right), a prominent publisher and editor, “though people have criticized me for saying so.
“He does have a clear programme and strikes you as someone who would be able to handle the presidency. We don’t want idols and gods anymore.”
The poll “bodes well for the rest of the Arab world and particularly those countries that have had uprisings,” said Maajid Nawaz, the chairman of Quilliam, a London-based think tank.
“Egypt has always set trends in the Arab world and for Arab political thought,” he said. “Trends spread through the Arab world and eventually affect even non-Arab, Muslim-majority countries.”
“It’s far more complicated than ‘Islamists vs. liberal democracy,’” said Nawaz, a former Islamist who was imprisoned in Egypt for his activism.. “It’s rich vs. poor, (hardline) Salafists vs. the (more moderate) Muslim Brotherhood, secularists vs. Islamists.”
But, in essence, the poll has come down to a face-off between illiberal politicians of one stripe or another, says analysts: either Islamists or Mubarak old guard
“Absent were prominent candidates representing the young, secular liberals who led last year’s uprising, and some voters expressed disappointment over that,” AP reports.
Egypt’s secular and liberal activists failed to make the shift from protest to politics and bought into the Facebook fallacy that virtual networking was as politically effective as grass-roots organizing.
“We made a revolution only to go now from one dictatorship to another,” is the gloomy prediction of telecom tycoon Naguib Sawiris, who bankrolled liberal and leftist secular parties that emerged during the Arab Spring, Trudy Rubin writes:
Sawiris says that if democrats had formed one coalition and endorsed a single candidate, “people would have had a clear idea of what we wanted” in terms of the economy and social justice. Instead, the political newcomers who emerged from the revolution promoted their own candidacies or started their own splinter parties. The splits among the Tahrir Square rebels make it possible for an Islamist to win.