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What Happened in Egypt’s Presidential Elections?

The Sacking of a Revolution

by ESAM AL-AMIN

Fifteen months after millions of Egyptians -led by the revolutionary youth- were united in their demand to end a corrupt and suffocating dictatorship, they were now divided as they headed to the polls in the last two days in order to elect a new president. During this transitional period the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which has ruled the country since Mubarak was deposed in February 2011, failed to uphold its promise of honoring the goals of the revolution by uprooting the corrupt elements of the former regime.

The unofficial results of the presidential elections show that the Muslim Brotherhood candidate Dr. Muhammad Mursi is headed to a runoff with Mubarak’s last Prime Minister and the anti-revolution candidate, Gen. Ahmad Shafiq. They received 24 and 23 percent of the votes, respectively. Meanwhile the two candidates supported by the revolutionary groups, Dr. Abdelmoneim Abol Fotouh and Hamdein Sabahi received 17 and 20 percent respectively, while former foreign minister Amr Moussa was a distant fifth with less than 11 percent.

So what happened and how can one understand these results?

  • The revolutionaries were divided: There is no doubt that the failure of the revolutionary groups to unify their ranks and field a single candidate or a presidential ticket has cost them the chance to come out on top in this round and head for a runoff. Combined, both candidates received 37 percent, which would have guaranteed them victory in the first round had they run as president and vice president. But despite many efforts towards that end, both candidates refused to concede. Abol Fotouh argued that the country’s electorate has been favoring a candidate with an Islamist background, and thus he represented that consensus candidate who could bridge the divide between the Islamists and the secularists. Sabahi, on the other hand, argued that the country did not need another Islamist candidate after the results of the parliamentary elections, in which Islamists took 75 percent of the seats. In the last three weeks, Sabahi’s supporters mounted a ferocious campaign against Abol Fotouh, as they could only gain votes at his expense, since they could not have hoped to earn much support from the constituencies of Mursi (Muslim Brotherhood) or Shafiq (anti-revolutionaries fulool or remnants of the former regime). The tactic worked and observers believe that Sabahi may have doubled his numbers in the past few weeks, taking the lion’s share from Abol Fotouh.
  • Low turnout: Despite the intense interest and the high stakes, it appears that most Egyptians are tired and simply did not show up. Some revolutionary groups have actually called for a boycott of the elections, arguing that the elections are meaningless without cleansing the state from the fulool or military control. During the parliamentary elections late last year, more than 27 million Egyptians participated. Although there are 51 million registered voters only an estimated 24 million cast their votes this time or about 47 percent as compared to 62 percent during the parliamentary elections.
  • The Muslim Brotherhood went their own way: During the revolution all anti-Mubarak groups were united in their demands in ending the corrupt dictatorship. Although the MB was cautious in joining the revolution at the beginning, its subsequent participation proved crucial to the success of the revolution. But shortly thereafter, the MB broke the consensus of the revolutionary groups and went their own way, relying on their enormous ability to mobilize and organize. The tacit understanding with SCAF during most of last year – by abandoning at crucial times the demands of the revolutionary groups – created a deep mistrust between both parties. When the MB broke its pledge and decided to field a candidate, it relied primarily on its ability to mobilize its supporters. None of the revolutionary groups of Tahrir Square gave it their support. On the ground many of the MB supporters attacked Abol Fotouh, further alienating many Egyptian voters. The net effect was the demoralization of the supporters of the revolution. In the end the MB received this time less than 6 million votes as compared to more than 10 million votes during the parliamentary elections six months ago.
  • The military’s candidate and the deep security state:  Many analysts debated whether SCAF had its own candidate in this race. Although it declared that it did not favor a particular candidate, SCAF allowed the resources of the state to be utilized for Shafiq’s benefit. With the support of the state bureaucracy the security apparatus (which was rebuilt using its old elements and kept its connections with local officials who were never dismissed) mobilized their resources for the benefit of their preferred candidate. Many reports have surfaced in the Egyptian media that showed how army recruits, police officers, and state employees were instructed by their superiors to vote for Shafiq or, in the case of active military personnel – who are barred from voting – to have their families vote for him. The government gave all state employees Thursday off so that they could cast their vote for their preferred candidate.

In addition, since December the security and economic situation worsened deliberately by the SCAF-appointed government making ordinary Egyptians feel that the lack of security and continuing economic hardships were the direct consequences of the revolution. Even when they had voted for a new parliament, their conditions became worse not better. This allowed Shafiq to argue that once elected, he could bring security within 24 hours and that his law and order nature would bring economic prosperity.

Moreover, the elections commission, which re-instated Shafiq after he was banned from running by parliament, did not enforce its own laws regarding campaign financing. The elections commission set a ceiling of 10 million pounds from each presidential campaign. But it was clear that Shafiq’s campaign was spending hundreds of millions without any accountability. For instance, it was revealed that the cost of his billboards alone was 22 million pounds. He ran dozens of TV ads at the cost of 200,000 pounds each. The use of enormous amounts of money in politics in Egypt is not new. But this time its was taken to new heights without any accountability.

  • The regrouping of the fullol: The machinery of Mubarak’s banned National Democratic Party (NDP) and corrupt businessmen was in full force once Shafiq declared his candidacy. Insiders report that the wife of former party director of organization, billionaire Ahmad Ezz (who supervised the 2010 elections fraud and is currently serving ten years for financial and political corruption with other charges pending) has paid 100 million pounds to local officials in the delta region to support Shafiq. In the heart of the delta where substantial number of poor Egyptian peasants live, local officials and mayors control every aspect of their lives. Many people have reported that these officials were paid millions to turn these peasants and their families to vote for Shafiq. In one telling moment, an Al-Jazeera correspondent asked a peasant why he voted for Shafiq and he replied that “I, along with the whole village were instructed to vote for Shafiq to bring security and prosperity.” He further said that “ I brought my family to vote for him as well.” In the five provinces in the heart of the delta, Shafiq received 2.5 million votes, or about 50 percent of his total support. By contrast, frontrunner Mursi received 1.7 million votes while Sabahi and Abol Fotouh received 1.3 million and 1 million votes, respectively. The fulool hope that by electing Shafiq he will eventually pardon all the corrupt former regime figures currently serving long sentences, including Mubarak and his sons if they are convicted. Others hope to regain the status they lost when the former regime was toppled.
  • The role of the Sufis:  Since the rise of the salafis during the parliamentary elections, a deep rift over theological beliefs and religious practices has taken place between the salafis and Sufi groups. There are about 12 million Egyptians who claim to belong to these Sufi traditions, especially in the Nile Delta region. The chiefs of these groups, whose livelihood depends on religious tourism, felt threatened by the rhetoric of the salafis who promised to end their “paganistic” ways. Shafiq exploited this rift and declared that he was also a Sufi and pledged to preserve their traditions. In return the Sufi chiefs declared their allegiance to him.
  • The Christian vote: Although many Coptic Christians joined the revolution in toppling Mubarak, many of the Church and lay leaders have raised concerns about the rise of the Islamic groups. For many weeks, their leaders declared that they would support a “civil” candidate hinting that it would be Amr Moussa. However, last week several major figures declared that the overwhelming majority of Copts would vote for Shafiq because “he was the only one capable of stopping the rise of the Islamists” as one Christian leader declared. On Election Day, exit polls and observers confirmed that 70-80 percent of the Christian vote went to Shafiq. After the elections the acting head of the Coptic Church told al-Shrouk newspaper that he was aware of these reports and that he has suspended two senior officials in the Church pending an investigation.

So what’s next?

It is not clear how the eliminated revolutionary leaders will react to the election results. Although there is no evidence of direct frauds or vote rigging, clearly the role of the state’s authoritarian structures in influencing the outcome, as well as to the use of money to corrupt the political will of Egyptians cannot be denied. But no matter how they respond to the allegations, the elections commission will push ahead with next month’s runoff between Mursi and Shafiq. With the exception of the MB supporters, most people who support the revolution dread the day where they will be faced with the choice between the MB candidate and the fulool candidate.

But no matter what, Shafiq should never be allowed to win. In return for the support of Abol Fotouh and Sabahi supporters, the MB should offer a genuine gesture to the candidates and call for the unity of all the supporters of the revolution. But such offers must be more than empty rhetoric and need to contain meaningful acts of inclusiveness and magnanimity including offering them senior positions such as vice president or prime minister. If the MB thinks that it can win the presidency without the support of the revolutionary groups, it would be totally mistaken. Not only will the majority of Moussa’s supporters end up going to Shafiq, but now that the fulool have succeeded beyond their wildest expectations, they will double their efforts and employ more of their old tricks to guarantee a win, with the full backing of the military and state bureaucracy.

Only through regaining the determination of purpose and unity of action of those early days of the unfinished revolution can it remain alive. The MB cannot afford to botch this opportunity yet again. The alternative would likely be another revolution to replace the one that was sadly aborted.

Esam Al-Amin can be contacted at alamin1919@gmail.com