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Perplexing Dilemmas
Reading the Egyptian Elections
by ESAM AL-AMIN

The Egyptian people are still in shock ever since the announcement of the results of the presidential elections late last week. They refuse to accept an outcome that sees Gen. Ahmad Shafiq, the last Prime Minister of deposed dictator Hosni Mubarak, having received more than 5.5 million votes, or about 24 percent of the votes cast, less than one percent behind the frontrunner and Muslim Brotherhood candidate, Dr. Muhammad Mursi.

After the dust has settled, some remarkable facts have been revealed that point towards an extremely sophisticated operation, which ensured that Shafiq would receive enough votes to go to the second round runoff (that could only have been pulled off by the Egyptian security apparatus with the support of the military and the remnants of Mubarak’s banned National Democratic Party).

This is how it could have happened.

The first significant fact is that the overall number of registered voters increased by more than 4.5 million people in less than three months. In Egypt, every person is automatically added to the registered voter rolls after reaching the age of eighteen. Egyptians cast their vote using the national identification number given to each citizen at birth. Between late November 2011 and January 2012, citizens went to the polls to elect their parliament over three different stages in nine different provinces in each stage. After each vote, the head of the elections commission declared the results starting with the total number of registered voters.

At the end of each stage the total number of registered voters was announced publicly as follows: 13,614,525 after stage one, 18,831,129 after stage two, and 14,039,300 after stage three for a total of 46,484,954. However, after the presidential elections the head of the elections commission announced this week that the total number of registered voters was 50,996,746 an incredible increase of 4,511,792 (or over 80 percent of the total votes received by Shafiq.) When the secretary of the elections commission, Judge Hatem Bagato, was asked in a press conference about this discrepancy, he lied outright, stating that the total number of registered voters last November was 50.1 million.

Secondly, in Egypt elections are held over two consecutive days. After the end of the first day the ballot boxes are left in the polling stations until the next morning. During the parliamentary elections, representatives of the different campaigns were allowed to stay in the rooms to monitor the ballot boxes in order to ensure that no vote rigging might take place. However, this time the army forced the evacuation of all precincts over the strenuous protests of the observers and did not allow a single monitor to stay in the rooms for over twelve hours. It is not inconceivable that ballots were stuffed during the night. If only two-thirds of the ballot boxes were tampered with, adding on average 500 ballots each, that would total more than 4.5 million fraudulent votes, equal to the number of the added dubious registered voters.

Moreover, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has never intended to hand over real power to an elected civilian president. According to one European ambassador in Cairo, when he recently asked a member of SCAF how the military would react upon the election of an “Islamist” or a “civilian” belonging to the revolutionary forces the answer was an emphatic “this is not going to happen.” President Jimmy Carter was given the same answer early this year when he met with the leaders of SCAF. He mistakenly interpreted that answer as SCAF not handing over power or even holding elections rather than fielding its own candidate and then ruling from behind. In a recent interview, former intelligence chief and Mubarak’s vice president Omar Suleiman told the London-based al-Hayat newspaper that he had no doubts if an Islamist is elected president a military coup d’état would be inevitable.

Revolutionary vs. counter-revolutionary and Islamist vs. secularist 

The early days of revolutionary unity have been long gone since the March 2011 referendum. Ever since that fateful day, there are clearly three major political forces within society, namely SCAF, the Islamic political parties led by the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), and the mostly secular revolutionary forces including youth groups, nationalists, liberals and leftists. Whenever two of these distinct groups come together it is usually at the expense of the third party.

During the decisive revolutionary days all Egyptians were united and SCAF had to abandon Mubarak and side with the people. But during most of last year the MB backed SCAF on many occasions while the revolutionary groups were crushed and their demands ignored. When SCAF tried to impose supra-constitutional principles on all political parties to protect its interests, the MB sided with the revolutionary groups forcing SCAF to withdraw the document, retreat, and set a date for handing over power to a civilian president. When the MB tried to impose a constitutional-writing committee dominated by Islamists, SCAF sided with the secular revolutionary groups against the Islamists compelling them to change course.

But during much of last year the revolutionary groups, both Islamic and secular, failed to realize that their revolution was not finished but required them to unite against the far-reaching security state. Instead, they exhausted themselves over tactics and the future nature of the state causing intense mistrust between the parties. Meanwhile, they overlooked the fact that while the head of the regime and some corrupt elements were deposed and even criminally tried, the body was still deeply entrenched, waiting to grow another head and crush their nascent revolution.

Interpreting the elections results

Even if the presidential elections results were not tampered with, the final outcome, notwithstanding the feeling of doom, should be evaluated differently. The final results were as follows: The candidates that belonged to the pro-revolution candidates received almost two-thirds of the vote (Muhammad Mursi 25 percent, Nasserist Hamdein Sabahi 21 percent, Islamist independent Abdelmoneim Abol Fotouh 18 percent, other candidates 2 percent). On the other hand, the former regime remnants received less than one third (Shafiq 24 percent and Amr Moussa 10 percent, although not everyone who voted for the latter was necessarily against the revolution). Had the pro-revolution candidates coalesced around a single candidate they would have crushed the opposition from the first round. But the deep distrust engendered during much of last year made this outcome impossible.

Furthermore, Egyptians went to the polls three time since the fall of Mubarak. In March 2011 they overwhelmingly approved the constitutional referendum that set in motion the country’s political path. They overwhelmingly sided with the Islamic parties by voting in their favor by a margin of 77 to 23 percent. From last November to January, Egyptians again voted overwhelmingly for Islamic candidates to the parliament, garnering 75 percent of the seats. While the MB candidates received almost 11 million votes during the parliamentary elections, their presidential candidate gained only 5.7 million votes, a stunning loss of over five million votes. Such a huge drop in support in just four months is rare if not impossible in any political context. But the many missteps taken by the MB, coupled with the huge negative campaign against the Islamic parties waged by the state media, still largely controlled by Mubarak’s appointees, made it possible.

While the Islamic votes represented almost 19 million votes out of 27 million in the parliamentary elections, it represented at best 9 to 10 million votes out of 23 million in the presidential election, a dramatic loss of half of its electoral power from just a few months ago. While this loss is directly related to the parliament’s poor performance so far and the MB’s dismissive attitude towards their partners in the revolution, it did send a strong message to the group’s leadership that they needed to act quickly to repair the damage caused by their arrogant attitude towards the other revolutionary groups.

Possible scenarios for the second round of the presidential elections

Gen. Shafiq has been open about his disdain for the Islamic parties as well as the revolution that brought them to power. On more than one occasion he declared that he sees Mubarak as his role model and that once in power he would not hesitate to use the security apparatus and the army to restore order and end the protests. So his tactic has been to present himself as the last hope of secular forces to stop the encroachment of the religious state. Moussa, who came in a distant fifth in the elections garnering 2.4 million votes, has been no less forceful in calling for “the defeat of the forthcoming religious state” in a direct reference to the MB candidate. In their attempt to cast this election as secular vs. religious, they continue to use Mubarak’s era tactic by instilling fear in the society, especially among Egypt’s Christians, and deliver to Shafiq the 13 million votes that were cast in favor of Shafiq, Moussa, and Sabbahi in the first round. In a direct threat to the MB, Shafiq made it known that if need be, he would not hesitate to dissolve the parliament in order to end the dominance of the Islamic groups.

On the other hand, Mursi, the MB candidate, presents himself as the last hope for the revolution to clean up the corruption embedded in the state, dispose of the remnants of the Mubarak regime, and embark on new reforms in order to realize the objectives of the revolution. If the Egyptians who voted for the revolutionary candidates believe him, he might then receive as much as 15 million votes cast for these candidates in the first round. Barring any fraud, most of Moussa’s votes (2.4 million) would end up in Shafiq’s column, while the majority of Abol Fotouh’s votes (4.1 million) might be cast in favor of Mursi.

However, the crucial votes of the leftist nationalist Sabbahi (4.8 million) are probably up for grabs. This strongly pro-revolution candidate has so far refused to endorse Mursi and even many of his supporters have taken to the streets rejecting both candidates. Many other revolutionary groups, including Abol Fotouh’s supporters, reject Shafiq and believe that the vote was rigged. They too took to the streets. It is not known how far and intense these protests could be. If they spread and recreate the early days of the revolution then a new factor could be introduced that would force SCAF to act, either by cracking down violently on the protestors or by cancelling the elections altogether.

On the other hand, many youth and pro-revolution groups have been in intense negotiations with Mursi to offer guarantees to the supporters of the these pro-revolutionary parties. In return for their support, he would agree to several tough demands that include pledging to rule through a presidential council that would include all ideological trends, give assurances with regards to democratic rule, freedom of expression, guarantees of the rights of women and the Christian community, as well as to pledge not to run for a second term. Additionally, the MB-dominated parliament must immediately appoint a constitutional-writing committee that would decide on the major controversial parts upon reaching consensus including the civil nature of the state.

Ultimately this critical moment could potentially be a blessing in disguise, if seized upon properly by the Muslim Brotherhood and the rest of the revolutionary groups. This is the time where the revolutionary partners must join back together in order to save the Egyptian revolution. Not only are the hopes and aspirations of the people of Egypt and Arabs across the region are in jeopardy, but also of free people around the world, forever inspired by the youth of Tahrir Square.

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