Brotherhood Marches On Towards Presidency

  • Analysis by Adam Morrow and Khaled Moussa al-Omrani (cairo)
  • Tuesday, May 29, 2012
  • Inter Press Service

'Egyptians are ecstatic about having participated in their first genuinely free presidential election,' political analyst Mohamed Seif al-Dawla told IPS. 'But the results, which will leave voters between the Muslim Brotherhood's candidate and a Mubarak-era official, took everyone by surprise.'

On Monday (May 28), Egypt's Supreme Presidential Electoral Commission (SPEC) officially announced that the Brotherhood's Morsi would face Shafiq in a runoff vote slated for Jun. 16/17. According to the SPEC's final vote count, Morsi won just shy of 25 percent of the vote (5,764,952 votes), followed closely by Shafiq, at 23.66 percent (5,505,327).

Leftist contender Hamdeen Sabbahi came in at a surprising third place with 20.72 percent (4,820,273), eliminating him - to the chagrin of liberal and leftist voters - from the race. In stark contrast to most pre- election opinion polls, moderate-Islamist candidate Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh came in fourth (4,065,239) and former Arab League chief Amr Moussa at a surprising fifth (2,588,850).

Votes cast for eight other candidates were negligible.

According to SPEC figures, a total of 23,265,516 valid ballots were cast in last week's poll, putting total voter turnout at 46.42 percent of registered Egyptian voters.

Despite recent political mis-steps by the Brotherhood, most analysts had expected Morsi to fare well, given the group's renowned capacity to mobilise its members and sympathisers.

'Despite Morsi's late entrance into the presidential race and recent blows to the Brotherhood's popularity, the group once again proved its effectiveness by very successfully marketing its candidate in a very short space of time,' leftist political analyst Abdel-Halim Kandil told IPS.

Kandil went on to note, however, that while more than 16 million Egyptians had voted for Brotherhood candidates in parliamentary polls late last year, only 5.7 million voted for the group's presidential contender last week. 'This suggests that the Brotherhood's recent political mistakes have bitten into its support base,' he said.

Since winning almost half the seats in parliament five months ago, the Muslim Brotherhood has been heavily criticised for its weak performance in the People's Assembly (the lower house of Egypt's parliament) and its failure to establish a constituent assembly tasked with drafting a new constitution. Critics also charge the group with attempting to monopolise Egypt's post-revolution political stage.

Brotherhood supporters, nevertheless, were delighted by Morsi's electoral victory.

'The Brotherhood didn't contest the presidency to monopolise Egypt's political life,' 35-year-old lawyer and Brotherhood supporter Sameh Ridda told IPS. 'They did so in order to carry out the group's programme for national revival, which aims to realise the goals of last year's revolution by guaranteeing social justice, restoring national dignity and activating the economy.'

The Brotherhood's control of the presidency, Ridda added, in tandem with its strong parliamentary presence, 'will allow it to implement its programme without all the fighting and political wrangling that would otherwise hamper decision-making.'

The biggest surprise to come out of last week's poll, however, was the success of Shafiq, a long-time civil- aviation minister under Mubarak and the ousted president's prime minister during last year's Tahrir Square uprising.

'Despite his association with the Mubarak regime, many Egyptians chose Shafiq because he spoke frankly about his political aims and didn't forge any opportunistic alliances with political rivals,' 38-year-old computer engineer and Shafiq supporter Hazem Ayoub told IPS.

'The priorities he cited in his electoral programme were in perfect alignment with the demands of average Egyptians: namely, the restoration of domestic security, the reactivation of local production, and firm regulation of the local market to ward off inflation,' he added.

What's more, said Ayoub, 'Shafiq, unlike the Muslim Brotherhood, stands for a civil, secular state.'

'His critics accuse him of being a 'remnant' of the Mubarak regime, but - after last year's uprising - the old regime is gone for good; it can never come back.'

Leftist presidential hopeful Hamdeen Sabbahi, meanwhile, also did surprisingly well - although not well enough to get him to the runoff - coming in third behind Morsi and Shafiq.

'Sabbahi did well because he represented the 'third way' candidate,' said Seif al-Dawla. 'His revolutionary credentials are flawless, and, at the same time, he isn't an Islamist.'

As for Abul-Fotouh and Moussa, both of whom had led pre-election opinion polls, both fared surprisingly poorly, coming in at fourth and fifth place respectively.

'Shafiq bit into Moussa's support base by promising to speedily restore domestic security and curb Islamist political ascendancy,' Kandil said. 'Sabbahi, meanwhile, as a secular-minded advocate of social justice, took votes from Abul-Fotouh.'

The looming Morsi-Shafiq showdown has put Egypt's secular-revolutionary political forces in a quandary.

'Liberals and leftists are now presented with two bitter choices: a perceived return to Mubarak-era autocracy, and a political force that may itself be reluctant to relinquish power one day,' Amr Hashem Rabie, expert in domestic politics at the Cairo-based Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies told IPS.

Some, however, see the Brotherhood's Mursi as the less unpalatable option.

'Even though I disagree with most of the Brotherhood's political positions, I'll nevertheless vote for Morsi over Shafiq,' said Kandil. 'Shafiq served as Mubarak's prime minister at the height of last year's uprising, and therefore bears strong responsibility for the death of the unarmed protesters killed on his watch.'

Shafiq supporter Ayoub, for his part, took the opposite view.

'I'll support Shafiq against Mursi because he represents the only hope for a civil - rather than religious - state; he won't take his instructions from the Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood,' he said.

But according to Brotherhood supporter Ridda, the choice is a simple one.

'The runoff vote will be between a pro-revolution candidate - Mursi - and one that hails from the ousted Mubarak regime,' he said. 'I'm confident that most Egyptians will vote for the former, and finally give the Brotherhood - which for decades has been Egypt's largest opposition force - four years in which to prove their ability to manage the nation's affairs.'

© Inter Press Service (2012) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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